Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where Is It Appropriate to Criticize Union?

I was really interested in the discussion that popped up in a recent post.  It was sparked by this comment, which appeared twice for some reason:

The definition of a union is: an organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests; with that in mind I am reminded of the old saying "united we stand, divided we fall". If you take these things into consideration, voicing ones opinion in a public forum does not lead to being united. It does not help to further the cause of teachers everywhere to have public dissent. 

There are really two parts to this comment. I agree with the definition of union. Of course we should band together to further our rights and interests. While the papers vilify us for doing so, they're dead wrong. The fact is our students and our children are going to have to face a job market. It behooves us to leave them in the best place possible. We always want to leave our kids better off than we ever were. Will we do that? It's tough to say.

I also agree that united we stand, divided we fall. But there is a factor that remains unconsidered here, and that is whether or not union leadership, not union itself, has been protecting our rights and interests. When AFT President Randi Weingarten takes a stand against VAM, that's significant. It means that she is saying those of us who've opposed it from the beginning were right all along. It's really sad that she didn't get with us from the beginning, because we were right.

When Bill de Blasio is overwhelmingly elected mayor and the UFT supported Thompson, jumping in prematurely and sorely miscalculating, it says that those of us who declined to support him judged better. A UFT rep, imploring me to come to the phone banks, suggested to me that I did not read the polls deeply enough. As the UFT spent millions of our COPE funds supporting a guy who told the Daily News we didn't merit the raises cops and firefighters got, it turned out I read the polls quite accurately. In fact, the time to support Bill Thompson was when he was facing Bloomberg Mach 3, and we got that wrong too.

Mayoral control has been nothing less than a disaster for working teachers, and after we learned that, we simply supported it again. I'm not at all clear how we'd have benefited by keeping quiet about that.

The largest problem I have with this statement, though, is with the last part. If we are not to have public dissent, where, then, are we to have it? The Unity pledge states that policy will only be questioned within the caucus. If that's what they wish to do, fine.

But here's the thing--the overwhelming majority of UFT members, like me, do not belong to caucuses. Many don't even know they exist. If we are not to question top-down union policies in public, where, then, are we to do it?

Are we to do it in the Unity Caucus? How are we to do that? Only the most elite of union members ever even get an invite.

What, exactly, are the rest of us supposed to do?
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