Ms. Weingarten sent me a pledge from the halls of the AFT Convention in L.A. today. The pledge concluded with these words: "While we're fighting for big things, no action is too small. We need you to do whatever you can. Commit to engage your colleagues in the fight. To build power at the ballot box. To share our work online and in person. To work hand in hand with the communities we serve."
I must know whether Ms. Weingarten is sincere and if her invitation applies to all. Will UFT Unity delegates be able to engage their colleagues and their communities if the views differ from those of Unity's leadership? The AFT can never truly represent the views of its rank and file in a democratic sense so long as UFT Unity, the tail that wags two dogs, both NYSUT and the AFT, is not truly democratic.
Some of the most committed and experienced individuals have faced a Unity lockout for years now because, put quite simply, they refuse to swear to vote the Unity line and adhere to all Unity policies in public.
How will I know whether our Union truly wishes to represent its rank and file and tolerate free discussion or whether it merely wishes to represent the views of a mysterious few in leadership positions whom largely seem out of touch with active members?
1. UFT Unity would need to discard loyalty oaths and palm cards (which instruct delegates how to vote), cutting the purse strings of a vast patronage system that provides lucrative employment in union offices, double pensions, fancy trips and other privileges only to those who sign away the right to vote their conscience or that of their constituency if they differ from the Unity party line.
2. The slate voting tied to a winner-take-all system in UFT elections would need to change. MORE received 40% of the high school vote in the last election. Yet, not a single MORE rep. is allowed to sit on the Executive Board. This is not democracy.
3. District Reps. would need to be elected. In the past, chapter leaders were allowed to pick their reps. Now, they are appointed, in a completely undemocratic way, and they are all Unity.
4. The UFT would need to allow more debate in which all sides are allowed equal time and the voice of critics, who are die-hard unionists, are not summarily dismissed or stifled. There would need to be far greater transparency as well. We deserve to know a lot more about how our representatives vote on each issue and we need to hold them accountable.
5. The U.F.T. should stop the charade of empowering retirees with greater voting power as a means to guarantee its stranglehold on elections.
If Unity cannot share power with those who have differing views, it is really no better than a bully on the playground. It intimidates its own caucus members to fall in line by threatening to withdraw lucrative benefits and access to the party. It bullies nonmembers by marginalizing them and failing to give them the representation they deserve.
As an educator, I favor free thought and expression. As it stands now, UFT Unity doesn't want its delegates to choose wisely, as advised by Roosevelt in the quote above; it simply wants them to rubber stamp leadership decisions. They don't need much of a brain to do that. And, it's a terrible shame; as an educator I hate to see intelligence go unrecognized. Yet, independence of thought is a liability in Unity. The democracy is a sham and I pledge to challenge it as I also pledge to challenge misguided corporate reforms.
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