Thursday, November 16, 2017

Is the UFT Delegate Assembly a Relevant Space for MORE and Other Opposition?

There is no organized push back against Unity Caucus at the UFT Delegate Assembly and hasn't been for years. If you read Mike Schirtzer's piece a few days ago (Mike Schirtzer on How Unity Caucus Votes) you can see the landscape of the DA and how Unity Caucus controls an undemocratic union.

Over the years MORE has basically neglected the UFT Delegate Assembly as a forum, which some MORE CLs and Delegates often fail to attend, and if they do, play little or no role in the proceedings. The same has been true on the whole for New Action, which often does hand out something. Though I see some people from Solidarity they too don't participate. Sometimes you do hear an independent voice raise a question.

MORE also has not produced a consistent piece of literature for the DA other than from January through June 2017 when I took on the task and we had something to hand out at each DA - either a DA newsletter or the MORE general newsletter.

In contrast, MORE and New Action have been very active at the UFT Ex Bd, a much narrower body of Unity control, since they elected 7 high school members who took office in Sept. 2016 and will serve until June 2019. Why the difference? We'll explore this issue in this post. Harry in his comment below on Mike's piece points out:
As Mike says, winning high-school seats on the Executive Board has at least allowed our allies to raise difficult questions and demand some small amount of accountability from UFT-Unity leadership and members. But this fixation with the DA is something I've never and still don't understand.
The EX Bd has been a success so far because we have the opportunity to raise resos and ask unlimited questions, which we can't do at the DA. But if Arthur didn't report back every 2 weeks this would be like the tree falling in the forest.

Is it also worth the time and effort at the DA, a monthly meeting controlled by Unity Caucus and where there is little space to take action? MORE by default is voting with its feet, not feeling the DA is a space to engage other than special occasions. This has not been a formal decision reached by MORE, which is why I say "by default". But as Harry points out there may be better ways to spend their time.

A few MORE members feel we should not abandon the DA and this year I am working with Arthur, Mike, and James to produce our own version of a DA newsletter, Another View in The UFT.

Harry left a broad comment on Mike's piece and raises a question about how much time and energy should MORE spend on the UFT Delegate Assembly given the realities.  First his points and then my response.

Harris L. has left a new comment on your post "Mike Schirtzer on How Unity Caucus Votes":
Good work, Mike.

I sometimes like to pose questions for the sake of the question--hoping that it will stir some discussion but not necessarily because I support a particular approach.

But when it comes to the DA and its usefulness, I'm reminded of MORE meetings that I attended in 2013 and 2014, when I was an active member. Many of the meetings, which could be interminable for lots of reasons, turned on long and anguished debates about resolutions to be brought to the next DA. I didn't understand the point of it all then and I still don't.

When I was a teacher at the Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy (!)--or GILPP--in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx from 2009-2012 I never once heard of the Delegate Assembly or about anything that had happened at one and I had one of the all-time great chapter leaders, Zulma Villalba. I doubt that one in 50 teachers in Canarsie, Astoria or Tottenville has ever heard of the DA or cares about anything that happens at one.

I've been told that the DA is an opportunity to educate and organize union leaders who may be sympathetic to the idea of a democratic and transparent UFT. How many delegates are open to any of that besides the members of MORE and the handful of others not directly affiliated with Unity? I've never been persuaded that the DA is worth all the time and energy expended by union democrats. It exists. I get that people do what they can when and where they can and that the DA is an obvious "thing" to try to penetrate. But has the last four years of resolution-submitting that I'm familiar with accomplished anything concrete? Anything that doesn't rely on simple assertions that it is an effective way to organize and educate delegates, themselves, much less actual teachers in actual schools?

Chapter outreach and organizing is a very hard and painful process that may take years to show tangible results. Does all the work put into DAs and DA resolutions detract from other, perhaps more useful but difficult work? Is it possible that monthly DAs are like the proverbial shiny objects that get dangled in front of people to mesmerize them. As Mike says, winning high-school seats on the Executive Board has at least allowed our allies to raise difficult questions and demand some small amount of accountability from UFT-Unity leadership and members. But this fixation with the DA is something I've never and still don't understand.

[One last thing, 'democratic centralism' may be the mark of the Unity caucus but I remember it being in plain display at almost every MORE meeting I ever attended--part of the reason I stopped going to MORE meetings in early 2015]. 
My response:

Harry raises some very valid points. Maybe I am just a creature of 45 years of habit -- actually, I was active at the DA in the 70s and early 80s, then a 10 year hiatus and came back in 1994 when I became chapter leader, developed Ed Notes in 1997 which attracted enough people (though a small number) to start ICE in 2004, GEM in 2009 and MORE in 2012 and have been at almost every DA since then to hand out something, either as a rep of one of the groups or as my own view in Ed Notes.


Harry's analysis is fundamentally correct. But I also think that if you are in a caucus that opposes Unity and feels the union needs to change and have been elected by your colleagues to be a CL or Del, not going to the DA is in some sense shirking your job - especially if you are a delegate and that is the only function of your job. I mean, if you don't go to DAs then resign as delegate. If we call for democracy in the union then that starts in your own school.



Educating your chapter

When I was CL I used what happened at the DA to educate the people I worked with by reporting before the DA (even asking them to tell me how they wanted me to vote on special issues -- ie contract) and after the DA on the issues that affect them -- getting their input and analyzing the actions of the leadership. So using the DA is also school-based education as a way to counter the UFT/Unity party line. Since some people supported that party line my reporting also spurred debates in my school at times.

Why bring up resolutions? 
Why not? I only remember a few instances in the early days when MORE took a lot of time at meetings. Mike and I pushed for a DA committee to take on this task and a few times Mike organized conference calls and got people out to the DA and we did pretty well on those occasions, with a lot of MORE people signing people up as school contacts. Fact is there is a group of people who are not in Unity or in the opposition and even it they remain independent they are also willing to vote with us -- but if we never give them anything to vote for or organize around we lose the opportunity to move them, even if they are a few, in our direction. In contrast at the Ex Bd meetings there are only Unity and the opposition, no independents unless we bring them to the meeting. So the organizing around the EB is about getting people to attend the pre-meetings and use the 10 minute mic time and than have Arthur blast out what happens to the world. (If Arthur ever retires from the EB even that reporting will disappear.)

Handing out literature
I also feel it essential to have a valid piece of lit to hand out before and after the meeting that relates to the type of issues being raised there and at the EB. It offers the opportunity for personal contact every month with people who get to know you, come over the chat and hopefully become regular readers of what we have to say. 

Unity by the way has people who agree with us on some issues and even if they vote against us can at least be shaken in their outright support -- plus the fact that some of them do get fed up with Unity at some point and move in our direction.

Reporting on the meeting
I don't often go up to listen to the meetings but they are an opportunity to hear where the leadership is coming from and do some analysis. Arthur does that regularly.

Here's the point --- why do Arthur and James Eterno (with two young children at home) shlep to the DA every single month while so many others don't bother?  They take the operations of the union seriously. 


Going to the DA is an element of saving our union
I wonder how MORE can take on a "Save Our Union" campaign in the atmosphere of Janus and generally ignore the one time a month that every school in the city has an opportunity to send its reps to gather with others - even if most don't even bother? To me that is a sign of MOREs exercising a theory of organizing vs the reality. 

Activists in the union need to be reporting to their colleagues on the actions of the leadership if they truly want to organize at the school level and try to expand that reporting into neighboring schools in their districts. They need to go to meetings and interact with others even if they are Unity.

The motto of Ed Notes is Educate, Organize, Mobilize in that order. Participating in the DA and reporting is the Educate step. 


2 comments:

  1. Yes, Norm, but it's so much easier, satisfying to one's sense of political virtue, and ability to try to recruit for your Left sect to pass resolutions about Black Lives Matter and teachers in Oaxaca (worthy as those struggles are) than to actually engage with NYC teachers about their issues.

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  2. This is true...look at workplace issues and patterns of problems..these are not mentioned.

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