Monday, July 26, 2021

UFT Elections (Part 1) - Historical Analysis - Comparing the 2016 success and the 2019 disaster

UFT Slate Ballot 2016                   
    MORE/New Action  
UFT Slate Ballot 2019
    New Action
The real losers in all of this Norm is the active teacher base... Comment on Ed Notes 2019 UFT election report, May 23, 2019
As we approach another UFT general election cycle in the spring of 2022, I've been looking back at the various coalitions and where I've stood. 

I've always been ambivalent about the election process, though until the last election in 2019, I had thrown myself deeply into the battle since 2004. A group of independents, unhappy with the then state of the caucuses, formed a new caucus, ICE/UFT, specifically to run in that election, mainly because the predominant caucus, New Action, had made a deal with Randi that enraged the other anti-Unity forces. TJC was already out there but many felt they were a closed box, undemocratic and dominated by a few voices with a narrow agenda. People were upset at both TJC and NA.

The creation of a new caucus went against my normal grain. When I began Education Notes in 1997 I tried to make it a unifying force and in fact soon after the 2001 UFT elections I called a meeting of all interest groups and independents in the UFT to unite for the next elections, but also to begin working together instead of in separate silos inside the UFT, especially at Delegate Assemblies. After an almost fist fight at the second meeting I have up and instead began to drift toward bringing people together around some of the principle issues I was addressing in Ed Notes, which led to the formation of ICE a few years later.

Generally I have always been in favor of caucuses uniting, either permanently as in 1995, when New Action emerge out of the merger of New Directions and Teachers Action Caucus and in 2012 when ICE and Teachers for a Just Contract merged into MORE (along with other groups). 

At the time, MORE looked like it could unite most of the anti-Unity forces and form one umbrella opposition caucus - a big tent. Unfortunately, within a few short years divisions opened up and the alliance of ICE and TJC proved to have weak bonds -- MORE is now controlled by many of the original TJCC people while ICE is out in the cold.

I've taken various positions regarding UFT elections in 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, at times advocating a boycott and using the election as a means to pointing out how it is rigged in Unity's favor. But few agreed with me, their juices running at the very thought of an election, even if the process occupies months of time where organizing actually doesn't take place -- I base this on the outcomes of previous elections where some people not in the opposition literati get active briefly with the expectation we could win and then when the reality of seeing Mulgrew get 80-85% of the vote, fade into the woodwork.

I changed my mind in 2016 when New Action left its alliance with Unity and joined with MORE in an election coalition and we knew we could win the 7 high school seats. And we did win those seats. Barely, but we won. I remember arguing with some of the resisters in MORE who liked to run only if they wouldn't win anything that winning even 7% of the Ex Bd offered hope to the anti-Unity rank and file. And our electeds did yeoman duty - holding open pre-ex bd meetings and bringing a wide range of  people to advocate for their causes at the meetings.

That model of winning even 7% of the Ex Bd - as opposed to the outcome of 2019 where Unity won 100% - is a prime motivating factor in an attempt to bring all groups together to win those seats -- and hopefully some others in the middle and elementary schools. If all three teacher divisions were won, that would be 23% of the Ex Bd.

Outside the internal literati of the UFT, the average UFT member doesn't have much of a clue as to the differences between the various caucuses -- or even give a much of a shit. Fundamentally they often ask, "Why can't you guys get together? You are asking us to vote for you instead of Unity and even small groups like you can't come together?" Don't forget, 70% of UFT members don't vote, even higher in the teacher divisions. A non-vote is in essence a rejection of Unity and the opposition. And I believe that multiple caucuses running against Unity suppresses the vote further.

In 2019, after a successful 2016 campaign by a coalition of MORE and New Action, MORE inexplicably decided to break that alliance and run a lone campaign that was designed to purposely NOT win anything. 

In my last months in MORE I was taking part in these debates and offered two options -- either run as a united front with other caucuses and indepenents so voters face a clearly defined choice between Unity and an opposition, or don't run at all and use the election to focus on issues. Both ideas were rejected and eventually I was forced out of MORE for writing about the debate.

The outcome was a disaster from the point of electoral politics as MORE finished third behind Solidarity which had not even been able to have enough candidates to get rccognized as a slate in 2016. 

A big question on the minds of the usual suspects thinking ahead to the 2022 elections is will MORE make the same mistake, a mistake that the caucus has not been open about -- or even informed its many new members, some of whom have been in touch asking what happened?

In 2016 MORE/New Action had about 10,600 votes and a non-slate candidate for president had 1400. That was 12,000 votes against Unity, a number matching some of the better outcomes for the opposition over history. 

The total vote of three opposition caucuses running independently in 2019 was less than 7,000. How did such a disastrous outcome occur over a 3 year period? See theEd Notes Election report

The only way to challenge Unity is to have one slate go head to head, not a smorgasbord of opposition groups that only confuse the membership.

I've been hearing from people who listened to my discussion with Leo Casey and Daniel Alicea of UFT history in its early decades on the "Talk Out of School" WBAI broadcast last Saturday. 

Some have pointed to our not getting to the issue of opposition groups in the union that were opposed to Unity Caucus since 1962. And there have been quite a few such groups over the decades. I've helped found three or four (depending on how you classify them) since the 70s.

Having a clean choice of Unity vs one opposition is important for the average, non-involved in UFT internal politics voter - or non-voter.

UFT Slate Ballot 2016                   
    MORE/New Action                        
*Solidarity did not have the required 40 to be listed as a slate, but did run as individuals.  
Outcome: MORE/NA received almost 11,000 votes and the Solidarity presidential candidate 1400 votes. MORE/NA also won the 7 high school Ex Bd. seats
UFT Slate Ballot 2019
    New Action                                                                                              

Outcome: No ex bd seats - total of all opposition groups less than 8000.

The 2019 UFT election with 3 opposition slates on the ballot was an absolute disaster to have slid back so far after the gains of 2016.

So with elections coming up next year, here we are with the same situation,

I have examined my thinking over the years and firmly believe that I and many of my colleagues from back to the early 70s have tried to bring the opposition forces together for UFT elections and in other areas, like the Delegate Assembly.

The caucus system has often interfered with thee goals. Every small pond must have its big cheeses. But let's agree that there will always be one of more opposition caucus in the UFT, as there has been since the 1960s. The most successful outcomes have come when caucuses came together for general elections -- and of course I don't mean actually winning the election since Unity has had control since the inception of the UFT in 1960 - but in vote totals and winning some seats on the Ex Bd.

One of the most successful coming together elections was in 1981 when three competing caucuses - New Directions (ND), Teachers Action Caucus (TAC), Coalition of School Workers (CSW) - plus independents -  joined to form New Action Coalition - taking one word from the name of each caucus. (In 1995 New Directions and TAC merged to form the current New Action.) We signed up a full slate of 800 people to run - see photo below. And we held large petition signing events attended by hundreds who also picked up literature to distribute in their schools. That election coalition lasted though the 90s and won the high school VP position in 1985 and high school and middle school ex bd seats in the 90s - in fact has continuously won the high schools on the whole -- until 2019.

We truly all didn't get along very well but put aside the rancor of the 70s and even if it took years, this coalition began to make some headway, culminating in winning the HS VEEP in 1985 and 13 Ex Bd seats in 1991.

Many of us believe we are in a unique moment in UFT history, with signs there may be some slippage in the retiree vote and Unity fumbling on a host of issues, putting the high school and middle school ex bd seats in play. And some signs of elementary school disaffection. 

With so many teachers not voting in the past, a GOTV campaign using the many retirees who have become activated and working through the Retiree Advocate group, which itself has cross caucus people from New Action, ICE, a few former MOREs and independents might offer a change to make a dent in Unity, even if winning the whole thing may not be in the cards.

Election lit, 1981:


  1. Can you describe New Action's deal with Randi in more detail

    1. The 2001 election which Randi put a lot of effort into winning the hs.- and she got the vote totals upto 3100 for Unity but NAC got 3400 -- on the first ballot it was close enough so that non-slate votes had an impact and both NAC and Unity HS candidates won - HSVP John Soldini called for a recount and 200 NAC votes were found totally 3400, a resounding victory. Randi gave up and callled NAC the next day and offered to work in a bipartisan way -- they'd give NAC time at the DA and rallies. And she began to meet with them. A social justice joint committee was formed and ultimately she offtered them the HS seats without oppo from Unity in the 2004 election as long as they let her run unopposed. In addition jobs were created for a Unity and NAC person to go to school to help organize. Due to the deal TJC decided to become an official caucus and run in the 2004 election and ICE was formed to do the same -- too much incompatability with TJC - but ran a joint slate against NAC in the HS with Unity sitting it out. ICE-TJC won those seats for the years 2004-07. For the only tine from 1995-2016, NAC had no one on the ex bd in those years.


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