We Want a Union That Believes Black Lives Matter

"Black Lives Matter at School"

During the week of February 5th-9th, in schools across the country, educators are taking part in a National Black Lives Matter Week of Action. The week of action has three central demands: 1) to end zero tolerance discipline policies and implement restorative justice, 2) to hire more Black teachers, and 3) to mandate Black history and ethnic studies be taught throughout the K-12 curriculum.

The Black Lives Matter Week of Action is part of a long history of teachers standing up for what is right, in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our communities. Most teacher unions agree: The Chicago Teachers Union, the New Jersey Education Association, the United Teachers Los Angeles, the Seattle Education Association and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association are among the growing list of teachers unions that have voted to support this crucial and timely week of anti-racist action in schools. The National Education Association’s Human & Civil Rights Department has even developed a website for teachers to share stories and resources.

Yet at the United Federation of Teachers Delegates Assembly on January 17, 2018, the largest teachers’ local in the country, at the leadership’s suggestion and after only five minutes of debate, voted against supporting the NYC Black Lives Matter Week of Action. Delivering the union leadership’s rationale against the resolution, LeRoy Barr, the Assistant Secretary of the UFT and the chair of the ruling Unity caucus, called Black Lives Matter a “divisive” issue. He argued that with the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on Janus v. AFSCME, which will likely allow public sector workers to receive union representation and benefits without paying union dues, it is crucial to remain “united.”

But united in support of what? The Black Lives Matter week of action is about uniting to support students by implementing restorative justice, hiring Black teachers, and teaching Black history and ethnic studies. These are basic anti-racist demands that any organization of educators should get behind. Furthermore, most of the students we teach and the families we serve in NYC are Black and Latino. No doubt they can unite behind these demands. This week of action is just one of the ways educators can build greater solidarity with the communities we serve. Far from being divisive, this is about unifying and strengthening our union and the communities we serve.

If, in the face of the attack on collective bargaining that Janus represents, we are in fact divided, it is because we have failed to engage and organize the union’s membership. The privatization of schools has disproportionately hurt the careers of Black teachers. As a union, we should know that an injury to one is literally an injury to all. A union that can’t support a movement to make “Black Lives Matter” won’t be able to build the solidarity necessary to overcome Janus and other right-wing attacks on working people.

We have to rebuild our union from the bottom-up and educate ourselves and each other about the problems we face and the steps we can take together to confront them. Grassroots collective actions in our schools—such as the Black Lives Matter Week of Action—can be part of this process. We invite teachers across New York City to join us and other teachers around the country by taking part in February’s Black Lives Matter week of action as a first step to building a school system where Black Lives Matter.

NYC Black Lives Matter Week of Action Organizing Committee
Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) Steering Committee
New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE)

We are asking UFT members and members of the community that support our statement to sign on as an individual. We will release the names of everyone who has signed on after February’s week of action to show the broad support this statement has and encourage UFT leaders and members to support the week of action in the future. If you’d like to sign on as an individual please fill out this form.

3 thoughts on “We Want a Union That Believes Black Lives Matter

  1. I’m in agreement 100% with the MORE Declaration!
    What is it that the UFT leadership sees as divisive with uniting with the Black Lives Matter celebration of Black History month, approved and supported across the country?
    Is the struggle against racist and white supremacy divisive?
    Is the Uft leadership catering to white teachers who voted for trump?

  2. To MORE:

    Just want to add a few points to my statement.
    First, I congratulate you for your position on the Black Lives Matter proposal that was rejected in the general assembly of the UFT.
    We need unity, of all the members rank and file of the UFT, Black, white, Latinos, Asians etc.
    However, this unity can’t be unprincipled unity. It has to be based on principales unity. Key questions that may divide us have to be raised from the beginning. One such question is racism. The job of the Union is to educate and point out why racism divides us, and in whose interest does this division benefit.
    Labor Unions and unionism has been and continues to be under attack. But is not just labor unions, it is the workers in general organized and unorganized who are targeted, victims of economic and political oppression. Wages are at an all time low, collective bargaining, the right to organize, the right to assemble, the right to strike are being undermined and outlawed in many states. Union membership is at lowest at about 6%. Compared to 33% during the New Deal, and 16% in the 80’s.
    The Southern Belt, where the majority of workers are Black, is the lowest unionized sector in the US. Right to work laws, Janus, and repressive measures against labor leaders exist is what is being promoted throughout the USA. Janus is just the beginning .
    The only way we can fight back is unity based on principle. We must fight against racist ideology and white supremacy.
    MORE should participate in the films showing at 52 Broadway, commemorating Black History Month, and use the discussion period afterwards to point out the inconsistencies of celebrating Black history and negating Black Lives Matter proposal. We can talk the talk, but practice is what counts.

    Gustavo Medina

  3.                All lives matter! Hire teachers based on competence, not to satisfy racial quotas. With a philosophy like this, no wonder our schools are in the condition they’re in. Any talk regarding the holocaust studies or the genocide committed by the Turks against the Armenians? Any talk about the anti-gay and women policy in the middle east, but you lunatics can’t wait to condemn Israel? Thank the Lord I’m retired and don’t have to deal with such nonsense.

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