Sunday, August 8, 2021

Listen: Norm and Bruce joined Daniel on WBAI - History of the UFT - the 80s and 90s

Listen to Inside UFT Politics and History (Part 2), broadcast live on Sat : How The Nation’s Most Powerful Teachers Union Impacted NYC Public Schools from Talk Out of School in Podcasts.

It was a pleasure joining Bruce Markens on WBAI yesterday on Leonie Haimson's "Talk Out of School" program, with Daniel Alicea hosting and skillfully guiding us through an hour of UFT history covering the 3rd and 4th decades of its existence - the 80s and 90s. This was part 2 of the three part history, each covering two decades. 

In Part 1 in July Leo Casey, a high level UFT and now AFT official - he now heads the Shanker Institute -- joined Daniel and me: Listen to Inside UFT Politics and History (Part 1) : How The Nation’s Most Powerful Teachers Union Impacted NYC Public Schools from Talk Out of School in Podcasts.

Part 3 will be in September, covering the past 20 years. Despite the many changes we've seen over the 6 decades of UFT history, one thing has been constant: The absolute dominance and control by one party/caucus - Unity, a creation by one of the union founders, Albert Shanker, perhaps his most enduring legacy - creating a political structure that has seemed impregnable.

Bruce, Daniel and I covered a lot of ground, but could have spend many hours drilling down. We began with The Nation at Risk - the Ronald Reagan and neo-liberal ed deform report trashing public schools and teachers - while the impact didn't hit until the 90s and 2000s - think BloomKlein -- Shanker's support for it changed the way teacher unions were able to fight back against the deforms by enlisting the unions as partner and making way for the New Democrats - aping Republicans - like Clinton and late on Obama -- to forge ahead with policies that have often proven to be a disaster.

We spent time delving into internal UFT politics. The rise of a coalition of opposition groups to create a more serious challenge to total Unity control by beginning to win the high schools - which has pretty much continued to current times --- the MORE/NA win in 2016, for example. We talked about Michael Shulman's victory for HS VP -- on the AdCom -- the only time in UFT history that a non-Unity person was elected in 1985 and how Unity challenged his win and forced another election - Trump's Stop the Steal used Unity 85 as a model --- only to see Shulman win by over 60%. Unity changed the constitution a few years later to make all VPs elected by the entire membership - including retirees so this could never happen again.

We talked about Shanker's giving up the presidency of the UFT in 1985 and turning the union over to Sandra Feldman -- in the UFT, the successor is hand-chosen -- like a monarch of sorts. We actually had a few fond memories of Sandy, who in some ways adhered to at least some formalities of democracy in the union. But of course he overall story was suppression of opposition when they could ger away with it,

We talked about the big 13 seat opposition united state in 1991 and Bruce Markens' major victories as the only non-Unity District Rep in the 90s and how his example led to the end of district rep elections by 2002 - that was Randi, not Sandy, who actually could have done the same thing soon after Bruce's election.

A key issue in the 90s was the 1995 contract which was voted down by the membership and our experiences with Giuliani as mayor. We just had time to mention the rise of Randi Weingarten, also a hand-chosen successor, in the 90s but ran out of time before getting to the details. Maybe in Part 3 we can talk about some of the changes she broight to the UFT before leaving in 2009 for the AFT after - guess what - hand choosing her successor, Michael Mulgrew.

And of course a big part of our discussion was charter schools, which was an original idea from Shanker, and how it morphed into a dagger at the heart of teacher unions and public education -- but that issue escalates in the 21st century.

Some or the sources:

UFT: 50 Years:

The Teacher Rebellion by David Selden

Schools Against Children: The Case for Community Control

Blackboard Unions  by Marjorie Murphy

City Unions: Managing Discontent in New York City  by Mark Meir

Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy by Richard Kahlenberg


The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis by Jerald E. Podair


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