Monday, February 25, 2019

Ray Frankel - a Tough UFT Original - Hear Her Oral History

Ray Frankel:  Albert Shanker too comes out of the socialist movement and worked for the election of Socialist Party candidate Norman Thomas in 1948... Oral History at NYU Tamamint Labor Library
[Ray] Frankel, who was the longtime chair of the UFT election committee [since the very first UFT election in 1962], has her place not only in UFT history as a founding member but in New York City labor history. She is the daughter of lifelong activists in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, a background that prepared her well for taking the fight for justice into the public schools. She was one of only five from PS 165 in Manhattan to participate in the pivotal 1960 teachers’ strike.
Frankel brought her dedication and commitment with her when she began teaching at the HS of Art and Design in Manhattan. A tenacious recruiter, she helped the union grow. As Frankel put it, “In my milieu you were either planning a strike, on strike or reminiscing about one.”......
Mike Schirtzer called me tonight and let me know that Ray Frankel passed. (I never made it to the UFT Ex Bd meeting because a tree fell on the train tracks.) I'm sorry I wasn't there to honor Ray, a long-time sparring mate - back to the 70s. We always found Ray tough as nails, a hard-core Unity Caucus acolyte who seemingly had disdain for the opposition. In her later years she seemed to lighten up and I always received a nice greeting from her. 

Ray ran the UFT elections since its inception in 1962 - and was head of the election committee until she passed the torch to Amy Arundell in 2013. But she still played a role, even in the 2016 election. When we ran we were always afraid Ray would knock us off the ballot if we were one signature short. We butted heads with her over election rules for decades.

Ira Goldfine I still remember Ray's face the first time all the groups ran together in the late 70's [I think this was 1981] as New Action Coalition(NAC) (New for New Directions, Action for Teachers Action Caucus and Coalition for the Coalition of NYC School Workers). As we unloaded carton after carton of election petitions she realized that we were running a full slate of 700+ people for the first and I think only time the opposition did it. I think she was in awe but couldn't say it but they had an inkling because that was the year we surprised them and a bunch of us took off a day to bombard almost every single school in the city with election literature.

We found it funny in 2016 that when Solidarity was short candidates to reach the 40 minimum, Ray seemed willing to let it pass -- a sign she was softening -- or playing union politics by dividing the opposition -- but the election committee ruled that a rule is a rule. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt.

Every time I saw Ray she would shake her head and smile -- like how could I still be opposing the policies of the union leadership? I think she believed I was nuts - and she was probably right. 

Priceless audios of Ray Frankel from mid-80s: Socialists organized the UFT and she was a lifelong member of the socialist party.
Ray comes from the Social Democrats USA wing of socialism - as Shanker did - she says she joined the socialist party in the 30s and says she remained a member. They considered themselves socialists but were also very anti-Communist.

For those of you who put down socialists, Ray talks about how the union was organized by socialists. Most teachers did not go out on the first strike -- it was the most conscious - the socialists/activists - who led the strike and the formation of the UFT.

She was more active in the socialist movement than in the union - she joined the Teachers Gild - not the more communist oriented Teacher Union (TU) -- in the 50s. And she talks about democratic centralism without naming it as such. Great stuff if you want an idea of how the UFT and Unity Caucus operates. Her dad was a presser in the ILGWU like my dad - my mom was an operator on the sewing machines.
She talks about how her principal tried to help her organize the teachers in her school -- he was a firm believer in unions. When they struck, her principal, Eddie Gotlieb, refused to turn in their names. Only 5 walked on that first strike - a lesson for today's so-called militants in the UFT, many of whom hide behind anonymity - and also the caucuses who talk strike -- would any of them walk with only 5 teachers in their school?
Ray talks about the founding of the union, UFT elections and UFT caucuses. She describes the very first contentious UFT election between Charlie Cogan and Roger Parente -- see Roger Parente, a UFT founder, dies at 86 -
She talks about losing dues checkoff years after the '75 strike and also the recent mid-80s UFT elections where the opposition (3 caucuses uniting for elections) were beginning to make some headway. She actually talks about those UFT elections with some analysis and about the high school election - I assume that was the election where Mike Shulman was elected to the Adcom in 1985. She talks about the high schools as being a special problem for the union. Nothing's changed. Really illuminating stuff. She also talks about the beginning of caucuses - in 1962 when they organized Unity Caucus to stop Parente who ran against Charlie Cogan -- the Spur Caucus. She discusses the old Teachers Union and how it morphed into a caucus - Teachers Action Caucus - which eventually merged with New Directions - she talks about Anne Filardo, Dave Weiner, Paul Becker. She talks about the other caucus - New Directions - no ideology. And points out how they are ideologically opposite - [they merged into New Action in 1995 but there are still ideological differences]. Ray claims that the fact that Unity had at that point held power for 25 years doesn't mean they lack democracy. She even talks about the union's "no position" on the Vietnam War - it was too divisive -- we've heard that before. But when it came to Solidarity in Poland - a very important issue to them - and they opposed the invasion of Czechoslovakia - but not the invasion of Vietnam -- so many goodies for junkies like me.
There are 3 segments, each about 45-50 minutes. Priceless UFT history from a certain point of view.

Here are Arthur's notes from tonight's Ex Bd meeting in relation to Ray Frankel.
Resolution honoring UFT founder Ray Frankel

George Altomari—There are a lot of things you see in people. Some people do that and more. You hardly even see them. But Ray Frankel was a person who did as much as anyone in the union. When you devote a lifetime to a cause, you have something special. Lots of people saw her in different roles. Ran elections for years. Without her work, you wonder where we would be. She was meticulous about her work. Everyone believed in her honesty. She was there at the very beginning. She always gave more than she received. You could always rely on her. Represented the best of us.

Schoor—She was CL of Art and Design. My mom was secretary. Always asked after her. Always concerned about people after they left, every union member.

LeRoy Barr—I had opportunity to work with her closely. One of first on our wall downstairs. Was always there behind scenes making sure things were running. Dedicated her entire life. Working up until last 2 or three months. Was voice that said you can’t do it this way, you have to do it that way. She added to me, making sure we didn’t just get it done, but got it done right. We are the beneficiaries of her life. Bur for her, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.

Approved unanimously.
Given her views on strikes - she was part of the first UFT strikes -- I am reminded of one incident with Ray around 2000-01. This was pre-Bloomberg when Giuliani was our big enemy with lots of anti-union rhetoric - our last contract was the double zero "raises" of 1995.

Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) held a rally in front of the old UFT HQ at 260 Park Ave South calling for the same kind of action the same people who are now in MORE are calling for in the current UFT election -- asking -- begging - the UFT leadership to prepare the membership for a strike. I joined them for a while in the picket, which took place around 4 PM. I guess there were about 30 people. But I felt uncomfortable with that line of thinking because they seemed to be asking the UFT leadership to do something - a leadership that was a proven commodity -- I even argued with them that if there ever was a strike this leadership was not capable of leading an effective strike because they didn't believe in it. (It led to some ruffled feathers with TJCers). At that time TJC had not yet become an electoral caucus and barely had a presence at the UFT DA.

Anyway, I walked off the picket line and into the UFT lobby -- and there was Ray Frankel, looking out at them and shaking her head, seemingly glad that I had walked off the line. Ray, as an original UFTer, certainly knew about strikes. We might not even have a union if not for people like Ray. "They're talking about a strike? Meshuganas", she said.

But there is irony here in that not long afterwards Randi actually did start whispering the S word and we actually took a strike authorization vote, which was a clear publicity stunt. Given the current situation, I do believe every union needs to have a strike threat.

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