Thursday, January 10, 2019

Whither/Wither The Opposition -- Past, Present and Future Tense - Part 1

Whither: to what place or state. --- old Eng.
Wither: become dry and shriveled.

What will be the state of the opposition in the UFT at the end of this election cycle in April? One of my multiple New Years resolutions is to tell the story of the on-going history of the opposition inside the UFT over the 5 decades of my own involvement. Given I am sitting out the UFT elections, I have plenty of time on my hands. The problem is, where to start?

We are a few days away from the official opening of another UFT election period and all three caucuses running on their own against Unity have been issuing calls for people to run with them and to get ready for the petition campaign which begins at the Jan. 16 Delegate Assembly. In normal times, I would be spending all my time getting ready for a 5 week long petition campaign.

For me, what a relief to be an observer and reporter in the upcoming UFT elections after having been intensely involved in five elections since the 2004 campaign.

But these are not normal times. I saw Ellen Fox the other day at the UFT Ex Bd meeting and she said for her this was the first time in 40 years she will not be involved in an election.
Are there so many fractures, will there be no hope for the future growth of the opposition to become an effective force to counter the 60 year old Unity Caucus machine?

It's very disappointing so see what has happened over the past 5 years after the promise of MORE when it began in 2011-12 with the support of almost all the leading voices in the opposition to Unity over the years. New Action was still aligned with Unity but over time I expected that that aging caucus would eventually join with MORE in coalition (it did in 2016) and hopefully merge. A disappointment was the defection of Portelos in 2014 when he formed his own caucus -- there were reasons he will argue. I would argue if he has remained in MORE and brought his supporters in, it would have strengthened the hands of the faction in MORE that was eventually pushed out -- the ICEUFT people. We would have had a stronger opposition to push back against the faction that gained total control of MORE with an boutique agenda aimed at a small segment of the UFT rather than the broader rank and file. That's boiling down the essential disagreements that took place in MORE over the years.

With the Los Angeles teachers in the UTLA about to strike Monday (changed from today - an unfortunate snafu due to a UTLA miscalculation) under the leadership of a progressive, left-leaning social justice caucus and with Chicago TU in the hands of a similar caucus - two of the three largest cities --- proof that such social justice like groups can succeed in winning and maintaining power -- here in NYC we find ourselves in possibly the worst situation we have faced since the New Action defection to Unity in 2003.

There is no clearer difference in the opposition in the 3 cities than to look at union elections. The NYC version of the progressive caucus - MORE - doesn't want to win anything in the election while citing the work of the groups running LA and Chi -- but never seeming to realize that those groups actually did run to win - and they did win. Which is why they can talk about striking.

If MORE had real power school level power through influence in many schools so as to raise its issues with a broad rank and file then a discussion of strike feasibility can be opened. For MORE, which weakened itself to a point where it has less influence than it has had in 5 years, to talk about strikes here in NYC, is sort of ludicrous. Instead the MORE campaigns to get the union leadership it so vilifies to do take up the MORE campaign. In Chicago and LA the caucuses themselves had enough widespread support as to take on bigger issues without relying on the union leadership. Here MORE tries to be a lobby caucus.
A fractured opposition

Now we know we can't win the whole ball of wax here but we could chip away at Unity power in the schools which is where the battle will take place. An election campaign could help build power through gathering of votes. The ballot box does count. MORE/NA getting almost 11,000 votes last time was the largest total in a long time and an opportunity. An opportunity lost.

There are consequences for this gap between the 3 big cities. Chicago and LA, have pushed back against the ed deform movement, while here in NYC we have seen the UFT be complicit with so much of ed deform, from testing to charters to teachers being held accountable based on test scores. And of course the willingness to stand by as abusive principals chop up our members. Our own union has partnered with the ed deformers all along the way. And as far as I am concerned, MORE itself has dropped the ball in many areas of push back against deformers. That there is no caucus strong enough to become a bulwark leaves us in a precarious position.

It is a sad situation where each of the three caucuses will be running their own independent campaigns with the clear outcome that none of them can win anything on their own.

In what place or state will we find the caucuses post election? Whither or just plain withered?

I see little point in running in an election where the 3 groups end up competing as much as with each other than Unity for votes and candidates and support. There is a lot of blame to go around but let's not get into those weeds at this time.

What a waste of time and energy. I urged MORE to either unite with everyone or don't run and use the opportunity to engage in their campaign outside the election process.

The leadership of MORE, which includes a bunch of people who used to run Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC), a caucus that had shrunk significantly and merged into MORE, opposed me. They argued we would miss a chance to get 2 pages in the NY Teacher - which I had pointed out are barely read by anyone. And they also said they would gain access to all the schools by running -- I pointed out they could gain access to all the schools, even by not running.

When the vote was taken, we could see a lot of doubt about running coming from the newer, younger and untenured people in MORE, which seemed to surprise the old TJC crowd. So they scaled back -- you don't have to run around the city putting stuff in the mail boxes - the very opposite of the argument they used against my position for not running.

Then came the news that even 2 people can get pages in the NY Teacher if they run -- countering their other argument for running a slate.

The only way forward post-election is some kind of united front - a big tent opposition, even if the purists have to retreat somewhat. The Unity machine is the problem and why NYC is different from Chicago and LA. I looked back to the past.

The United Front of the 80s and 90s
In recent posts I've been exploring the historical record as recorded by me over the past 22 years in Ed Notes, but especially the early hard copy publications from 1997-2005. I am reminding myself of all the issues we faced back then, with a lot to echo today's issues.
These had wider distribution I believe than the Ed Notes blog -- the Del Ass and into the schools directly in the latter years of 2002-5 after I retired.

After the 2001 election, which despite New Action winning the high school seats, showed them declining, I tried to play the role of peacemaker between all the groups (NAC, PAC, TJC) and independents by calling for meetings to form a coalition for the next election in 2004. That effort fell apart very quickly and I saw first hand the level of hostility and infighting that existed - to the extent that I, for the first time began to think that a new caucus was necessary to take on issues being ignored and thus was born ICE a few years later. The 2004 election had 3 opposition groups running, the only time other than the present.

I was reminded of the impact the mass campaigns against Unity by all elements of the opposition had in the 80s and 90s when a coalition of groups and individuals under the New Action Coalition (NAC) began to come together in the late 70-early 80s and found a united front was able to recruit a full slate of 800 people to run. And they began to chip a way at Unity power for the first time.

Now we are back to the beginning where we stood in the mid-70s.  The only way forward is for people to get some sense after the election and sit down and find a way to move toward a united front.

I made a chart with the historical links between caucuses over the decades. One day I would like to see them all culminate into one box.

Here are links to recent Ed Notes posts on this topic:

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