Thursday, November 9, 2023

Are there emerging rifts in the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership that threaten its 60 year control of the UFT? If so what is a Path Forward for Independent Community of Educators (ICE/UFT) Part 1)

I helped edit the piece below. Through miscommunication, it appeared briefly on the ICE-blog today but was taken down pending ICE having a meeting to discuss the future of the blog which has been basically inactive since James Eterno's illness. A few weeks after James became ill I solicited an article for the ICE blog from the well-known former blogger, RBE: Waiting for Mikey - which is in the spirit of the article below:

"Every time I see the UFT talk about the importance of voting, the importance of democracy, etc., I laugh. There are few entities as undemocratic as the Unity-controlled UFT."

But since then, things have stalled. When ICE blog goes active again I will share the news.

The article below is the opinion of the author and alternate views, in the always open spirit of ICE, are welcome. Or leave a comment.

Look for it on The Wire soon. 

Part 2: Now Is The Time To Fight Back, Not Give In To UFT Leadership - Part 2 by Rebel Teacher

... Norm

Are there emerging rifts in the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership that threaten its 60 year control of the UFT? If so what is a Path Forward for Independent Community of Educators (ICE/UFT).

Written by Rebel Teacher, a  Long time teacher and union organizer with the Independent Community of Educators (ICE-UFT).

Part 1

It is my contention that UFT leadership of President Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus is, and has been, facing unprecedented internal turmoil sparked by the recent removal of Queens borough representative Amy Arundell, rumored due to her internal dissent on certain policies spearheaded by the top-level leadership, a very small circle that has shut out even other Unity Caucus voices from decision making. 


The removal of Arundell was only the spark, as other issues have been reverberating inside the Unity machine and beyond: 

  • the secrecy around changes to our healthcare which has increased fear around our membership who were already concerned how retirees are being screwed by a potential switch to managed care Medicare (MAP). Even Unity retirees are unhappy with the union siding with the mayor to reduce healthcare. 

  • Unity manipulated the OT/PT chapter after it voted down the contract and forced a revote with no changes in terms of the contract offered. Leadership again sided with the DOE in sending a message they will force contracts down your throats. 

  • The general suppression of democracy at meetings with top down, tightly controlled agendas.

  • The attacks by UFT leadership on dissenting voices by accusing them of working with outside forces to undermine the union and of being the union’s enemy.

  • the rise of militancy in other unions that have resulted in significant wins in salary increases and improved working conditions, leading to an increase in member distrust. Seeing teachers in progressive unions around the nation make gains while our leadership sells us on pattern bargaining has raised eyebrows even in Unity. 


There have been low level defections from Unity in recent years, people who have become prominent in the voices of dissent in the union. So far we have not seen any high or even middle level defections, but if Amy Arundell is purged, she would be the first in decades to be cast out. 

ICE-UFT has not been in a position to respond to these events since one if its key leaders has fallen ill.

Since the 7-month illness of James Eterno, a co-founder of  ICE/UFT caucus of  the UFT and the retired chapter leader who led a valiant fight against the closing of his Jamaica High School, ICE has been in abeyance, not having met in years. James worked valiantly since ICE merged into the MORE Caucus in 2012 to keep the ICE brand alive, mainly through his intensive blogging at which has attracted thousands of followers. James also ran for UFT President against Mulgrew in the 2010 election and has been a major figure in the opposition for almost 30 years.

ICE has been a key component of the United for Change (UFC) coalition, with Jame’s wife and longtime teacher Camille Eterno at the head of the ticket that opposed Mulgrew’s Unity caucus in the 2022 UFT election and garnered almost 16 thousand votes, including a majority of votes of high school teachers. Aviation HS Chapter Leader Ibeth Mejia and Luli Rodriguez currently represent ICE and Solidarity caucus as part of UFC  on the UFT Executive Board along with ICE’s Mike Schirtzer who ran with the Unity caucus slate. 

In light of the failings of UFT leadership of Unity Caucus we have heard calls for ICE/UFT to begin to move forward once again.  There have been some informal discussions about working with the UFT leadership of Unity Caucus or presenting a hard-line challenge to them and as expected in ICE, there are a range of opinions. 

Here are my views.

When we listen to our union leadership do we hear inspiration and empowerment or do we hear “be grateful for what we let you have”? Every public meeting, from town halls to the district level, are tightly scripted and controlled, and often purposely boring.  

Delegate assemblies (chapter leader and delegate monthly meetings) have become increasingly restrictive and critical voices suppressed. Mulgrew filibusters often take up to an hour for his president’s report. Meetings are dominated by paid staff and selected Unity Caucus members, with critics being given scant, if any, time. Even the standard method of the “New Motion” period has been subverted to shut out those voices. 

At a recent UFT Executive Board meeting Mulgrew tried to brand internal critics as being the enemy of the union for raising questions about the removal of Arundell and clandestine changes to our health insurance. This is a standard response of autocrats. These attacks must be responded to.

UFT district meetings are used by the leadership to push their agenda when those meetings should be opportunities for chapter leaders to work together to solve problems in their schools. Our chapter leaders need to be more aggressive in pushing back at these meetings. If they can't get speaking time, we need to put out a leaflet and reach out to others. Do not assume you are the only one unhappy with the leadership. Some Chapter Leaders fear offending the UFT District Representatives because they are often dependent on them. We must display it is quite the opposite, UFT DRs and union leaders tend to be more responsive to internal opposition leaders, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”!

Our union’s Executive Board meetings have been the space where our 7 UFT stalwart delegates have the most space to raise issues and thanks to HS Ex Bd member HS Ex Bd member Nick Bacon's notes on the New Action blog, we can share what goes on there. Nick has been one of the Unity Caucus defectors.

There are calls from some opposed to Unity rule to still work with them 

Now is not the time to bail Unity out. If there are ways to get them to help the members, let's do so by all means, but beware of their usual attempts to control the message and make faux reforms they can take PR credit for, even if we do the work. 

Union consciousness is at an all time high. Who in your circle of family and friends at school doesn’t know about the Teamsters, UAW, Writers Guild,or SAG? Most UFT members know that other teacher unions have threatened to strike or actually went on strike and have won major victories while the Unity leadership have disparaged those who have even tried to raise the strike issue.

Now is not the time to give in to Unity! Now is the time to agitate, ask the tough questions, demand that our leadership listen and act, rather than lecture our members that they are working against the union. Working against a leadership that has done so much in the way of anti-union actions is working for, not against, the union. 

It is our leadership that has consistently worked against the union they lead over the past two decades by settling for sub-inflation raises, little support against abusive administrators, allowing public schools to be closed and charters to expand, endorsing testing and other pseudo reforms, and now risking the healthcare of our in-service and retired members. 

Unity caucus partners with the bosses, rather than its members. 

Mulgrew and the Unity Caucus machine is the real enemy!

End Part 1


ed notes online said...

Vincent - I mostly edited it and only wrote small bits

Anonymous said...

All kidding aside, it is a great article. Thank you for posting it...Vincent

Anonymous said...

There are two basic deviations in the opposition : ultra-left like MORE alienating the rank and file with immature and tactless performative actions and the right deviation sacrificing principles and groveling to unity in the name of workplace issues. Teachers! Education workers! We deserve better we can do better. We deserve a united professional principled opposition to unseat mulgrew and get us what we have earned.

Anonymous said...

My comment about the opposition is idiotic? Or irrelevant? I don’t think so.

ed notes online said...

Sorry I missed your comment on the oppo - right on in many ways. Problem is if MORE doesn't play ball with oppo given size and reach defeating Mulgrew is a long-shot. And if the non_MOREs don't play the same goes for MORE alone - witness the 2019 election disaster. A question arises - is MORE even interested in actually winning an election to defeat Mulgrew or in pushing its ideology? I think there are elements of both in MORE and it seems the former is winning out.