Friday, November 3, 2017

MORE Urging "Stay Union" Campaign - Are There Alternatives?


Roseanne McCosh left a  comment on my Oct. 20 post "ATRs to UFT - It is About Dignity, Don't Tell Us We Should Be Happy to Have a Job...": I'm a bit torn because to ask people to stay in the union with no concessions by the leadership is bound to confuse some people. Notice that MORE is not yet putting forth a detailed reform program to create a more democratic union to go along with its Save the Union campaign. A major flaw in its strategy when Save the Union also equals Save Unity Caucus. So Roseanne's question resonates with me.
A call to arms to support our union in the form of voluntary dues enables UNITY to continue to ignore teachers like Karen [Sklaire]. This is why I am having such a hard time getting on board with a post Janus support of the UFT. What will motivate them to change their ways if they keep raking in our money? I have no easy answer but I can't accept the argument that a bad union is better than no union. This behavior of UFT leadership needs to change yet I don't see them even considering a change. Norm, you've been involved forever and have been fighting the good fight.... any addditional thoughts on this?????   ----------Roseanne McCosh
I'm glad Roseanne asked that question at this time as I was preparing a piece on this very issue after MORE affirmed at its Oct. 14 convention that it would make a Stay in the Union campaign a priority for the caucus.

Excuse the meandering in this post - I began writing it over 2 weeks ago and keep modifying it and flipping around like a flounder on dry dock.



I disagree with Roseanne about a no union being better than a bad union. At least we can organize in a bad union -- the UFT is not like some unions where you get your head busted for doing so. I don't think people who take the view of "better no union than a bad union" have an idea of what that would be like -- just try a charter school to see. Or look what happened to DNA/Info yesterday when it was shut down after they voted for a union. Once you lose it you don't get it back very easily.

What I do agree with is that undemocratic unions that don't take care of the members effectively - at least to the best it can do given the conditions -- do as much to hurt unions as the attacks from the right.

I should point out that Roseanne signed up the most colleagues to join MORE in time for the last election -- over 30. The most of anyone in MORE. So kudos to Roseanne who doesn't agree with some of my nor MORE's politics for her support for an alternative to Unity.

One of my questions is whether an opposition caucus leading such a campaign begins to meld in people's minds into the ruling caucus, thus lessening its appeal as an alternative. I am ambivalent on the issue of how an opposition caucus addresses the issue of staying in the union without putting conditions on the table. MORE is going to do that but from what I see there are no pre-conditions -- in other words MORE will go through its campaign even it the leadership does nothing to change.

My immediate instinct is to tell people to stay in the union so they can fight Unity but let the union leadership lead the stay in the union campaign while MORE devotes itself to issues where it can really have an impact. On the other hand the move by MORE looks like the only option a caucus can take when looking at the overall picture.

As I said, I am ambivalent.

Does urging people to stay in the union strengthen Unity?

On the surface it does.

But on the other hand, if people leave that also strengthens Unity in that the most likely to leave are non-Unity supporters. In essence the leavers who might be more likely to vote against Unity or stand up to them, would be gone and the opposition would be diluted. So a group like MORE and other opposition would be weakened when it comes to UFT elections if people left and Unity would get stronger in a smaller union.

Mike Antonucci makes a similar point on the impact of Janus though I think the UFT would actually be less progressive internally as the leadership can consolidate its power:
Although their overall numbers will be reduced, it is conceivable that unions will become more progressive organizations. Those who pay dues out of personal choice, rather than mandated obligation, are more likely to support their unions’ political goals as well. There will be less union, but it could be union concentrate.
Post-Janus Unity will be able to wipe out the opposition Ex Bd people.

Last spring MORE took on this issue with a Save the Union campaign because Unity was not doing enough to respond to the Janus case. I felt some of this was a rush to judgement and we should consider all the alternatives even if we ultimately came to the same conclusion. At the very least we should have a discussion about it and I was unhappy that such a discussion had not taken place in MORE at the time. But trying to get a discussion going in MORE when a group of people have made their decisions is not easy. There finally was one at the MORE convention a few weeks ago.

MORE would stick to the position of staying in the union - that is a given. The problem I have with some of the MOREs is that they apply general views on unionism and union organizing based on their studies of labor without taking into account the peculiarities of the 200,000, 120k active-member UFT that is and has been controlled by one caucus and one voice for almost 60 years. I think the UFT is a special case that needs special attention.

I intend to stay in the UFT but I wonder how MORE's message will play with a restive rank and file that has not felt Unity has had their back. Especially if MORE intends to run against Unity in the 2019 elections.

MORE hammers Unity but tells people to keep giving them dues despite that?

Or MORE doesn't really hammer Unity (which some have charged they do not do enough). Needing to make a fairly subtle argument, which I don't see easy to pull off in quick conversations with people - the UFT/Unity leadership sucks but ignore that. I can see some anti-Unity rank and file people saying "WTF."

At MORE's convention this was a topic for ratification. So to get a discussion going I raised the alt position - some of the arguments Roseanne makes - she is a member of MORE along with 30 of her colleagues and that point of view should be represented and not viewed as some alien body invading the host.

I raised objections to how this campaign would be presented without making demands on Unity for changes. Since Unity couldn't give a shit about what MORE does in this campaign even if it will result in some people continuing to pay dues, no matter what MORE does will still be a drop in the bucket.

[NOTE: Leadership has begun a door to door campaign and MORE people were salivating at the opportunity to get in on this and many were accepted. True bipartisanship.]

Below I share the details of the MORE campaign which was passed at the convention -- I spoke my piece and then voted to abstain to express my mixed feelings.

Honestly, I can think of higher priorities for MORE people to be doing than racing around their schools asking colleagues to pledge to stay in the UFT. If MORE had a major presence in schools then we could tie such a campaign to demands on the leadership but these little pin pricks don't mean much --- Would this be the priority issue to talk about to colleagues? Especially given that the leadership is running their own campaign - 2019 is the year of the UFT elections when Unity will make Janus part of their campaign. Hey, maybe MORE should run with Unity like NAC did  for 10 years in exchange for free Exec Bd seats -- just joking.

Below are some actions MORE is asking its members to take and arguments MORE will make.

I pushed back -- talking about some who are not anti-union but might leave the union because they feel the union doesn't serve the members. Some may call for a new bargaining agent. And then we might see a rebirth of the high school teachers calling for a separation from the UFT with its own bargaining agent. After all, HS have voted against Unity most of the time over the past 30 years. Some say don't give money to the UFT until they restore voting for VPs in their divisions -- which in the 2014 election would have put James Eterno on the adcom -- yes, James in the high schools got more votes than Janella Hinds.

Here was the proposal MORE voted to support.
Stay Union Committee Response to Janus
An unfavorable verdict in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, which shall be decided in or around June 2018, would end the UFT’s mandatory collection of agency fees from its constituents. Because such a verdict seems likely, MORE resolves to aid the UFT in educating all of its constituents (including UFT members and fee-paying non-members) regarding the importance of paying agency fees.

We therefore request that the MORE Caucus take the following actions within the coming months:

1) Organize at least two public forums regarding why UFT constituents should remain in the union, and educate constituents about how we can build a union that is more responsive to rank-and-file concerns, post-Janus.

2) Conduct monthly phone-banking sessions to encourage UFT members to stay union; and place “stay union” literature in UFT constituents’ mailboxes every month. 

3) Activate MORE members to distribute pledge cards, and maintain ‘communication logs’ to work towards 100% of members’ staying union, in the chapters where we have a presence.

4) Pressure the UFT leadership to implement a more thorough and aggressive campaign to retain membership post-Janus. Specifically, pressure the UFT to distribute pledge cards and maintain ‘communication logs’ in every UFT chapter.

A Running List of Stay Union Arguments
- We need 90% of members to stay union in order to bargain well.
- Chapters need to be 90% union in order to be unified – and speak with one voice, against abusive administrators, onerous rules, etc.
- Teachers in many RTW states are undignified and under-compensated. Let’s not be like them.
- With “your help,” the union might just become better, post-Janus. It may need to, in order to retain members.
- Whether the UFT improves or not, if you have aren’t in a union, you will definitely lack dignity, job security, and power. Look at charter schools.
- Unions are the key to middle class prosperity, and teaching is the largest unionized profession in the United States. As our profession goes, so goes the entire U.S. middle class.
- We need to be strong and act in solidarity – and we need your help to do this.
- Not joining the union is free-riding.
- Trump stole the swing seat on the Supreme Court. Leaving the union is a way of aiding and abetting his theft.

Demands for Changes in the UFT
Support teachers against abusive principals

Stop the dictatorship that principals have in their schools....bring democracy to school decision-making

Create a teacher evaluation system that teachers support (not test scores)

UFT employees cannot make more that then the top earning teacher. Any work they do over their work day, should be paid per session.

Fight for lower class sizes and maternity leave.
Notice that MORE is not putting forth a detailed reform program to create a more democratic union. A major flaw in its strategy.

Given the issues of the UFT leadership abandoning so many people and no calls for MORE members to stuff boxes on those issues, there is some irony in asking MORE members to stuff boxes to pledge to stay in the union. But the hope is that this campaign will be used to raise those issues too. [MORE had no presence or even a handout at the recent DA. Not the best sign of ability to do outreach.]

I put forth these ideas at the convention to spur a discussion.
Norm's Response to Janus proposals

In our discussions of Janus so far, MORE seems to be taking the position that we must support our union and urge our colleagues to do so. This leaves MORE in a position of backing a Unity Caucus leadership in essence that has given away so much.

How does a supposed opposition caucus that will I assume challenge the leadership in the 2019 election present a case in opposition with one hand while supporting people paying dues with the other and in essence strengthening the leadership?

What is our messaging?
To MORE supporters we can say that if they leave it makes Unity stronger --- something I believe Unity would not be unhappy about --- lose some people but dilute the opposition.

Are there other options?
People commenting on the blogs say they would pay if they had a union that really supported them.

Someone may try to organize people who leave into a call for a new bargaining agent and urge others to leave the union or those in the union to sign cards calling for a bargaining agent.
What they will be selling is militancy and making MORE sit in the middle.

An alt position for MORE is to NOT put our resources into a major campaign to SAVE the UNION when we have other battles to fight. Let the union leadership do that and we can offer some support that doesn't distract us from major work -- which i see as getting as much support to people who feel the union is abandoning them.

I'm not saying these are answers but what is necessary is that we explore all options and not act on what has become a default position for MORE. I believe that when and if we run in 2019 -- this position will create doubts for a batch of MORE backers --- why vote for MORE?
I believe we may very well see a movement in the UFT to organize those who want to stop paying dues into a force for changing the union or leaving en masse and calling for other bargaining agents. An escrow account is one idea for people to take the dues money and put it into a fund to fuel a challenge to Unity.

Is this a feasibility for high school teachers? Not overall -- but with about 7000 signature of high school teachers to split of the high schools, not an impossibility. Thus we may see a populist internal movement counter to the MORE campaign that would leave MORE in the position of carrying the water for Unity while it gets outflanked by a militant/populist wing. And maybe just in time for the spring 2019 elections -- where the people who left cannot vote.

We laud the work of the MORE/New Action HS Ex Bd people. Enjoy their work while we can. There may not be a next time.

1 comment:

  1. Please do not underestimate the huge numbers of elementary school teachers who are very unhappy with the current UFT leadership. The staff at my elementary school are completely undecided as to what we will do in a post-Janus situation.

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