Thursday, June 28, 2018

School Scope: The UFT and Janus – Would a More Democratic Union Keep People from Leaving?

Union leadership will use the Janus decision to shut down internal critical voices. If we let that happen, we are abrogating our responsibility to build a better union by trying to force changes (and believe me it will take force) and we are also helping the anti-union forces who are using the impregnable union hierarchy against them. I expect the slings and arrows to come my way but I have my shield ready.

I wrote my column Monday, June 25, when we were still guessing about Janus outcome. It should be in The WAVE - on June 29, 2018, when it will be a bit outdated. It is about democracy in the UFT and whether that would be an issue in decisions to leave the UFT. Though this comment on the ICEUFT blog mentioned democracy.
Bronx ATR said...
This decision is not the end of unions. It doesn't even weaken strong unions. The strength of unions is not their bank accounts. but their willingness to fight and stand up for its members. The UFT's lack of democracy and its intentional creation of an apathetic rank and file has it rightfully concerned.
BronxATR is one of the few who mention democracy and my conclusion is that democracy is basically a non-factor for the overwhelming majority of UFT members. Democracy in the UFT only seems to be a factor to the tiny fringe opposition.

We recently watched MORE shunt internal democratic functions onto a side rail by overthrowing a steering committee a faction didn't like and violating so many by-laws we lost count. (See Why We Choose to Leave MORE)

So, even the supposed opponents to Unity (and I no longer consider MORE a serious opponent to Unity) don't seem very interested in pushing back on the issue of democracy in the UFT.

Yet, unless the ruling Unity Caucus party considers offering dissidents a role in reforming the union, Janus will make them bleed deeply unless there are some fundamental reforms. But I don't have much hope this will happen as the Unity DNA means maintain ironclad control even in a shrinking union.

THE WAVE: June 29, 2018
School Scope: The UFT and Janus – Would a More Democratic Union Keep People from Leaving?
By Norm Scott

Democratic norms seem to be slipping away all over the world. But there are alternate views as to exactly what constitutes democracy. We would have to define these norms first – which would require too much of my limited brain power. So I’ll leave it to you readers to define democracy on your own terms. Suffice it to say, I don’t take a traditional view of democracy.

Some UFT members may think the UFT is a full-fledged democratic union. So I imagine the state of democracy in the UFT won’t affect their decision on whether to keep their union membership or not when the Supreme Court most likely rules in the Janus case that no one can be forced to pay dues even though they may continue to accrue the same benefits as those who remain union members.

Without getting into the weeds let’s talk specifically about democracy in the UFT, which I have been a member of since 1967. In UFT elections the almost 60 year ruling party, Unity Caucus (a caucus is similar to a political party), always wins almost every one of the positions up for election with roughly 75% of those who vote. But almost three quarters of UFT members do not even vote and almost half of those who do are retirees, of which 85% vote for Unity. Thus, to a large majority of classroom teachers, a vote in a UFT election is basically irrelevant. Technically, this is still democracy – majority rule, even if only a relatively small minority of the total number of UFT members. Now, it may be that with a sure Unity victory, there is not much at stake, but that is the way our country seems to view democracy – a majority of a minority is still a majority -  though given the way things have been working out there are more and more calls for serious reforms.

The Unity party controls the 200,00 member UFT with a minority. Using this power base it also controls the NY State union with 600,000 members which in turn controls the national AFT union with 1.5 million members.

In the last election in 2016, a coalition of opposition groups won 7 out of the 100 Executive Board seats, none of the 12 officer positions and none of the 750 delegate positions to the New York State and national teacher conventions. That’s a worse winning percentage than even the METS. Those 7 seats were all from the high schools. In fact, various opposition parties have won the majority of high school votes in most UFT elections since the mid-1980s. Admittedly, the vote totals are low. In 2016 the opposition won the high schools with about 2350 votes while Unity received about 2150. There are almost 20,000 high school classroom teachers in the UFT. Even though our side won, we did so with less than 15% of the high school teachers voting for us. But that was the majority of those who did vote. Our side often claims that high school teachers as a whole do not get enough representation in the UFT, since a majority of those who do vote have relatively little say over UFT policy. The 7 non-Unity reps are only 7% of the Executive Board and they get voted down all the time. The argument that this disenfranchises  20,000 high school teachers, even if it makes the case for our side, is also an iffy one.

Let’s just say that the issue of a democratic UFT is a marginal one and when people chose to stay or leave the UFT post-Janus, the question of democracy will play little or no part.

Having thoroughly confused myself (and you) on the nature of democracy in the UFT, I will go back to blogging at where I may just blog about food.


  1. "Democratic norms" are slipping away because the peasants revolt has revealed the true nature of the globalist enemy. Champagne socialists have never understood the native conservatism of the working class.

  2. The primary consideration of union members will revolve around the following question. What is the union doing for me?

    Abigail Shure

  3. Thanks for the mention, Norm. I had a very long conversation this afternoon with a friend on the nature of democracy. I told her about the set up Unity has in the UFT and she was amazed. She did a comparative analysis to Trump and there were many similarities. You're right of course that the concept rarely enters the minds of most teachers. We complain about the problems we experience but rarely look at their causes. Why are so many of us disaffected? Everyone has their own tale of woe and none of them are more important to its holder than their own. There seems to be a tragic lack of empathy in our society. The UFT is no exception. The apathy they fertilized has grown into a double edged sword - it allowed for unchecked power, but also destroyed loyalty. The absence of democracy is at the root of all that is wrong with the UFT.

  4. You are right about democracy B-ATR -- but I find I have views of democracy that differ from others. I believe in less restriction and more freedom as opposed to rigid rules. How to protect view of a minority -- but there is a big difference between a 49% and a 10% minority and how do we address that issue. If I'm the 10% and believe things were done fairly -- like providing information needed to make an intelligent vote -- I would have to back off. If I get into the 40s I view it differently. Manipulation of democracy can be easy for the majority if it has control of the means of communication.
    But no one seems to want to talk about these issues.

  5. Most people, if you ask them what democracy is will say its majority rule, but it's not - it's where the majority and minority have an equal say in in all aspects of governance or lack there of. The manipulation of democracy is a very real threat to all of us. One of the questions my friend posed was 'did we ever have a democracy'? I found it to be a much more complex question than I first preceived it to be. It led to the continual examples of manipulations of democracy throughout our history, as well as the accompanying silencing of dissenting voices. Controlling the means of communication also came up also with net neutrality. I.e., What and how does this impact on the poor and uneducated? Is there a purpose for all the false information now? Is there a concerted effort to eleminate the middle class? What happens if one person gains control of all checks and balances resulting in unfettered power? Interesting times and I agree no one wants to talk about it, perhaps because it is fundamentally upsetting.

  6. The masters of the universe made the frog water too hot


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