Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chitown and DC: Can It Happen in the UFT to Unity Caucus?

And don't forget LA

I can't tell you how many people ask about why in NYC there is so little action in opposition to Unity/UFT domination of the union. Many people have taken hope in the CORE Caucus victory in the Chicago Teachers Union election last June. Yesterday's Saunders/Peterson victory in Washington DC gave more people hope.

Reality Based Educator at Perdido Street School has some comments on the issue today.

Serving Notice To Weingarten, Mulgrew And Company

Watch out, the days of union shillery and sell-out are over in two cities now:
"Couple more sell outs and you could, despite your cronyism and corrosive clutch on power, go the way of Parker in D.C."
I want to do some analysis of the differences and similarities between other cities and NYC at a future time. But for now this will suffice.

I don't want to throw water on anyone's expectations but here's the problem. Take a look at the front page of the NY Teacher. A glance makes it seem Mulgrew fought the Black nomination. A good friend who I talk to all the time said that to me. That's all most teachers see - and the visits from Unity to their schools and the way Unity sells themselves to the chapter leaders. Thus the overwhelming majority of teachers do not know what RBE and a bunch of other bloggers and their readers know about the UFT and Unity.

Nothing will change here until there is a massive network of teacher activists in their schools who work actively to reverse the Unity spin. I'm betting that even many bloggers don't do this basic work at the school level to educate their colleagues about what the union is all about.

Chicago and DC are special cases. The Unity-like leadership in Chi was inept and split while Unity here has complete control and an internal spy network that allows no words of disagreement. I ran into a Unity guy I like at the DA and he spilled the "we could have gotten Rhee argument" which he clearly believed. They do a lot of spin internally to make sure their shock troops pass the word into the schools where many end up buying it because they hear no alternatives.

Can it be done here? So far the opposition parties, and I have been very active on ICE, have not shown an ability to create such a network. And even though I have been totally involved, I'm not sure why or how to create one. I tried when I retired in June 2002. I took Ed Notes which had been solely directed at the Delegate Assembly since 1997 and created a 16 page tabloid edition which I put out 4 times a year with up to 25,000 copies printed. I touched on all the push-button issues where the UFT was selling us out - mayoral control, not opposing the waiver for Klein, testing, merit pay, etc.

It attracted enough people to form ICE but not enough to create more of a mass movement. I did that full tabloid version for 2 years before giving up. I just didn't have the patience and fortitude as George Schmidt in Chicago who has put out Substance for 35 years. If anyone doesn't think the work that George did with Substance played a major role in CORE's victory - I bet there are few teachers in Chicago who do not know the paper - is not understanding what it will take to replicate that here.

There is an absolute need for something like Substance - like the 2002-2004 Ed Notes in a stripped down version to get into the hands of 50,000 teachers on a regular basis. There is a need for an electronic communication to go out regularly. People have to be given full information before they can act.

On the happy front, there are signs that things are stirring beyond the actions of the 2 current opposition caucuses, TJC (Teachers for a Just Contract) and ICE (Independent Community of Educators). I don't know the inside scoop at TJC. But as the person who called the first meeting of people who supported Ed Notes that turned into ICE I can say that the original crew was not thinking that ICE alone would ever be in a position to contend for power but would be part of a larger movement. The question out there is: is it better to have lots of small groups organizing on their own level or try to create an ubber umbrella group?

As the attacks on public schools grew during the fall of 2009 with closing schools and charter co-locations, many ICE people jumped into working with the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) to try to help schools under attack organize themselves. GEM has people from a bunch of groups - including ICE, TJC, NYCORE, and Red-hook based CAPE - and is not positioned as another caucus but directed into defending public education.

I began to feel that even within ICE we have spent too much time responding and dealing with the UFT institutions of power - the Delegate Assembly and the Executive Board - talking to the leadership instead of the membership. At this point I couldn't care less what the leadership thinks or has to say - unless we can exploit it. The prime directive is to reach out directly to the 80,000 - or is it now down to 70,000 - and soon to be down to 60,000 after Black gets through with her scythe - teachers.

Many ICEers were torn between doing the work of GEM or ICE in the midst of the 2010 UFT elections which were taking place at the same time as the school closings issue and knowing full well the results were preordained chose to put more effort into the long term organizing efforts of GEM. (I did put my time into the elections but without much enthusiasm while I really enjoyed the work in GEM.)

As GEM/CAPE's Julie Cavanagh said on South Bronx Teacher radio program last night (well worth a listen) GEM wouldn't exist if the UFT was doing what it was supposed to do but she was too busy to focus on the UFT and what it should be doing. Her thinking has influenced me over the last year to spend less time addressing and responding to what the UFT was doing.

Right now, GEM is the most active group out there, committed to holding an open general meeting every month (the next one is Tues, Dec. 7 at 4:30 at CUNY) while the most active people try to build a democratic organization from the ground up.

When I spoke to a well-read NYC teacher blogger the other day who is interested in getting something going I said it all starts in your own school. Get email addresses and send out information countering the spin. Put out info fliers. Then if possible try to reach out to the nearest neighborhood school. Create your own network and link it to a citywide network.

Everyone who reads the blogs and agrees there is a need for a change in the union, the rubber meets the road in your own building. It would take about 500 pro-active people in the UFT staying on message in their buildings to get a movement started.


Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest:

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