Tuesday, May 26, 2020

UFT Update: Which Came First - the leadership or the membership? Are teachers in LA and Chicago different than NYC?

I keep wondering if there is a major difference in the kinds of people who go into teaching in NYC vs Chicago and LA -- the three biggest cities. Since 2010, Chicago and then LA have elected left wing leaderships that have led strikes with the support of the overwhelming majority of members.

Here in NYC in the UFT we don't see anything even close. So is it the memberships of these cities that is different? Or is it the differences in the leadership?

In the endless back and forth we hear about the failures of the Unity Caucus leadership we hear their response: It's the members, stupid - or the stupid members.
I'm taking a short break from my posts on the 1975 crisis with Part 4 still being worked on -- I'm going back to 1968 after the weekend death of Rhody McCoy to link 68 to the failures of 75. Check them out:
People inside the UFT leadership often blame a conservative leaning centrist membership that they see as less progressive than they are and that trying to move them in a more militant direction is useless and even dangerous for them -- at one point they were resisting using Trump's name in some reso so as not to alienate the Trump backers in the UFT - of which there are surprising number - I know them on FB.

So is the leadership correct? That the teachers in NYC are not as militant or active as Chicago and LA - or is it the nature of the leadership itself that doesn't even attempt to create a more active and militant union?

I can see both sides -- I mean just look at the ICE blog where people gripe like crazy and James pleads with them to get active to push back against the leadership instead of just withdrawing ttheir individual dues which will get them nowhere - even teh argument at if dues are withdrawn that will send a message to the leaders to get with it - not recognizing that it is not in the Unity Caucus DNA to go in that direction.

It will take a leadership from the left like in LA and Chicago with a more ideological view of true organizing to move a membership to resist.

But on the other hand, let's view it from another angle. In LA and Chicago, conditions reached a point where the membership was willing to toss out the old leadership and install a clearly left wing. Does that mean conditions in NYC are just not bad enough to make that possible? Or is it that Unity has rigged the game so that an opposition can't get anywhere?
UFT leaders argue that we have it so much better than the other cities that the membership has proven time and again over 60 years through multi-generations that it supports Unity. And it is hard to argue with that.

Opposition people have blamed the retiree vote and at-large voting - which is true but ignores the non retiree and non at-large vote as evidenced in the high. middle and elementary school divisions where the best the opposition could do is win the high schools by a nose over the past 30 years but made little progress in the other divisions.

[I leave out the non teaching divisions with 40,000 members like the largest chapter - the paras and also secretaries, social workers etc -- the only one of these Unity has seemed to lose are the OT/PT group - but Unity moved fast to divide and conquer them too and we've heard little from them recently.]

I have long maintained when I was active in the opposition that you didn't have to win the entire union -- just these three divisions which would give them 23 out of 100 seats on the Ex Bd but would still indicate the support of a majority of teachers - a basis to build a protest even in the courts to show how voting rights were being violated and change the UFT constitution that gives Unity control of the overall union for life.

Even though most members don't even bother to vote -- a vote in itself of a sort -- there was potential to get there if there was an effective opposition.

Which leads us to another major difference between the UFT and CORE Caucus in Chicago and the coalition of groups in LA and here in NYC.  But that lack of success here is also due to the very existence of a Unity Caucus type entity playing offense and on the constant watch for opposition voices with the ability and desire to coopt them into the caucus -- which did not exist in the otter cities.

So it's a complex question but the simplest answer is while Unity Caucus has bot been effective in forestalling the attacks on teachers etc it is a powerful force and very effective at maintaining power. Just witness how quickly they moved to take advantage of the MORE Caucus infighting and the offer to those who were pushed out to join them with no strings attached.

Is there dissatisfaction? Hell yes. But are people so stressed that they would actually do something about it?

While there are some very cogent comments on the http://iceuftblog.blogspot.com/ blog there's also more than a bit of whining stupidity - as one of the founders of ICE, I often blanch.

But the sentiment that the UFT leadership sucks is real though hard to tell just how widespread that dissatisfaction is - the only real ways to tell is through the election every three years and to a lesser extent push back at the Delegate Assembly. In both cases the sense of dissatisfaction we see on the ICE blog is not echoed in the reality of official UFT bodies or in other areas of the union.

But in the last real election in 2016 (thanks to MORE - the 2019 election was a joke), 12000 people voted against Unity. And that has been fairly consistent over the years when New Action was not allied with Unity (2007-2013).  So if there was a legitimate opposition with wide links to many schools we would see a serious uptick in votes and the election of chapter leaders and delegates with some semblance of resistance at the monthly DAs. So far not much of a sign.

But as I've been pointing out in my series on 1975, we did see an uptick in activity due to the massive cuts then. Is it possible the coming catastrophe will do the same? Follow my upcoming Parts 4 - 50 in future posts.

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