Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Left, Social Justice and UFT Caucuses

I found this in draft mode from Oct. 2017

Michael Fiorillo has left a new comment on your post "Luis Reyes on UFT: I believe in social change, red...":
Unions by definition are institutions that enable social justice, by focusing on democracy in the workplace and fair treatment for all workers, which is to say, most people in society.

It's a shame that what remains of the Left in the US fails to realize this, and it's a major reason it is so easily ignored. As long as it refuses to focus on issues that affect working people, it will continue to be ignored, and will deserve it....

Michael Fiorillo
My evolving position has been that I don't want to be in a caucus that doesn't pay attention to social justice work. But I also am concerned when a caucus focuses mostly on SJ work and doesn't pay enough attention to the daily travails of UFT members. And when we sense some imbalance we try to push back to get the ship balanced. That is not always easy when dealing with social justice warriors who salivate at a cause but yawn at issues such as bad bulletin board policy.

One of the problems I've had for years with MORE is the declaration that it is THE social justice caucus - as if Unity and New Action are not interested in social justice issues like MORE is. I know New Action people for a long time and  they often kept the SJ stuff out of their work which focused on bread and butter - I remember being critical of them for that 15 years ago -- they are also supportive of SJ work as individuals.

When I've been in an opposition caucus in the UFT at various times since 1970, they have always had elements of social justice. And they have always been left, which is why the leadership so despised them. In those early years, we had real issues with the leadership over SJ due to the 1968 strike and certain positions the UFT leadership took on many issues.

This was pointed out by Luis Reyes in his comment:
In the 1970s, Albert Shanker (R.I.P.), wrote in his that bilingual education was "...unamerican and separatist."
But the UFT began to change - at least on the surface, as pointed out by Reyes:
In 1984, I reached out to  Sandra Feldman (R.I.P.), to start a dialogue with the UFT leadership. Latino and other bilingual leaders met with leaders of the UFT; and, together we started a movement that resulted in the UFT changing its position on bilingual education and supporting state LEP Aid. Today Evelyn DeJesus, a Puerto Rican bilingual educator from the Lower East Side is the Vice President for Education and Carmen Alvarez continues to be the V.P. for Special Education. 
When Randi took over for Sandy around 1997 she escalated the union's work in the SJ arena and mended many fences Shanker had breached. She is in fact a genius at doing this kind of work.

So if a caucus is to dent the Unity machine it will not be on the basis of it not doing SJ work. As a sage person told some of us in an email yesterday:
The UFT membership at large is as pissed as I have ever seen. Some teachers hired from September 2004 onward are just figuring out now that they have to do the 100 hours of PD on their own dime and time. I was surprised that there are people who still don't know this. Some are vowing not to do the PD and let themselves get fired. I don't know if they are serious but they blame the UFT. Virtually everyone hates Danielson, even if they are highly effective. Teachers kill the UFT on Danielson. Did I mention an ATR or two might just be a little angry with the UFT response to the press attacks? Then there's the lousy raises, lack of support on grievances or just for speaking up, the ordeal of getting tenure, teachers having to pass every kid whether or not they deserve it, school safety, abusive administration, etc.... I could go on and on. Someone quite correctly said we have to eat a shit sandwich every day.
The wise man names just a few issues of concern. Unless a caucus focuses on addressing these issues, it won't resonate with enough members to make much of a dent.

At an Ex Bd meeting we heard case after case of the UFT's work - Arthur reports examples:
Serbia Silva—Stands on behalf of Evelyn de Jesus. ELL event amazing. Evelyn thanks volunteers and staff. Second—same goes for Making Strides. Walked in five boroughs and LI. Thanks all volunteers.
Howard Sandel—Nurses—Rescue work—9/18, Maria made landfall on Dominica. We had nurses there up all night organizing. Set up 53 medical volunteers. Were there 7 days. Visited villages, cared for 818 patients, conducted home visits, distributed items across island. With help of this union we provided rescue workers with backpacks. She expresses gratitude to union. Will be stories in NY Teacher. Nurses gave up two weeks vacation in PR, were not allowed to distribute supplies. Stuck in San Juan. Started Gofundme page. Finally moved. Showed people how to purify water. Thanks everyone.
UFT Executive Board October 16, 2017--We Were Against APPR Before We Were For It -
Mulgrew, who has been so much more responsive this year at the EB meetings -- he even answers questions from the opposition and actually acts like they are in the room --- and I believe this is due to the wonderful work our EB people have been doing --- said this:
We have 30 nurses in Puerto Rico. Leaving Wednesday. May go to Texas. Florida progressing. Huge burden on all of those members. In PR teacher building is hub for distribution. Spoke with governor and mayor. I would like to not have holiday party and make major contribution to those places. Right thing to do. So many people hurting. When we hurt from Sandy people came from all over to help us. This would say a lot. Asking them in lieu of coming to contribute to our disaster relief fund.
Unity is doing social justice work -- and is so much more diversified racially than the opposition groups. Something nags at me in saying THE SJ Caucus, as if the other work doesn't count.

That led to Michael Fiorillo's  comment.

I am going to repeat myself:
A group of us in MORE have been contending that if we want to challenge the UFT leadership, it has to be on issues where they have not supported the members, not on how social justicey they are.

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