Monday, February 11, 2013

UFT Leadership: Those With Conscience Need Not Apply

It's very discouraging to read of the UFT endorsement of Rory Lancman for City Council. There are some very basic things we should demand before offering our endorsement of any candidate. High on the list would be an opposition to closing schools. It was heartbreaking to see Jamaica High School condemned to closure based on false statistics, and there's no defense whatsoever for union support of those who helped it happen.

Worse, even the veneer of union democracy was shattered when the DA was prepared to vote against this endorsement. The fact is every member of the Unity Caucus is obliged to vote as they are told, and in fact have signed a pledge to do so. Unity Caucus members can be expelled from the caucus if they disobey, a tradition that began with Albert Shanker tossing out those who had the temerity to oppose the Vietnam war. Once that happens, it's no more trips to conventions on the union dime, and no possibility for snagging those cool union jobs and second pensions.

So when thinking chapter leaders and delegates reasonably supported Jamaica chapter leader James Eterno's request not to endorse Lancman, Mulgrew called for a second vote. The fact that a leader would instantly call for a second vote when things do not go his way is, in itself, quite a statement. In any case, thus were all the Unity faithful aroused from their momentary bout with conscience, and pressed into carrying their promise to support whatever they are told. To characterize those chapter leaders as activists or supporters of teacher interests is ridiculous. How can you represent teacher interests if your prime directive is to carry out the leaders' will without question?

This is not the first example of the UFT supporting anti-teacher candidates. The UFT repeatedly supported a Queens politician named Serphin Maltese. Maltese took part in the breaking of not one, but two Catholic school unions, and teachers lost their jobs in both cases. We also supported George Pataki for Govenor, who showed his gratitude by vetoing improvements in the draconian Taylor Law.

I personally saw Councilman Peter Koo speak at a PTA meeting about how we needed to fire teachers when Cathie Black was chancellor. He could not recall her name, nor could he defend the position he'd taken. I don't think Koo has acted on this notion, and he's since bolted from Republican to Democrat. Yet I'm fairly certain his convictions cannot run very deep, and I'd say his support of teacher interests runs a far second to what he finds expedient.

Of course the most prominent anti-teacher policy the union overtly supports is the use of junk science to evaluate teachers. Diane Ravitch offers a typically eloquent condemnation of this practice in this week's New York Review of Books. Yet UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks passionately in support of "growth measures" being used to rate teachers, despite their massive failure last year and the spectacle of hundreds of DC teachers losing their jobs.

What is the purpose of union? Is it to stand up for member interests?  Or is it rather to sway at the whim of corporate media and hope for the best?
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