Tuesday, January 08, 2013

UFT Democracy

I was pretty surprised to read this on the ICE-UFT Blog yesterday. A lot of us have issues with what the UFT determines to be democracy. For example, at a recent DA, a motion to have rank and file vote on any new evaluation system was denied. This, ostensibly, was to preserve the power of the DA. Actually, in a democracy, ultimate power belongs with the people, in this case, the rank and file.

When we vote in UFT elections, all branches vote for all reps. This is because, a few decades ago, the uppity high school teachers had the temerity to vote for a New Action VP (back before New Action became an arm of Unity). To preclude this from happening again, rules were changed. Thus, elementary teachers, who vote overwhelmingly for Unity, now help high school teachers choose their VP. This is akin to having Texas and Oklahoma help New York select their US Senate reps.

In any case, I'm amazed at the contents of this. Most amazing is that this District Rep put this into writing. He apologized for people at his meeting speaking their minds. Apparently, his meetings are not for that purpose. His meetings exist so that he can tell chapter leaders what to tell their constituents. According to him, they were elected as chapter leaders so they could transport messages from UFT leadership to their members. And UFT leadership, according to him, know what's best and cannot ever be criticized.

Now, here's the thing. I'm certain transmitting messages from leadership to membership can be a useful service. Of course, if that's all chapter leaders do, the UFT could simply email whatever it wanted members to hear directly and eliminate the middleman. In fact, the UFT has a huge email list and often does just that.

A chapter leader represents not UFT leadership, but rather the membership of his or her school. It behooves a chapter leader to be well-informed, and by that I do not mean asking leadership what to think and then thinking it. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of UFT chapter leaders belong to the Unity Caucus. To join, you must agree to disagree with the caucus only within the caucus, and to publicly support any and all caucus/ UFT positions.

To wit, a Unity chapter leader must support mayoral control, value-added evaluation, the 2005 Contract, and the process of sending ATR teachers school to school, week to week. A Unity chapter leader must support the Open Market as a superior system to that in which there were no ATR teachers, because there are more transfers under this system than there were under the old one.

To me, someone like that is not a leader, but a follower. It's very sad that the UFT chooses to let only those who will follow orders lockstep into leadership positions. It's weakened us to have leaders like that. A chapter leader would earn my vote by representing my interests, even if they conflicted with those of UFT leadership.

I'd put my faith in a chapter leader who was independent and thoughtful, precisely someone like James Eterno, who wrote the piece to which I linked. The District Rep who wrote this?  His notion of democracy very much resembles that of Mayor Bloomberg, who gets 8 of 13 votes on the PEP. That means that no one can ever win a vote against Mayor Bloomberg.

However, on the UFT Executive Board, and in UFT leadership, no one even gets a vote against Unity/ New Action. There are precisely zero opposition reps in the UFT. This DR has a lot of gall speaking out against duly elected chapter leaders. Does he find even that vestige of democracy so inconvenient he must rail against it?

In fact it's the rank and file members in a school who determine which chapter leaders they want, and why they want them. It behooves our leadership not only to keep it that way, but also to expand real democracy.

They seem to like it in Chicago!
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