Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Retiree-Driven Unionism" and Unity's House of Cards

It wasn't too long ago I received a U.F.T. e-mail from Janella Hinds and Sterling Roberson touting "Educator-driven unionism!"  

I think they really meant "Retiree-driven unionism!"  At present, retirees cannot vote upon contracts, but they can vote in leadership elections.  How long will it be before Unity further increases the voting power of retirees?  Perhaps, someday, in this surrealistic life we are leading, Unity may give its retirees the right to vote upon contracts.  Would you put it beyond them?

The U.F.T. is one of the few labor unions in the United States which allows retired members to vote in its elections.  Since 1989, the U.F.T. capped the number of retiree votes which could count towards elections at 18,000.  In 2012, clearly in anticipation of the upcoming election, the number was raised to 21,813 votes.  It is no surprise that retirees vote overwhelmingly for Unity.  The Unity they remember was active and strong.  It faced its own severe challenges, but nothing in the way of the current assault against public education today. 

Unity's strategy of increasing the weight of retiree votes helped it widen its 2013 margin of victory.  Thirty-eight percent of retirees voted.  Only 17% of active members voted.  It is not a confirmation of the status quo.  No one I know is happy with the current educational ethos, imposed top-down.  Disenchantment and a desperate sense of hopelessness prevail.  

Mulgrew won an overwhelming 86.3% of the vote, down somewhat from his 91% victory in 2010.  The U.F.T. website will thrill you with these facts, but it will not mention that more than half the votes came from retirees.  In my mind, our Union is suffering some potentially fatal illness.  Yet, as long as Unity wins and widens the victory with the help of its retirees, Unity remains unfazed by it all.  Living on Sunset Boulevard, Unity touts "Educator-driven unionism!"  

I find it intensely disturbing...and disheartening.  Given our current war against, let us say "ed. deformers," instead of "reformers," to avoid the politically sensitive error in semantics made by Mulgrew, Unity should be busy mobilizing its rank and file.  I would not attack Unity on every count.  I do admire much that they have done for us over the years.   I do admire the retirees who built our Union into a powerhouse.  

Despite all of this, I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's failure to mobilize its active base.  We will not win a war in which the media is severely slanted unless we can empower a majority of our members, with a voice in every classroom, with a voice in every school, with a voice in every neighborhood, to work for change. 

I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's unwillingness to debate.  Unity refused to debate MORE's Julie Cavanagh  prior to the 2013 election and Unity is now refusing to debate the new contract.  It appears Mulgrew silenced debate at the May 2014 D.A. meeting prior to the contract vote.  Mulgrew also pushed the contract past our 300-member contract committee before it even had a chance to read the Memorandum of Agreement.  It might be that Mulgrew feels the contract is God's gift to the working teacher, but if this is the case why does one need to slam one's foot on the pedal, past all checks and balances, as if evading the cops?

I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's failure to give non-Unity members any meaningful voice.  Chapter leaders who are repeatedly re-elected by large constituencies in their schools are largely disenfranchised.  In the 2013 election, MORE won 41% of the high-school vote.  Yet, it has no representation in NYSUT or AFT conventions.  

I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's loyalty oath foisted upon its "faithful" in exchange for lucrative jobs in union offices, promises of free trips to conferences and other benefits.  I disagree with Unity's attempt to shut down, silence and, perhaps, intimidate its own members who realize all too well that the purse strings may be cut.  

Unity has the liberty of slamming its foot to the pedal because it is guaranteed a majority vote of all loyalty-oath abiding Unity members.  Unity's chapter leaders throughout the City are told to go out and bring in the "Yes" vote.  Unity sends its representatives across the City to sell the contract.  No one should be under the false impression that Unity reps. come with an open mind, free of bias.  They will be very helpful in answering your questions, but they come to sell you Unity's vision, free of debate.  Unity is an elite pack, or, depending upon how you look at it, a bully on the playground, relying on its superior force rather than reason to rule.  

I say without any reservations that there is an illness in Unity.  Presently, its members sense only the "stillness in the wind" and they think it will always be so.  They think they can stand without the support of the rank and file.  The rank and file of today will become the retirees of tomorrow and many are intensely unhappy.  I say Unity is living in a house of cards. They may laugh.  And, they may forget that the Berlin Wall has been smashed and the Soviet Union has crumbled.  They may refuse to look to Chicago.  There are lessons to be learned from history.  I would advise them to consider the Windy City before their house of cards tumbles before their disbelieving eyes.   
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