The best way to get laughed out of the UFT Delegate Assembly is to ask about lowering class size limits. “The City will never buy it”, “it’s that or your raises, nobody is willing to give anything up to achieve that” etc… I certainly know teachers who would be willing to make some trades for lower class size limits, but more to the point, there’s no reason they should have to; we CAN demand more, we just have to be willing to back up our demands with action. At those same Delegate Assemblies, we frequently hear about the heroic Founders of the union, and how they went out on strike (illegally) to win the rights we currently enjoy. That we have class size limits at all is testament to the power of the militancy of the UFT Founders who were willing to take risks and picket, agitate, and strike for the good of the union, their students, and public education as a whole. Suggest that we do the same today to lower those limits for the first time in 50+ years and you will be dismissed as a deluded radical.
Which brings us to the contract. There seems to be a misunderstanding about what MORE means when we say that this is not the contract UFT members or NYC schools deserve. Some UFTers jump to the “defense” of the negotiating committee, arguing that they did they best they could under the circumstances, take it easy on them. Others places have it worse, they say, stop complaining. The city was never going to give us anything more, and they are going to be annoyed with us if we reject this contract, we might as well approve it. I am personally grateful that UFT members gave up so much of their own time to work on negotiating this contract, and I have no reason to think they did anything other than the best they could under the circumstances.
The problem runs much deeper than anything the negotiation committee could address: it was as though those +/- 400 people were out there on their own, with no support from their hundreds of thousands of colleagues. No rally, no march, no occupation of City Hall, no credible strike threat much less a strike certification vote. The power of workers like us lies in our labor, and if our employer is completely sure that our leadership will not leverage the potential withholding of that labor and the people power of 200,000 members, why WOULD the city cut us a better deal, regardless of how big the city’s surplus is? You can’t blame someone you’re negotiating with for trying to get the best deal possible from their end- if we want a better result, we’re going to have to apply more pressure.
The core issue here is conciliatory bargaining- it is taken as a given by UFT leadership and their very cozy counterparts in the NYCDOE that the slice of pie we got in the 60’s is all the pie we’re going to get, and contracts are just a question of how we want that slice of pie apportioned; in fact, we are frequently reminded that if we make a fuss, we’re liable to lose the slice of pie we already have. It’s rarely discussed at the Delegate Assembly, at district meetings, or in official UFT communications that militancy was how our slice of pie was achieved in the first place, and if we want more, that’s how we’re going to have to get it. Continue Reading…