The day after the election, UFT chapter leaders and delegates gathered to discuss the results and the impact on our schools and students. Read the report from MORE member and CL Peter Lamphere below about the reflection and debate that occurred.
Also, join MORE members on Sunday for Teachers Come Together: A Forum for NYC Educators on the Election and the Future
2:30-4:00pm, Sunday, November 20th
CUNY Graduate Center Room 5414
365 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016
This meeting will build toward a mass meeting of teachers in early December to organize resistance to intensified corporate and right-wing attacks in the months ahead.
Delegate Assembly Report
by Peter Lamphere, Chapter Leader, Gregorio Luperon High School
There have been few times in my fourteen year career that I have walked out of our union’s Delegate Assembly feeling like a real discussion had taken place. Usually, the proceedings are dominated by lengthy officer reports and debates about motions that are either bland and unanimous or dominated by the UNITY caucus’ overwhelming squelching of dissent.
But I left the DA on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016 with the sense that our union had, at the very least, opened a real and valid conversation about the organizing failures exposed by the election, and the enormous mobilizing and organizing tasks facing our union, and the labor movement as a whole, in the coming years. I was proud to be a UFT member at that meeting, and got a sense that the gathered rank and file union activists have the capacity to grapple with the challenges to come, and to organize the fights we will need to wage. We will need to overcome the overwhelming obstacle of the UNITY leadership, which has consistently been a drag on rank and file education, discussion,and initiative, but the potential is there.
Michael Mulgrew opened the discussion by asking the delegates to suspend the rules to have an open discussion about the Trump victory. After the body agreed unanimously, he made some brief comments (under 10 minutes – the shortest report I can remember at a DA) about how the union would maintain its core beliefs in protecting students and defending public education. He also reminded delegates that the union was “at its best” when it was fighting Bloomberg. It was refreshing to hear this kind of spirit – even if, in my personal assessment, the union was feeble in its attempts to beat back the attacks of the BloomKlien years.
The contributions from the assembled rank and file teachers – chapter leaders, delegates and retirees – were what made the meeting memorable and rich, however. Despite the somber atmosphere and the sober assessment of the attacks that are coming down the pipeline in short order, people had a number of insights into the situation and how we can fight back. It was the beginning of what will need to be a conversation carried out in every union chapter, boro, and continued in future DAs – we will see if the union is willing to carry out that kind of discussion (I suspect they are not – groups like the MORE caucus will likely have to force that discussion forward).
The following is not by any means an exhaustive account of who spoke and what was said – I have picked some of the contributions that stood out to me. I hope those who spoke will accept my apologies for any errors or misattributions in my transcriptions.
- The discussion was rightly dominated by stories of how teachers dealt with fears, worries and questions of their students in the schools on Wednesday. MORE members Ariella Rothstein, Delegate from East Brooklyn Community HS and Tomas Hasler, Chapter Leader of International HS at Union Square, spoke eloquently of the fears of their undocumented students. Tomas shared a story of one student whose family was considering returning immediately of their homeland before they were deported or detained in a camp.
- Other elementary school teachers spoke of the challenge of explaining the situation to younger students, and the heart wrenching comments from their classrooms.
- Early in the discussion, Troy Sill, a mustachioed teacher in the D79 Pathways program, who grew up in Flint Michigan, reminded delegates that whatever the racism or sexism represented by Trump, many of those who voted for him were working class brothers and sisters who worked (or used to work) in the auto and steel factories. He emphasized the need to find some common ground with them or organize them.
- Matthew Foglio, Chapter Leader at Wings Academy in the Bronx, dressed in all black, explained that he had started the day in a somber mood explaining the election results with his social studies classes, but that after discussing what students and others could do to fight back against Trump, gradually lessons turned to labor slogans and labor songs about collective organizing (!).
- Kristen Lawlor of ELLIS Prep in the Bronx (and MORE supporter), spoke about the need to much broader political organizing, like discussions and voter registration with parents at parent teacher conferences. She also told a revealing story about her experience canvassing in Pennsylvania, where she talked to one person on a block full of foreclosed houses who said “21 people have talked to me about Hillary in the last week, but no one has been here in the last four years.” I think this goes a long way to explaining why so many people, feeling abandoned by the Democratic party, decided to switch loyalty and support Trump.
- Peter Goodman, longtime UNITY stalwart (now retired) whose positions I’ve disagreed with many times over the years, pointed out that this really represents an organizing challenge, and that we must unite with a multitude of different movements in order to provide a broad opposition to Trump. I couldn’t agree MORE.
- Evan Lowenthal, CL of A. Phillip Randolph High School in Manhattan, pointed out that much of the blame for the election loss has to rest with the corporate orientation of the Democratic party and its candidate.
One danger that was not discussed, surprisingly, was the impending loss of dues checkoff to the union. Within the next two years it’s very likely that a Trump appointee replacing Scalia on the Supreme Court will help overturn the legal right of public sector unions to automatically collect agency fees (the “dues check-off” provision).
Loss of dues checkoff will undermine the financial stability of the union to the point where its actually ability to function, and even existence, is in jeopardy. As TWU found out when they lost this right after the 2005 transit strike, it will force CLs to spend much of their time on dues collection instead of representing and organizing members. The AFT and NEA in Wisconsin has lost large sections of their membership under the (more draconian) provisions there.
Whatever our problems with it, no UFT is far worse than some job protections and so we will have to do quite a bit of substantive organizing to convince the bulk of rank and filers to pay dues. (I had my hand up to raise this point but Mulgrew did his best to steadfastly ignore me).
The conversation revealed two things to me: First that teachers will be very much on the front lines of this fight over the years defending our undocumented students, funding for our schools, and our jobs, and that second, that out of the ashes of the Trump victory it may be possible to draw some real, hard conclusions about the problems with the dependency on corporate politicians to achieve our goals, and the failed strategy of our union leadership that pushed Hillary from the beginning as an outgrowth of its believe that relationships with politicians, rather than a mobilized rank and file, is our key weapon in the battle to defend public education, to change the lives of our students, and to improve our working conditions.