Monday, May 13, 2019

Chicago Teachers Union CORE Caucus challenged by Members First - Election May 17 - Substance

While I have little direct knowledge of what is going on in Chicago since George Schmidt's death, I expect CORE, the ultimate example for progressive teacher union members who want change in union leaderships, to win. But here Members First is challenging a SJ oriented leadership and if it gets a significant vote total, that may indicate a sign of things to come for social justice caucuses that overreach on SJ and under reach on focusing on the needs of their membership, especially given the disastrous outcome for MORE in the recent UFT election.

The last time an election was held in Chicago TU was in 2010 when CORE won. I remember George telling me that he had security of some sort in every school to prevent the caucus in power from stealing the election --- they vote in the schools, not like here, by mail.

Some of the charges against CORE are that it has not been able to get a number of schools organized effectively like it did for the 2012 strike, that the contracts they have won, even in 2012, have been deficient but that the left press has overhyped their victories and downplayed the defeats, and that they have often played the political game poorly. I can't vouch for any of these charges but suspect some germs of truth. (See Jim Vail on the upcoming elec
[Read a report of the CTU recent delegate meeting and the caucuses debated afterward at Substance: May Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates report includes election forum information].
The politics of the May 17 Chicago Teacher Union election are always interesting and relate to issues we see here in NYC with MORE trying to emulate CORE in its political stance but being  unsuccessful in its 7 years in existence compared to CORE which won leadership less than two years after being founded (CORE is less than 4 years older than MORE).

Contrast CORE and MORE, which got significantly lower vote totals even than in its first election campaign in 2013. But the faction, or fraction, leading MORE has been more divisive than CORE has been, though some of their leadership engaged in similar actions with the attempted failed purge of George Schmidt --CORE Attempted Purge of One of Founders George Schmidt Failed in Chicago - Eight Women of Color Speak on George's Behalf.
CORE maintained some semblance of internal democracy while MORE proved itself more adept at its goal of purging by just tossing democracy and due process out the window. 

Upon its founding in 2008, CORE offered a broad based social justice agenda but with a focus on the schools, as was originally intended with MORE before going off the tracks.

Members First came into existence as a reaction by some that the CTU/CORE union leadership was not paying enough attention to the issues in the schools. The George Schmidt often made the same charge -- that the leadership was more interested in holding rallies as an organizing tool than going into the schools to organize. And some in CORE agreed with him and some former CORE supporters helped form Membership First.

Some in NYC view Solidarity Caucus, formed by former MORE members, as the Members First equivalent. I don't think there is an exact parallel but I've been predicting over the years that if a caucus or leadership tips too far one way there will be a counter reaction the other way.

I understand what has driven the people organizing Members First but to me the name is a net negative and a narrowing of the agenda and by their name they have come under criticism as sending a message that the students are not important. Of course member needs should be a priority but the name is exclusive. They needed to be more subtle - like calling themselves Solidarity.

Content in [] added after publication based on some input:
[It is important for me to note that educators who feel the primary mission of a teacher union and caucuses within the union is to focus on union members, not students and other issues related to what they view as outside social justice issues should not shunned or mocked or call them right wing or racists. The fact is many teachers of color are in agreement. While we may disagree and feel that a union must address the conditions of students, we also feel a union cannot let issues related to SJ run ahead of taking care of the members. These are issues worth debating and when ICEUFT was active we did engage in that debate and as a consensus group often came to a meeting point. No debates like this took place in MORE -- it was somewhat of a shaming issue and people with those views either left or were silent so as not to be called a racist. Thus my point that we can't let how you feel about a leader prevent dialogue from taking place in groups like Solidarity and Members First - and I bet this may be going on in other places.]
Here in NYC MORE's former more inclusive message has been narrowed to aim at only a certain segment of the union -- I need to blog further about exactly what constitutes this segment but if the recent UFT election has some lessons, the drop from 10,700 to 2,700 votes may be some indication. A clue -- the MORE leadership views these 2700 as potential cadre and thus of a higher priority than the 8000 missing votes.

In NYC Solidarity Caucus arose in 2014 partly due to similar concerns about MORE but the leaders have come up with a more clever name. Some of us tried to keep Portelos inside MORE to raise his issues there instead of leaving. Despite being invisible for the years between elections and having few outposts in the schools, Solidarity with its mainstream message got a thousand votes more than MORE.

Yet Solidarity too has come under attack behind the scenes by both New Action and MORE leaders as being driven by forces that might attract the anti-student crowd and  turn to the right. Sometimes I think the criticisms directed at Portelos are a coverup for the underlying politics.

This is the first real challenge CORE Caucus is facing since its election in 2010 when it didn't start out as being favored to win. And in fact, with 5 caucuses running it finished 2nd to the caucus in power. But that Unity-like caucus had split in two (it had also lost in 2001 to PACT Caucus before winning back power in 2004 in a very close election - PACT had around 49% in the first round, just short of winning outright but lost in the runoff).

Chicago has a more democratic system with a runoff if no caucus gets 50%. A weakened PACT was running in 2010 again with a former CTU president at the top of the ticket - but CORE was formed by some former PACTers. The very idea of having more groups run was why the CORE leaders, with a caucus only about a year and a half old, felt they had a chance if only they could finish 2nd.

Here's an article about the election from Substance.

Chicago Teachers Union officers challenged by Members First

The battle between CORE (the Coalition of Rank and File Educators) and Members First for the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union will take place on May 17 and it should be interesting.

Both caucuses are strong and sent out flyers this week to CTU members. Members First's literature blared out, "Who Wants Their Dues to Go Up? No One!"

This is a big concern among members of the group that formed a couple of years ago to question the CTU budget and the foundation that has been shoveling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates while burning through its reserves that have resulted in deficits. This has also resulted in cutting field reps and other clerical workers in the CTU offices.

Members First's officer candidates are President Therese Boyle, Vice President Victor Ochoa, Recording Secretary Deborah Yaker and Financial Secretary Sharon Davis.

In its flyer, Members First says that it will demand transparency and will fight for competitive salaries. Those are not just hollow words. Boyle has looked closely at the budget to find deficits and questionable expenses that the union had to admit to. Boyle also said earlier that the union should be demanding a higher raise than just 5% because of what teachers have lost in the last contracts when the fight was strong against the pension pickup.

CORE is headed by CTU President Jesse Sharkey, Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, Recording Secretary Maria Moreno and Financial Secretary Christel Williams-Hayes.

CORE says in its flyer that it fought against and stopped school closings and turnarounds, stopped charter growth, had the highest charter unionization in the country, won the greatest TIF surplus in history, restored pension levy, led first ever mayor runoff, secured funding security, and won rights to challenge discipline and vote down excessive tests for first time.
The CORE accomplishments are real – its political strategy has resulted in a fight back to protect public education from the proliferation of charter schools that have closed many public schools and eliminated many teachers jobs, especially in the African American community. That was how CORE started. 

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