Friday, March 18, 2016

Shroud of the Loud Proud Crowd

To the left is a piece that I hung up on our UFT bulletin board.  There's a much better one, actually, with a picture of a sole protester labeled "You" and another with a crowd labeled, "You with your union." I love that one and talked another chapter leader into giving me his copy.

Here's the thing, though. The last time I went boots on the ground with UFT was the labor day parade. And I think the time before that was some protest against Cuomo not primarily organized by UFT. While the Heavy Hearts Assembly was pondering the worst evaluation system we'd ever heard of, Mulgrew told us we wouldn't focus on it. Rather, he said, we'd focus on the budget. And when the Heavy Hearts passed the worst education law I'd ever seen in my life, Mulgrew thanked them.

So here we find ourselves with a union that needs to go all the way back to step one, reminding members that it's better to have a union than to not have a union. And the truth is the only reason they even bothered with that was the Friedrichs case, which placed dues collection in dire jeopardy. The chances of Friedrichs passing, after Scalia's passing, are down quite a bit, but leadership is continuing this campaign. I suppose that's wise, because the fact is the reformies are never going to give up. Just like the tax credit/ voucher bill that raises its ugly head each year in New York, they'll keep coming after us by any means necessary.

But what got us to this point? How on earth did we assemble tens of thousands of teachers, few to none of whom really understand the concept of union?  Well, there are a few reasons.

One is the givebacks. UFT Unity leadership never met a giveback it didn't like. At one point, senior teachers were placed in other schools when they got bumped. For a few years, they could even choose where they landed. Now, they're at the mercy of 30-year-old principals with eyes for nothing but the bottom line. And those teachers are now subject to second-tier due process, pretty much at the whim of roving ATR supervisors. I recently met one with all the charm and subtlety of a barracuda. I could go on, but I'll spare you for now.

Another is the fact that we really are not represented in leadership. The Unity winner-take-all system ensures that every delegate to NYSUT and AFT has signed a loyalty oath and will represent leadership, quite frequently at the expense of membership. So you can grumble about teacher torture Mondays and Tuesdays, but the fact is after six years of nothing Mulgrew was able to bamboozle an utterly demoralized membership into voting up one of the worst pieces of crap they'd ever proposed. He said we didn't have a God-given right to retro, and that if we'd turned down this stinker we'd have to get behind 151 other unions. The fact is it's very difficult to imagine any of them negotiating anything quite as bad as 10% over 7 years, the lowest pattern I've ever heard of.

Finally, there is the cynicism that makes 83% of working teachers toss their election ballots in the trash. Of course that's engendered by the above factors, and it's hard even for me to comprehend the point of voting in what is essentially a rigged election. It's just this lifelong habit of voting every chance I get that keeps me doing it.

Now here's the thing--signs and slogans are not gonna change anything. For a sorely needed sea change in membership, there's gonna have to be a revolutionary movement in the outlook of leadership. As far as I can tell, with the fossilized mindset that dominates UFT, that's not gonna happen. In fact, it didn't even occur to them to educate membership on the value of union until it found itself in peril. That peril, of course, was the result of years of appeasement to reformies, who will never stop until we are dead, buried, and the ground salted above us so nothing can flower.

If Unity wins the May election, it will be a hollow victory. It will mean they can continue sitting in their offices and negotiating the same substandard drek we've come to expect. The only way they can energize membership will be by energizing themselves, waking up to find the vitality and urgency in which they are so sorely lacking.

I don't think Mulgrew has it in him, and I'd say the same for the overwhelming majority of his oath-signing minions. And the next time another Friedrichs come along, we'll be back to square one explaining why the UFT is more than a pair of eyeglasses every other year.
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