Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Silent Majority

That was the term then-President Nixon used to describe his supporters. They weren't all those dirty hippies protesting the Vietnam War. They were the good, solid Americans who never spoke out and put up with whatever nonsense the President saw fit. And it was indeed a few years before they rose up and tossed him out on his presidential keester.

For teachers and unionists facing uncertainty, there's another question. What will it take for us to rise up in significant enough numbers to have an impact? Union has been on the wane since Saint Reagan busted the air traffic controllers, the only union with the peculiar lack of foresight to have supported him. The trend has been exacerbated as we've elected demagogues even in states noted for union support.

Here in NY, for some reason, we elected Andrew Cuomo, a man who clearly has no principled interest beyond the advancement of Andrew Cuomo. I don't know a single person who was enthusiastic about him, but people who bother to actually speak politics with me are not necessarily members of the silent majority. The silent majority sits quietly as our rights are eviscerated.

Andrew Cuomo shocked me four years ago by running on a platform of going after unions. As a lifelong Democrat, I labored under the misconception that we supported union and Republicans opposed. The new paradigm, I guess, is for absolutely everyone to oppose those of us who actually work for a living. I was amazed, yesterday, to see a television commercial boasting new business in NY pays no property, corporate or sales tax. No wonder there's no money left for working people.

So the question, again--how bad must things become before the silent majority speaks out? In our own union, the ATR teachers have finally begun to organize, against the wishes of the leadership that very publicly approved not only their second tier due-process, but also denied them a functional chapter. Leadership doesn't want this chapter--clearly their votes will be less reliable of those of retirees. No one's sending Mike Mulgrew thank you cards for second-tier due process rights, and his punchiness over Common Core does nothing to help ATRs leadership has sold out when other unions had no givebacks.

The best model for organization is Chicago, but there are factors there that really differ from those in NYC. For one thing, their equivalent of ATR teachers are eventually subject to being fired. Though ours are placed in a rough position, UFT has managed to hold the fort on at least that aspect. I doubt many non-ATR teachers realize how demoralizing being an ATR can be, and the fact that they're kept on payroll may make people think it's not such a threat. But we are all ATRs, and it's sad leadership doesn't know that, and sadder we don't realize it.

Another significant factor that differentiates Chicago from NYC is that retirees in Chicago do not vote. Here in fun city, people unaffected by new contracts form the majority of those deciding who negotiates them. I believe retirees should have input on retiree issues and working teachers should have input on working teacher issues. It's nice that UFT has a Florida HQ, but it's ridiculous that more than half of UFT vote comes from retirees.

On bigger picture issues, we have a governor who's publicly threatened to break what he calls the public school monopoly. It's amazing we have an ostensible Democrat governor and he uses such extremist terms. Of course he sends his own kids to private school and happily takes money from DFER, so privatizing public schools means little to him. Is that enough to wake up the over 80% of teachers who can't be bothered even to select their own leadership?

How bad will things have to get before we wake up? Only time will tell.
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