Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The United Front: Retiree Advocate/UFT brings friends and former opponents together for Retiree Chapter election

Retiree Advocate slate includes many UFT Presidential candidates vs Unity going back to the 1970s. Gloria Brandman leads slate as chapter leader candidate against Unity Caucus.

United Front: (Broad Definition): alliance of groups against common foes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Submitted by Norm Scott 

Recently, a group of UFT retirees, active for decades in the union as working teachers and current retirees, often in opposition to the ruling Unity Caucus, met in a backyard in Bay Ridge to sign petitions for the Retiree Advocate/UFT slate opposing Unity Caucus in the upcoming UFT retiree chapter election (70,000 ballots go out in May). It was the first time they had not met on Zoom in over a year. It was a lovely spring day and so good to see everyone in person.

Retiree Advocate began decades ago as an offshoot of New Action Caucus after some of their key people retired and wanted to remain active in the UFT without being subsumed by the retiree chapter controlled by Unity Caucus which dominates retiree functions. About ten years ago some retirees from ICE began to work with the RA and that led to the group becoming unattached to any one caucus and welcoming to all. A group of about ten make up an informal organizing committee of RA and have reached out far and wide to help organize for the chapter election. Over 125 retirees have signed up to run.

Over the decades those of us on the current RA organizing committee had fought together and  had fought against each other. (Until the past 5 years I had avoided talking to some of them for decades.) That we were all together in one space and working well together over the past few years is remarkable - a lesson to never burn bridges.

The RA slate has come together from different histories and caucuses: New Action/UFT, ICE/UFT, former members of MORE/UFT, Solidarity Caucus and a current member of MORE Caucus. This election is truly a united front.

UFT history has shown that splintering the opposition only makes Unity Caucus stronger, while united fronts have been able to create at least some challenge to the total control of Unity. 

A test question: Compare and contrast the outcomes of the general 2016 and 2019 UFT elections.

2016 saw a united front of MORE and New Action - vs Unity - two caucus choices on the ballot* and they garnered almost 11,000 votes, winning the 7 high school Ex Bd seats - the first time non-Unity endorsed candidates won those eats since 2004. 
*Solidarity did not have the required number of candidates to get on the ballot and ran as independents with the presidential candidate getting 1300 votes.

In 2019, MORE fractured the alliance with New Action and refused to work with a third caucus, Solidarity, thus leading to a ballot with three caucuses opposing Unity. The results were a disaster with vote totals for the opposition dropping drastically (MORE finished third and got less votes than Solidarity).

If I were a rank and file voter and saw 3 opposition caucuses vs Unity I would say "WTF. You want us to vote for one of you when you can't manage to even work together in an election?"

I think back to my involvement with UFT elections back to the 1970s and have always felt the only reason to run in a UFT election was in a united front - one group opposing Unity - otherwise there was no point in running.** Thus we saw united fronts from the late 70s through the 2004 election when New Action decided to run with Unity and the ICE/UFT Caucus was formed and worked with another caucus, TJC, new to elections to challenge them and won the high schools.

In fact, the creation of the UFT itself emerged from a united front between the Teachers Guild and the High School Teachers Association in the late 60s. Eventually, that United Front led to a merger into one organization, the UFT.

New Action itself emerged from over 15 years of United Fronts for elections in the UFT when two caucuses, TAC and New Directions, around since the 70s, merged in 1995. 

ICE had come out of independents working together in the early oughts. ICE worked in a united front for elections with the TJC Caucus for years.

MORE/UFT emerged out of an alliance between TJC - which dissolved and ICE which did not and continues today as a sort of non-caucus caucus..

So the Retiree Advocate organizing committee has been extremely excited to put together a wide-ranging group that includes many historical figures in UFT opposition history, with almost every UFT presidential candidate who ran against Unity since the late 1970s: Michael Shulman (New Action), Marc Pessin (New Directions, PAC), Marilyn Beckford, (ICE), Kit Wainer(TJC/MORE), James Eterno (ICE). 

Plus other UFT activists from the distant past like Bruce Markens (Manhattan HS District Rep 1990-2000), Lois Weiner, my first mentor Lew Friedman, my latter day mentor Angel Gonzalez, an old 70s pal and major activist Matt Gulden, Jose Alfaro, the legendary Ellen Fox, my closest compadres for almost 50 years, Vera Pavone and Ira Goldfine -  and so many more.

We have chosen Gloria Brandman to be the RA standard bearer as chapter leader vs Unity's Tom Murphy. I've worked closely with Gloria for 15 years in ICE, GEM, MORE and now Retiree Advocate and Gloria as often the glue that keeps everyone working together. (When MORE lost her they lost a GEM.)

The UFT RTC chapter is structured with 10 Officers and a 15 member Ex Bd. Also on the ballot are 300 delegate assembly candidates, all are elected in an undemocratic winner take all system which has given Unity Caucus control over every elected position since the inception of the UFT and has helped them keep a tight grip on the UFT Delegate Assembly.

I wrote a previous blog about the election: All- Star Cast Joins Retiree Advocate/UFT Slate to Challenge Unity Caucus in Chapter Election - 70,000 eligible to vote


Here is a list of some key RA candidates.

RTC Officers

Chapter Chair Gloria Brandman

Vice Chair           Douglas Haynes

Vice Chair           Prudence Hill

Vice Chair           Lisa North

Vice Chair           Michael Shulman

Secretary            Gregory DiStefano

Asst. Sec’y          Norman Scott

Corres. Sec’y     Bennett Fischer

Treasurer          Robert Greenberg

Asst. Treas         Ellen Fox

RTC Exec Bd

Jose Alfaro, Angelo D’Angelo, Patricia Dobosz, James Eterno, Claudia Giordano,

Angel Gonzalez, Bruce Markens, Gustavo Medina, Paul Millstein, Vera Pavone, Robert Provenza, Dacio Quintana, Roque Ristorucci, Anita Romm, Thomas Siracuse

All together we have about 130 candidates running. The rest  are running for RTC Delegate Assembly position of which there are 300 with winner take all - which would give Unity all of them, thus disenfranchising  the 20-25% of retirees expected to vote for Retiree Advocate.

For the recored, we asked for a minimum of 5 delegates out of the 300 to at least give the minority view a voice at the DA. We were turned down.

**At a MORE meeting where I argued this point a long time activist disputed me and pointed to the 5 caucuses that ran in the Chicago 2010 election where CORE defeated the incumbent - leaving out a few caveats: That the ruling caucus had split in two and more importantly, Chicago has run-offs if you don't get a najority of votes and CORE finished second in round 1 with 32% of the vote but the other caucuses backed them in round 2. When I attempted to correct comparing apples to oranges I was ruled out of order because I had already spoken - I just gave up when it was clear people didn't want to know the truth.

#The medical issues have arisen over the past few weeks and James and I will monitor them carefully.

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