UFT/AFT Leadership: Friend or Foe Series

July 27, 2013 — 5 Comments

The following will be part of a series of posts based on our summer series forum that was presented on Thursday 7/25/2013. The purpose was to share the various perspectives on how we, an opposition caucus,  views Unity, the dominant party in power of the UFT? As potential partner, foe or something in between? There were four presentations, this is an introduction for the next three to be posted in the upcoming days. These views do not necessarily represent those of MORE, rather they are part of the diverse viewpoints that represent our membership.

[UPDATED WITH AUDIO]

By Norm Scott

Publisher of Ed Notes Online

Member of ICE, GEM, MORE

Diane Ravitch’s recent  post, My Friend Randi Weingarten garnered over 250 comments, mostly critical of Randi and some of Diane for posting this (I think it was a good thing she did),

Diane wrote:

It serves no purpose for those of us opposed to teacher-bashing and corporate reform to fight among ourselves. We must stand together so that we will one day prevail over those who want to destroy public education and the teaching profession. We can’t win if we are divided. I will do nothing to help those who pursue a strategy of divide and conquer. They want us to fight among ourselves. I won’t help them.

Peter Goodman – Ed in the Apple blog – Unity Caucus shill – retired District 22 Rep.

Unfortunately the union movement has spent too much time fighting internally rather than concentrating on their enemies…

For the past 45 years this has been the constant Unity line used to kill internal criticism and brand it anti-union.

There have been internal debates for years in ICE, GEM and MORE on this issue. How far does an opposition caucus go in criticizing the leadership? Does it risk blow back — feeding into a sense of anti-unionism, especially from the newer generation of teachers who often enter with an anti-union bias? How do you try to compete for power in the UFT without being critical? How does MORE manage to counter the so-far successful propaganda campaign by Unity over the last 2 decades that it is the mayors (Giuliani and Bloomberg) who are the problem, not the people running our union?

Julie Cavanagh sent me this question:

How do we connect our members to our union and help them to understand its importance and galvanize them to get involved– how do we overcome the disenfranchisement and disconnectedness and instead convince people our union is actually a force for good and justice locally, nationally, and globally?

We basically put forth the concept Julie is talking about in our film The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. But I have trouble saying what Julie is talking about the union without qualifying it. How do we do the above with a union leadership that at best can be considered ineffective and at worst collusive with our enemies? I won’t get into the whys and wherefores of motivation or reasons for their actions  this time but maybe some answers will emerge later today.

Other questions that have come up:

What strategies and tactics should an opposition caucus use in relating to the union leadership? Should the opposition work with the leadership? If so, when, how and under what terms? If it’s going to be critical, what kind of tone should be maintained? If the decision is to criticize/attack the leadership, then how should it be done, while making it clear to all that The Union is always to be supported [unless it goes so far off the tracks, this is impossible morally and politically]? In other words, how can the leadership be separated from the Union in the eyes of the rank and file? And should it?

Given the power balances in the UFT do you attempt to lobby the leadership towards better policies? That’s pretty much what New Action does. They have no grassroots and they play the role of a loyal opposition — not even an opposition given that they could not win one position in an election without Unity support.

Some in MORE think that the leadership can be pressured, but instead of playing the inside New Action game, by organizing enough rank and file and the leadership will be forced to respond.

Some think the UFT leadership cannot really be pressured to change direction, given their history of capitulation and even when they look like they are doing something right, that is only on the surface. In fact they coopt the language of the critics (what they say) but don’t actually do anything very much different from what they’ve been doing (what they do).

Peter Lamphere will touch on many of these issues in his presentation.

  • what are the interests of the union leadership?
  • why do they act the way they do?
  • to what extent are the susceptible to pressure?
  • to what extent can we work with them?
  • comparing the UFT leadership to other union leaderships.

I hear all the time, even from newbies: if only we had Al Shanker instead of Randi/Mulgrew we would have a militant fighting union. As a 43 year activist I don’t buy that line and in fact believe that there is a direct line ideologically from Shanker, through Sandy Feldman through Randi and Mulgrew.

Ira Goldfine, my colleague from the 70s and a founder of ICE in 2003 will do a presentation going back to the late 60s through the 90s pre-Randi to show this connection. That Randi did not in fact take the union in another direction. Shanker started the give back ball rolling as far back as 1972, the last time we got a good contract.

The UFT/AFT/Unity leadership has made it easy to be critical based on their support for so much of ed deform.

Vera Pavone will present a comprehensive list focusing on the UFT capitulations over the years.

UFT Friend or Foe is too simplistic a description for what we are doing today. I’m guessing there won’t be a lot to disagree on. We hope to come out of today with a clearer sense of how MORE can navigate this territory and refine the way it addresses the  issue of when to we support/when to we criticize/when do we attack.

This is the start of a conversation and if there is interest we will do an informal follow-up.

Below find a list of items that the UFT/AFT leadership has collaborated on:

  • supporting the teacher accountability ed deform mantra – the evaluation mess
  • signing on to “we must get rid of bad teachers” as a solution
  • variations of merit pay schemes
  • mayoral control
  • common core
  • charters and co-locations
  • rating and grading schools and generation of phony statistics on graduation rates, dropouts, all resulting in….
  • Closing schools (which the UFT supported through the end of 2009 and still supports to some extent), destroying neighborhood schools, dezoning, eliminating comprehensive HS and availability of electives for the vast majority of HS students. Forcing children to travel longer distances.
  • tepid defense of reducing class size, which ed deformers disparage as a solution
  • the contract and agreements in 2005 that coupled school closings with the burgeoning population of ATRs who started off as in-house subs and ended up as the wandering unwanted. Leading to the forcing out of thousands of older and experienced teachers.
  • charter schools, co-location (the union had 2 co-located charters), unequal treatment from DOE. The growing corps of temporary, non-unionized at-will teachers.
  • the growing segregation of the student body—the wanted vs. the unwanted
  • denial of tenure to newer teachers (year after year extensions, discontinues from principals with a grudge — no rights for non-tenured and increasingly restrictive rights for tenured teachers who are now facing even the end of that protection
  • a grievance procedure in the toilet
  • multi pension tiers
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5 responses to UFT/AFT Leadership: Friend or Foe Series

  1. 

    The truth is many teachers once they find themselves being the principal’s target will need to hire an attorney. If those teachers are rated Ineffective for the year, they will need to sue the city. The UFT is dead.

  2. 

    The enemies of teachers and teacher unions must be licking their chops. We must find a way to pressure Unity to respond to its members and find what we have in common. Pitting worker against worker is just what anti-union powers love to see.

    • 

      It is not worker against worker. The UFT leadership are not workers anymore but more aligned with management. They play a role of managing the workers. Like selling common core and the evaluation system for the ed deformers. Ask why they want this so badly and why the union leadership is so willing to go along.

  3. 

    In fact the enemies of teachers and teacher unions fear a movement that MORE could turn into especially given the CORE and Chicago Union refusal to go along. These enemies want a Unity like leadership that will sell common core to the members and do their work for them.

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