Tuesday, May 21, 2019

CORE Wins in Chicago, Supporters Express Concerns

I wrote about the Chicago union election last week -- Chicago Teachers Union CORE Caucus challenged by Members First.
CORE won the election but internally there are some serious concerns, as this excerpt signed by some key CORE people indicates:
...we recognize that many members are concerned about the direction of our union under the current CORE leadership team. We share many of those concerns. We are deeply sympathetic to members who feel that their working conditions, which are our students’ learning conditions, have been getting worse for years. As active rank-and-file teachers, clinicians, PSRPs, and school workers, we have experienced the bullying, the disrespect, the micromanaging, and the intense pressures and workloads personally.... it’s our contention the current leadership has made a series of mistakes that have deepened the defeats and taken us off the road to fighting back. One of the most concerning was the top-down decision of this leadership to call off a strike in 2016 accepting what we consider a weak contract. We also believe our union has not done a sufficient job defending members and our contract in the buildings and that leadership has become too far removed from the everyday abuses we experience. In addition, we are in deep disagreement with our leadership’s turn towards funding Democratic establishment politicians.... letter from CORE Supporters, including some founders
Sound familiar? The above, printed in full below, comes from a dissident faction internally within the CORE caucus - some of whom I have spoken to over the years and when they expressed some of their frustrations within the CTU. I spent a couple of days hanging out with some signees and other CORE people in Los Angeles back in July 2009, a year before CORE won. I heard from some of them as far back as 2012 and 2014 at AFT conventions. Some of them were among the top leadership but have left the leadership to go back in the classroom.

You won't read about these concerns from leftist social justice activists within CORE in the often fawning leftist press over CORE.

These dissidents are somewhat similar to the former dissidents within MORE - mostly people associated with the ICEUFT wing of MORE who have been pushed out by people with similar ideologies to the leadership of the CTU --- many of the people in ICEUFT do not cede the SJ interpretation to the ideologues. What is clear, it that since similar issues are being raised in other caucuses, this is a fundamental political disagreement and not personal --- which is often raised by people who want to hide the politics. I think what happened in MORE is happening in other places too.



So there is lots going on with teacher union elections. I reported on the Baltimore election where a coalition of two opposition caucuses defeated a 21 year incumbent and Randi ally - a VP of the AFT.
The Chicago Teacher Union story is always fascinating to watch as there have been distortions as to the origin story of CORE and the outcomes of some of the subsequent actions. First an announcement from Jesse Sharkey, who was elected for the first time as president after having served as Karen Lewis' VP since they were elected in 2010:
CTU President Jesse Sharkey on FB
CORE wins 66-34. Congrats to everyone who worked so hard on this campaign. I just had a very gracious conversation with Therese Boyle, and I offered her a place in CTUs Bargaining Team—we will unite this union and fight for a great contract!

CORE won the election over Members First on May 17 with 66% of the vote. I was watching for the outcome to see the level of push back from those who agree with Members First that the union should emphasize the needs of its members. I agree with SJ caucuses like CORE when they say that the union must also consider the living conditions of the students since they also influence working conditions and by its very name, Members First doesn't send that message. In the first challenge to CORE since they were elected in 2010, 34% is not an insignificant push back and unless CORE meets their needs, they have room for growth -- though I would change the name and broaden the focus --- along the lines with the demands the dissidents inside of CORE make below. I can see a joint push for changes coming from the 34% who support MF with the internal push from the dissidents. If the leadership doesn't show itself capable of responding, things will get interesting.

Social Justice ideologues often let their SJ get ahead of the members - as you will read below posted by Fred Klonsky, the statement of left wing SJ/CORE backers who wrote the lead to above -- many members are concerned about the direction of our union under the current CORE leadership team.

I know some of them and while they could never back Members First and are loyal CORE people - even founders -- some have told me they agreed with the late George Schmidt's criticisms of CORE and the way they were leading the CTU with an "ideology first" agenda. George told me that the CTU leadership had not focused on organizing the membership through in-school work but had been using rallies as organizing tools and they weren't effective.

George told me some of the signees below backed him when CORE ideologues tried to purge George from CORE --- CORE Attempted Purge of One of Founders George Schmidt Failed in Chicago - Eight Women of Color Speak on George's Behalf. Though I see at least one signee who voted against George. The very idea of the purge is indicative of the problems internally.

George wrote at the time:  
the majority of the CORE "Steering Committee" tried to lead the caucus into what amounted to a Purge Trial (or, as one speaker said, to turn CORE into something out of Orwell's Animal Farm)......the claims (by a handful of CORE people now hiding out) that I was a "racist" and a "sexist" (among other things) had to be proved by citing certain specific actions, not by "feelings."
Sound familiar to current and ex-MORE members? George's views were very aligned with ICEUFT --- call us the rational left.

Jacobin's Micah Uetricht  has been writing uncritically about CORE and the CTU and George used to mock some of his conclusions. Here is Uetricht's  pre-election article in Jacobin, which included little hint of the internal dissidents within CORE who did not go to Members First (which is composed of former CORE supporters too) but feel the CTU under CORE leadership has suffered a  defeats, something the leftist press often papers over or ignores as it tries to sell a pristine version of SJ unionism.

Chicago Teacher Militancy Is Up for Reelection-- https://jacobinmag.com/2019/05/chicago-teachers-union-caucus-of-rank-file-educators

It is worth reading Uetricht's piece (which I will address in a follow-up) and contrast the call for CORE supporters for changes in the approach of the leadership as posted by Fred Klonsky. A key is that they have tried every internal mechanism but frustration led them to going public.

We the undersigned are union members, members of CORE, and activists in our schools. Some of us are currently serving on leadership bodies of the CTU and are running for elected positions with the CORE slate. We have decades of combined experience fighting for better schools and a stronger union, and some of us are co-founders of CORE. We are endorsing the CORE slate in the 2019 leadership election and urge all members to vote for the slate in order to register their support for organizing a strike-ready union that’s fighting for a strong contract.We think a Members’ First victory would set the union back in negotiations and represent a move away from a fighting approach. While we respect many of the individuals in MF, and intend to continue working alongside all our union brothers and sisters, we do not believe they have the vision or the commitment to stand up to the bosses and win the schools our students deserve. However, we recognize that many members are concerned about the direction of our union under the current CORE leadership team. We share many of those concerns. We are deeply sympathetic to members who feel that their working conditions, which are our students’ learning conditions, have been getting worse for years. As active rank-and-file teachers, clinicians, PSRPs, and school workers, we have experienced the bullying, the disrespect, the micromanaging, and the intense pressures and workloads personally.

We are not content with the state of our workplaces or the past contracts won. To be frank, our union has suffered a number of defeats in the past years. We know how damaging the REACH evaluation system is. We understand how Student-Based Budgeting and the School Rating System hurts members and students alike. We have labored under the longest school day and school year. We suffered through furloughs, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and the loss of raises.

We fully recognize that the author of our worsening conditions is the 1% and the political establishment of both major parties, who have rained down attack after attack on public education and unions everywhere. We are members of CORE precisely because of the major role CORE had pushing back against this neoliberal assault. We are proud of the organizing for the 2012 strike, for the resistance to testing, school closures, punitive evaluation systems, and the call to join our union fight with the broader needs of the communities where we live and work.
However, it’s our contention the current leadership has made a series of mistakes that have deepened the defeats and taken us off the road to fighting back. One of the most concerning was the top-down decision of this leadership to call off a strike in 2016 accepting what we consider a weak contract. We also believe our union has not done a sufficient job defending members and our contract in the buildings and that leadership has become too far removed from the everyday abuses we experience. In addition, we are in deep disagreement with our leadership’s turn towards funding Democratic establishment politicians, like our endorsement of Toni Preckwinkle, with the aim of buying influence and cutting deals. We believe that we need an electoral strategy that challenges the status quo, but to win gains we need to rely primarily on the power of our members and the broader communities we work in.

Alongside these errors, this leadership has seriously mismanaged the internal finances of our union.

As CORE activists and in our capacity on union leadership bodies, we have been raising these concerns for some time inside CORE, on Executive Board, within the Trustees, and among fellow union members. The drafting of this letter was not our first recourse and was not taken lightly.

Before now, we’ve taken practical action to correct course. Undersigned Trustees were those that brought financial mismanagement to light. We’ve also called for Open Bargaining, so our rank-and-file can directly observe and participate in this round of negotiations. Undersigned Executive Board members have made motions to stop some of the political spending in order to focus union time and resources on the building-level fights we must win. We led the fight to stop the dismantling of special education services. Through these actions and more, we have called for a return to the CORE’s founding principles: Member Driven Union, Transparency & Accountability, Education for All, Defense of Publicly Funded Public Education, and a Strong Contract.

However, now we feel that it is necessary to bring these concerns openly to the whole of the membership. After fighting to be heard inside CORE and within leadership bodies, we have been met with opposition, and in some cases vilification and isolation. We feel that this letter stating our current reality is a necessary first step to turn the tide from recent defeats to gains for our members and students.
The undersigned stand against the very real pressure under 1% attacks towards top-down union bureaucracy, insider political dealings, and the call for secrecy. We are fighting to be strike-ready this fall and to build a union that is truly led by the rank-and-file. We believe that we must rebuild trust with membership around a way forward that can win victories. We’ve advocated for the need to coordinate more strongly with other unions in our buildings, like SEIU 73 for instance, whose members are also in a contract struggle and building to be strike ready. The power of the West Virginia education strikes were based on all-building unity and we need to organize towards the same. We know we must also base ourselves on wider solidarity with local school communities and working people. We must win smaller classes, more clinicians, nurses, case managers, and the time and resources to do our jobs well. We can no longer settle for smaller, symbolic wins. Our students and communities depend on it.

We hope that CORE is reelected and plan to support the new CORE leadership with words and deeds whenever they take positive action. However, we the undersigned intend to take steps starting immediately to fight for the type of union that we think is necessary. Union members who support these ideas should reach out to us to get involved.

Email: CTUFAIRCONTRACTNOW@gmail.com and be sure to join the #CTUFAIRCONTRACTNOW facebook page (bit.ly/FBCTU19).
We can win. And we will win. Together

In Solidarity,
Kenzo Shibata
HS English and Civics Teacher
CORE Founding Member
President, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance- Illinois
Past CORE steering member
CFL Delegate
Past CTU Delegate
Past Media Director, IFT
Past Digital Communications Director, CTU

Erin Young
SpEd Teacher, CORE Steering Member
CTU Delegate

Tammie Vinson
SpEd Teacher
CTU Trustee
CORE Steering

Nick Wozniak
SECA, SEIU 73 Steward

Emily Penn
School Social Worker, EBoard Clinician FVP

Katie Osgood
SpEd Teacher, EBoard Elementary Functional VP

Kristine Mayle
CTU Financial Secretary, 2010-2016

Drew Heiserman
HS Math Teacher
CTU Trustee

Kimberly Goldbaum
CTU Elem. Functional VP, 2011-2018
Middle School Teacher

Alison Eichhorn
HS History Teacher
CTU Trustee
CTU Delegate

Natasha Leigh Carlsen
K-4 SpEd Teacher, EBoard Elementary Functional VP, CORE Steering

Xian Franzinger Barrett
4th-6th Grade SpEd Teacher, EBoard Elem Functional VP
CORE Founding Member

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