Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 -  Happy Thanksgiving

ICE being in a state of flux since the illness of James Eterno, zoom-met on Sunday night and will be meeting in person during the Xmas vacation in attempts to sort things out. ICE associate (ICE doesn't have formal memberships) Rebel Teacher continues a view of the union leadership and how critical voices should deal with them. In the current state of ICE this is one opinion. Others think alliances with Unity leadership should be built. Still others believe that there is something called "Unity light" - internal critics in the belly of the beast who whisper sweet nothings about reforming the union in their ears. I know that drill. I was a target for years when Randi took over c. 1997 and fell for it. Until I didn't.

Ed Notes published Part 1 and I helped edit it and part 2. 

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

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


In part 1 the author raised issues related to signs of fractures in Unity Caucus of UFT President Michael Mulgrew while they continue to either vilify the opposition or try to fracture them by picking off those they see can be seduced by being offered a faux deal of access to power and influence. He argues in part 2 not to be seduced.

A prominent UFT Unity staffer recently said:

 “One Unity tactic to control the opposition is to put them somewhere where they can feel important but have little influence.”
Beware of falling into this Unity trap.

We can’t allow Unity to have an opportunity to sell their bureaucratic values, to tame the aggressiveness of chapter leaders and other activists. They are very happy to get them behind closed doors, in the shadows and out of sight of the rank and file. We must resist giving in to the impulse and temptation of being given a seat at the table – a bait and switch seat at the table – a tiny stool at the kiddy table. 


Unity has proven very capable of managing the membership despite its failures in managing the union

Unity does many things wrong but gets managing membership expectations right. UFT leadership doesn’t want their borough representatives or district reps empowering members. Rather than activate the rank and file, they view such activation as a threat to their power and restrain members to keep them under control. They’ve been successful in finding opposition people they view as susceptible to their message and make them feel important. One of the hidden issues in the removal of UFT Queens Borough Representative Amy Arundell was her push to get members to be more active, which stepped on some toes.

Unity/UFT leadership prefers the status quo, a membership content with what they have, not fighting for a better union.

The ICE-UFT blog over almost 20 years has been a compendium of UFT history and has publicized militant Chapter Leaders who fought against micromanagement and won by organizing their chapters, mobilizing them with letters of no confidence, working with SLT’s and PTA’s to remove bad principals and have filed mass grievances. 

ICE has been nonsectarian, open to working with all caucuses and independents

Dissident voices opposed to Unity should be ready to work with chapter leaders, delegates, and union activists in any caucus, along with independents, to show how to build their chapter and not to wait for the UFT leaders to come and save them, because they often will not show. How often have we heard praise for Arundell as someone who has shown up and is constantly present, in contrast to the rest of the UFT bureaucracy? Maybe her hard work has embarrassed them to the extent that she had to go.

The leaders of our union need to be challenged in public forums. Many members in our chapters, our shops, need to know there is an organized resistance to the tom-foolery coming from above. They will be resentful if they see opposition forces getting too cozy with those that work against our best interests. 


They want us standing up to our leadership, to be more militant and to actively fight for our rights and those of our students. 

It is important to show up at public union meetings with resolutions and petitions signed by our members. Expose the Unity-two step of saying yes now while doing the exact opposite later. 


One example is Unity taking a false stand against privatization of our healthcare while trying to force our retirees into a managed care plan and still working behind the scenes with the Adams administration to change health care of working members. When retirees won a recent ruling to stop co-pays, UFT/Unity was silent while the Mayor is appealing. 


Can UFT leadership be pressured?

Our answer is not by small groups lobbying because leadership is good at obfuscation and distraction while hinting at a willingness to change but with little intention of doing anything unless there is a massive uprising from below. That has rarely happened and when it did, Unity found ways to undermine it. 

Two examples:

In 1975, with 15k layoffs looming, the rank and file rose up and demanded a strike despite knowing there would be two for one penalties - which the leadership went along with for one week and then sold it out. Layoffs still took place but the starch was taken out of the members, teaching a lesson that such activism that worked so well in building the UFT in the 60s was no longer valid. Since then the leadership has worked successfully to dampen expectations.

Another example was the ATR protest and rally at Tweed in Nov. 2008 that attracted hundreds and the leadership attempt to subvert it by holding a concurrent wine and cheese party. That was a perfect example of people in ICE working with others in organizing rank and file, mobilizing workers and educating them from the bottom and the Unity leadership undermining and subverting the efforts. 

Activists in the UFT should work with allies to inspire our members to believe a better version of the UFT is possible, one that connects with members, knows the classroom and hallways, fights for its members, and educates everyone inside the chapters to their rights and how to ensure they actually have them.


Without doing the above, there is a danger in focusing on closed meetings with Unity/UFT. It throws a lifeline to a group that already has power and money, but lacks mass support of its members. (Note low turnout for Unity in elections.)


ICE had a long history of working with partners, including parent and community groups, that were dedicated to worker’s rights and quality free public schools and supported groups opposed to charters and high stakes testing. It was members of ICE active in MORE that reached across the aisle to ask New Action to run with on a joint opposition slate which resulted in victory in the high schools in the 2016 election. And there are even some affiliated with ICE who have run with, or supported, Unity, when they thought it was the right thing to do at the time.

ICE-PAC and TJC won the high school executive board seats in the 2004 UFT election. ICE people came out every 2 weeks to support the chapter leaders James Eterno (Jamaica HS), Jeff Kaufman (Rikers) and Barbara Kaplan-Alpert (Forest Hills HS) in their regular battles with Randi Weingarten and the Unity leadership. These were among the most contentious years in resistance to Unity policy, especially in response to the disastrous 2005 contract, which ICE, along with TJC, organized a Vote-No campaign with rallies at the DA and in front of 52 Broadway that resulted in 40% voting against.


The problem was ICE didn't make enough use of these action as an organizing mechanism and often seemed content to engage in these battles at the top. ICE organized with various components of the UFT like the ATRs c. 2005-10, but never got deep into the schools. Let's learn the lessons of that experience. Top down engagement with leadership can give the illusion of progress, but if not accompanied by an open process that brings those battles to the schools, it is often a wasted effort. 

As stated above, Unity caucus regularly tries to either woo or undermine critical voices, with their major goal being to not only hold onto power, but to also minimize the ability of those voices to influence policy and to grow the movement. There is a cost to get Unity cooperation - hand-cuffs.

A growing New Action(NA/UFT) has learned the lessons of the past and is re-organizing as a militant caucus within UFT. Through Nick Bacon’s writing and their work on the Ex Bd, they are actively challenging the leadership and direction of our union. And they have a wide range of chapter leaders distributing their literature in the schools. They need to continue to grow by helping rank and file members run for chapter leader and delegates by offering targeted trainings for members interested in having democratic, militant chapters. Most ICE associates are very supportive of these efforts and are actively working with them.

Some of our retirees are organizing with the Retiree Advocate, which will be running in the UFT chapter elections against Unity spring 2024 on a platform of saving our healthcare, not selling out our retirees to the highest bidders.

ICE has been a space for people with divergent views who might suffer judgment for expressing those views elsewhere. ICE has been a happy place for many over its 20 years history, a place for friendships to grow, alliances to be built, and fight backs to be organized. We hope to continue the ICE tradition of fighting for a union that stands up for its members and the children we serve.


Part 3 is in the works.

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