By Mike Schirtzer- UFT Executive Board and Delegate from Goldstein HS Brooklyn
I settled down in my chair for the February UFT Delegate Assembly (DA), our monthly union meeting that should be attended by your chapter leader and delegate (many don’t go). With all that is going on since Trump took office I expected this would be a serious meeting with important decisions that would impact all rank and file members and the students we serve.
UFT President Mulgrew came on the stage and said “I know what you want all to talk about!” with a grin on his face. I immediately thought good, we’re going to speak Trump right off the bat, but some people yelled out “SNOW!” and Mulgrew laughed and reiterated “yes, snow!” After the snow talk, Mulgrew then played the SNL video on Sean Spicer, a hilarious parody of Trump’s press secretary. Now, let’s face facts, to be a good teacher you damn well better have a sense of humor. However, this was just not the moment to be having a fun time. Our public education system and union are at risk of being completely dismantled, I have Muslim and Latino students who feel threatened by executive orders that put their lives in danger; there are schools which are slated to be closed; some teachers have principals that threaten their careers with abusive observations. This is a serious, critical time for the existence of our union. Yet, in the first twenty minutes of our union meeting we have laughed at snow and watched SNL. Can we get to serious business?
Finally, Mulgrew gets to Trump, Devos, and all that is happening. Mulgrew explained that the entire country and politicians of both sides know how unqualified she is thanks to us. We all agreed, although I’m not sure what “we” did to sway any votes. We were told to make calls, but I tend to think the mass demonstrations on the streets have given the Democrats the chutzpah they need to fight these nominations and policies. Frankly, if people were’t hitting the streets, parks, airports, trains, marching in DC, I believe many Democrats would have confirmed Devos. So I’m still not sure what the UFT had to do with this, but at least we were discussing real things.
The next big chunk of his report was on how our “Public Schools Proud” campaign is our big fight back. Mulgrew showed photos of teachers holding public school proud signs and tweets from our colleagues. Mulgrew told the DA how happy the other union presidents are that we started this campaign. According to him, they were all sitting at a table scratching their heads about what to do and Mulgrew, like Moses bringing the tablets down from Mount Sinai, presented his Public School Proud power-point show, and all the presidents jumped from their chair. He saved them from their despair with his hashtag and photo campaign. The American Federation of Teachers, our national union, with union presidents from all over the country think the best way to fight Trump is with tweets and photos?
Mulgrew then put pictures of buttons on the screen and asked everyone to choose white or black. The largest teachers union in the country monthly meeting in the face of destruction was tasked with choosing colors of buttons. Mulgrew and “Public School Proud” is not going to defeat a Republican Congress, Conservative Supreme Court, and narcissistic dangerous President that will not think twice about privatizing education.
During the open question period one chapter leader asked “Can we get buses to DC to welcome Betsy?” Now that seemed like the best idea in the whole meeting. Leave it to a rank and file member to think strategically. Let’s get as many members as we can up to DC for a pro-public education march with parents and students. Lets show the congress and president that the masses love their public education system and are willing to fight for it. However, this was immediately dismissed by Mulgrew: “I think we will wait to see what she does. If there is a need, we will go.”
The very worst part of the meeting came with another question from a delegate: “Our president proposed national right to work law. How do we protect pensions, collective bargaining, dues checkoff?” For those that may not know “right to work” means that members have the choice to join the union, rather than automatically becoming a member. Without dues, unions lose their power and membership. In many states this has meant the death of organized labor, with lower wages and reduced workplace protection. Mulgrew replied, “We are going to become a right to work country. We are preparing for what we will do when that happens on the state and city levels. It depends on the provision in the laws and what states can do within that law- some states sign up members every year others sign once”
Basically, he has already thrown in the towel! Mulgrew spent at least 30 minutes explaining how his tweet campaign is the greatest thing and when members want to know how is the union planning to really fight back against the greatest threat, the president of the largest AFT local basically said we have already lost.
My good friends of UFT leadership/Unity Caucus always accuse MORE of complaining but offering no solutions. So here are some suggestions from MORE:
-Send out texts, emails and articles in our newsletters to communicate how unions and public education are being threatened.
-Visit schools where there are no functioning chapters to educate our members about the importance of being in a union.
– Encourage our members to get involved, to join their chapter consultation committee and/or school leadership team, become a delegate or chapter leader, and/or organize a pro-public education rally at their school. Ask members to speak at PTA/PA about the importance of the UFT.
-UFT trainings for those interested in resisting abusive administrators. The goal should be to rebuild confidence in the union at the chapter level.
-Start a city-wide contract campaign consisting of district level meetings open to all members to discuss demands for the next contract and strategies for how to win them.
-Build a UFT presence at the various anti-Trump rallies that are in the works. For example, we should support the February 28th PEP and Day of Action which seeks to defend our immigrant students. Also, we should have a large presence around the “Save JHS 145” campaign. Teachers who have not protested much before, have hit the streets in recent weeks.
-And last but certainly not least have members of the UFT leadership go to schools and listen to members about what they want to do and start to implement their ideas.
Now is the time to involve our members and show the value of our union, or else we’re not going have a union to save!