Saturday, December 05, 2009

We Need More than Words

by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

So, Michael Mulgrew finally found the time to respond to Mayor Bloomberg’s - and, given Arne Duncan’s smiling presence on stage, President Obama’s – declaration of war before Thanksgiving. Bloomberg presented the full menu of the privateers who are busy cannibalizing the public schools: merit pay, high stakes tests as a weapon, attacks on tenure, seniority, ATRs, accelerated public school closings and charter school colonization. Mulgrew’s response sounded good: the language was strong, direct and missing the saccharine tone of Randi Weingarten’s old missives to the membership.

Nonetheless, I’d recommend that everyone watch what Mr. Mulgrew does, rather than what he says.

The Unity Caucus leadership is adept at producing sound bites, letters and committee reports for the diversion and pacification of the membership. What they’re not so good at is protecting it from attack. Everything that is happening now, locally and nationally, was predictable. Dissident voices within and outside the unions have been warning for years that it was coming, yet the cravenness and short-term opportunism of the UFT leadership has helped bring us to the edge of this precipice.

More than any individual, it is Randi Weingarten who enabled Bloomberg to grab a third term. As the New York Times reported after the election,” …Bloomberg aides said they relentlessly promoted the mayor as invulnerable in the race when they knew differently… Said one top Bloomberg advisor… ‘If a poll had come out showing that the race was within five points, Barack Obama would have swung into town, the UFT would break for Thompson and Mike Bloomberg would not be mayor today.’” Obama, who according to news reports was warned to stay out the mayoral race by Bloomberg ally and patronage recipient Geoffrey Canada, also deserves opprobrium for his questionable-at-best passivity.

Yet we are somehow to believe that the same leadership that helped create this disaster is now going to stand up to Bloomberg’s attacks. What concrete actions on their part could possibly lead us to think so?

The Unity Caucus has controlled the UFT since its inception fifty years ago. It is a one-party state, the last of the great political machines. In one of those bitter ironies that teacher unionists can amuse themselves with on the unemployment line, Al Shanker, who gained props early in his career by helping eliminate the influence of the old Communist Party-led Teachers Union, ran the union much like the CP, with loyalty oaths and democratic centralism, making it impervious to outside voices. Those traditions continue, with the same likely end result.

As currently led, the UFT cannot be reformed or made into an effective vehicle for defending teachers, and is in the process of bringing its members, the public schools and ultimately itself down in the deluded thought that it can maintain itself by collaborating - their term, not mine – with people who seek to destroy it. Only a revolt by an informed membership, then to ally itself with parents and students to oppose privatization and corporate control, provides any hope of saving public education and teacher unionism in NYC.

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