Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Why Does the UFT Have Elections?

That's a question MORE asks on a recent blog post. I support MORE, and I will appear on their ballot this year, but I have to say I find the question hilarious and sad at the same time. It's hilarious because the answer to any such question ought to be obvious, but sad because in fact it is not. After all, since its inception the UFT has been controlled by the same caucus, and though there have been occasional cracks they've been patched and painted over. Absolute power has been the rule rather than the exception.

So why are there elections? I mean, if the same people win all the time it's a valid question. Why not just anoint a royal family and have them pass the throne down from one generation to the next? After all, that's pretty much what we do. Shanker picks Feldman, who picks Weingarten, who picks Mulgrew. Who's Mulgrew gonna pick? Or does Weingarten get to make the pick from DC? Tough to say.

Any election, ostensibly, is for the people to select leadership. But after decades of seeing the same people in power, anyone who follows the elections can come to no other conclusion than they matter little, if even at all. Only once did opposition find its way into an actual leadership position, when Michael Shulman won UFT Academic VP. Unity, of course, immediately contested the election. There was another election and Shulman had the temerity to win again.

This, of course, was unacceptable. As soon as leadership got rid of Shulman, they changed the rules so those pain-in-the-ass high school teachers could no longer actually select their VP. Instead, they made it an "at large" position, so that elementary teachers, nurses, and retirees could keep us from exercising our choice. So there are no more UFT officers who haven't signed the loyalty oath, and we can all be quite certain every one of them is bound to rep leadership rather than membership. If that isn't blatantly anti-democratic, I don't know what is.

UFT also used to allow chapter leaders to elect the district reps whose job it is to support them. However, chapter leaders repeatedly elected non-Unity district reps. This, of course, was unacceptable. Leadership, therefore, simply took the choice away from chapter leaders and placed their own people in. Thus, no more district reps with agendas to represent membership if such interests clash with those of leadership.

Thus we have an election in which fewer than 20% of working teachers deem it worth their time to vote, an election in which more than half of the actual vote comes from retirees with no stake whatsoever in who negotiates contracts for active UFT members.

So, with all due respect to MORE, there is an obvious answer to why the UFT has elections, but the true answer is to maintain the appearance of democracy while furiously propping up the status quo. 
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