Wednesday, October 10, 2018

UFT Opposition Update: Not All Peace and Harmony as 2019 Elections Approach

Representatives of MORE and New Action met recently to discuss running in the UFT election and from what we hear the coalition would not include Solidarity Caucus.
With the disagreements between some people in ICEUFT and MORE many ICEers do not want to work with MORE/NA in the election.
And there is a faction of New Action that will ONLY be involved in the election if Solidarity is included. A crucial vote in New Action will take place at the beginning of November. Some members of New Action are threatening to leave the caucus if the anti-Solidarity faction prevails.
MORE doesn't meet until October 27 and there are people in MORE supposedly who do not want to run in the election. And further, Unity has been doing some recruiting among the people they see as disaffected from all the caucuses.
Are you confused? It is time for me to do a series of blog posts (or maybe a book) about the history of the opposition and the current state of opposition politics in the UFT and why I and others have basically given up on the idea that we can affect much of a change in a UFT dominated by the too big to fail Unity Caucus. 

Is it worth the enormous amount of time and energy it takes to even run in a UFT election just to possibly win 7 high school seats on a 100 member Executive Board? Is it worth the time and energy to print up leaflets and go to a Delegate Assembly just to make a point in a sea of Unity? If I saw something bubbling up in the schools, maybe it would be worth it.

I had hopes for MORE -- until a year ago. I'll get into why I no longer have faith that MORE can ever challenge Unity in follow-up blogs over the next few months as I report on UFT internal politics.

I had envisioned MORE as a big tent caucus that everyone in an interest in beating Unity could coalesce in. That is no longer true as MORE has morphed into a group that knows it cannot win but instead wants to use its organizational initiatives to push certain ideological positions on the UFT leadership --- a lobby/pressure group of sorts.

After 6 years of life what I see are still very few schools with real activity based on MORE initiatives. In fact, I think MORE has less schools now than it did 6 years ago. And yes Virginia, size does matter in terms of ability to influence the direction of the union.

James Eterno has an optimistic report on last Friday's ICEUFT meeting attended by people connected to the various grouplings within the UFT that would be termed "the opposition."


James says:
.... the groups seem to have much more in common in wanting a powerful union than what divides us. The leaders of the various opposition groups might not always agree on the general direction for the movement but I learned at the ICEUFT meeting that there is plenty of common ground.
James is hoping there will be opportunities to work together in the upcoming contract ratification vote and in the UFT elections in 2019.

After almost 50 years of being part of opposition politics in the UFT, I'm not as hopeful. Being optimistic is not a bad thing - as long as we have a dose of reality tossed in.

James pointed out that
ICEUFT was joined by members from New Action UFT and Solidarity caucuses. Since some of the people in ICEUFT are still part of MORE (the Movement of Rank and File Educators, all of the opposition groups to Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten's Unity Caucus within the UFT were represented at the ICEUFT meeting.....
Why are there so many grouplings and factions in the UFT?
In fact there was only a faction of New Action since there are some splits brewing over the UFT elections and who to run with. And there was only a faction of MORE present. I don't know enough about Solidarity.

When asked why the different caucuses and the non-aligned who oppose Unity Caucus in the UFT don't join together I answer with a question of my own:

Why is there a MORE, New Action, Solidarity, ICEUFT?
Given the relative small size of the number of activists, why is there more than one caucus? And not only that, why are there factions within caucuses? I guess the answer to the 2nd question explains the first. Unless a caucus - or any political group - understands that factions will exist and makes provisions for that, there will inevitably be splits and the formation of other caucuses. And when they are so weak they combine (see below for the 1995 NAC creation and the 2012 MORE creation as a result of mergers of sorts.)

And in the UFT where there is a dominant one party system of control under Unity, not having one opposition caucus under one tent spells ultimate doom for the opposition. That has proven true over the 50 years of opposition politics.

Since the first opposition caucus formed - Teachers Action Caucus (TAC) after the 1968 strike --- they were people who opposed the strike ---- there has never really been a time where there was just one big tent caucus in opposition to Unity. There were coalitions of caucuses that came together for UFT elections, but went their own way otherwise. In effect they were competing for the same few potential activists at the expense of the other caucuses.

New Directions merges with TAC
ND was a group that split off from the group I was in in the 70s -- Coalition of School Workers (CSW) which basically stopped functioning around 1981 but came back to life as ICE in 2003.

New Action came the closest to being the one opposition caucus in town when TAC merged with New Directions in 1995 after having had electoral success as a coalition of caucuses and independents in the 1991 election when they won 13 Ex Bd seats.

What is funny is that the current issues in NA run along the TAC people vs the ND people -- and ideology plays a role.  That's 23 years later and there are still latent issues.

NAC made their deal with Unity in 2003 in prep for the 2004 UFT election where they did not run a candidate for president against Randi Weingarten after she "guaranteed" them the 6 high school Ex Bd seats.

That led to the formation of two caucuses to fight against that deal --- Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) and Independent Community of Educators (ICE-UFT). TJC had already been around for a decade but not as a caucus. The 2004 election was their first foray. We formed ICE in late 2003 because many independents did not find TJC conducive to being a truly democratic caucus but under the control of a few sectarians with a definitive ideological position that left little room for dissenting opinions.

There was immediate friction between ICE and TJC that never went away even though we won the high school seats in 2004 and ran together in 2007 and 2010.

Both caucuses were withering away with no growth - actually they shrank. Some of us in ICE saw that and organized a non-caucus -- GEM in 2009 that was non-sectarian and looked beyond internal UFT politics. GEM attracted enough people who began to think that a non-sectarian open caucus was possible.

Thus was born MORE in 2011-12 where the members of TJC and ICE came together with others. But the political tensions that had existed between ICE and TJC since 2003 never went away. And the recent splits in MORE represent those tensions where the TJC faction over the past 6 months to a year gained ascendancy and has tried to push the ICE people out. Many have abandoned MORE over the ideological differences.

So when James points to MORE people being at the ICE meeting, it is actually the ICE people still involved in MORE but at as an inconsequential level of influence.

Factions in caucuses

Unity Caucus does not seem to have factions. It runs by democratic centralism -- where even if you disagree, you must support the will of the majority or be forced out. Now some people in Unity have been talking behind the scenes that there is a faction in Unity that wants changes as a way to recruit people aligned with the divided opposition. I heard that line from Randi and crew back in the late 90s. It is just blowing smoke.

I believe that recognizing factions and holding debates on where people are divided so as to forge some common agreements is a healthy thing for a caucus and a union.

At the organizing meetings for MORE In 2011, all factions were there and sent 2 reps to each meeting. I brought up numerous times that we should explore what divided ICE and TJC as a way to resolve future issues. I was told we should only focus on what unites us not divides us. I saw this as a way to fluff over and stifle opinions.

At the very first large MORE organizing meeting in February 2012 I warned about the factions among the founders of MORE and said they must be taken into account --- ie.  make sure there is diversity of opinions and have the factions represented. But whenever you have sectarians in an organization, they will move to control the group and shut out or purge dissident voices.

Sadly, MORE has moved in that direction. The direction Unity follows, where those who disagree with policies set by the dominant faction are invited to leave the caucus - there is no longer a steering committee or any clear lines as to who are making decisions in MORE -- top down leadership so eschewed by social justice caucuses ----

As one former MORE member who left in disgust said: If MORE is going to have Unity Caucus like loyalty oaths why not just go to Unity which at least has all the toys?

Is there a way forward for the opposition and more historical context coming in future posts.


  1. So basically you are saying that there is no way for all these Unity opposition groups to come together under one name to get on the ticket against Unity in the upcoming election? Great, just great.

    1. You seem to think that if they did it would make a real difference. Groups did this in the past to little avail. My point was missed. That there are so many groups when there should be one. If I were non Aligned I would ask why 50 people need 5 groups.

  2. I have always believed that the idea of actually winning control of the UFT was totally unrealistic. The UFT controls the AFT, and the AFT is too important to the Demicratic Party to lose control.

    That being said, running for office is an important way to get out news that there teachers who are organizing outside of UNITY. The opposition has always grown in the year after an election.

    Winning seats has always been a distraction in my view. Even the one win we can point to at the exec board came from a mass movement.

  3. Actually jonathon in my experience the opposition has not grown but shrank after elections. The election process is a distraction.

  4. MORE began to disintegrate after the dispute over Mulgrew's participation in the Garner Family vigil in Staten Island. The statement issued by the MORE coordinating committee tried was a rotton compromise that sought to avoid supporting Mulgrew's participation in the Staten Island rally on the one hand so as not to alienate those who either supported the police or dismissed it all under the heading of "identity politics" which in the view of some, MORE as a union caucus should not concern itself with. Although the subsequent general meeting of MORE overwhelmingly endorsed Mulgrew's participation (after the fact), this prompted the resignation of the pro police faction who went off to form "Solidarity" and the withdrawal of others on both sides of the divide in dismay. The characterization of this divide; between "identity politics" vs "pure and simple trade unionism" obscured more than it revealed and no follow up effort was made to 1) examine the context and history of the UFT and white supremacism and 2) what challenges this posed to any rank and file group seeking to reform the UFT. Instead of facing the actually existing divisions with an eye to raise awareness, within MORE and among the membership, many MORE members retreated into their spoken and unspoken factions, casting aspersions, circling the wagons, pointing fingers and never getting any wiser. It was a collective failure that repeats itself as long as everyone is pointing fingers and name calling. Factions may be inevitable and even desirable, but when they start to resemble small businesses fighting for market share, in my opinion they loose all reason for existence in a movement that should promote solidarity.


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