Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Stronger Together Brings a Stop Watch to a Long Game

One of the most exciting incidences in NY unionism was our hookup with what became Stronger Together three years ago. I was heavily involved, as I ran for Executive Vice-President of NYSUT against Andrew Pallotta. I ran all over the state to forums. It was really exciting. Of course it would have been even more exciting if we'd won, but that's how it goes.

Three years later there is a new election. Stronger Together sent out an email canvassing for candidates in October. I missed the email, but discussed it with James Eterno in November. I had in fact recruited another UFT member interested in running by that time. I guess we assumed that ST would reach out to us, and that's on us. Maybe I thought that all the work I did three years ago meant someone would reach out to me personally, and that's on me. In any case, no one ever did. So we screwed up.

Next I heard, Stronger Together was trying to make a deal with NY State Unity. They were hoping a few reps from their org would run with a few from Unity, and that there would thus be no conflict. Now for my money, the most powerful union leader in NY State is Michael Mulgrew, and I don't envision him making that deal. Stronger Together leader Mike Lillis is really, really smart, and on the right side of just about every issue I can think of, except one, and that is my union, the UFT.

Mulgrew let New Action go, and Mulgrew let us have a voice in the Executive Board. While I'm sure that wasn't his intention, I'm glad it worked out that way. If only Mulgrew attended his own Executive Board meetings, he'd be reminded of that twice a month for the next three years. Michael Mulgrew doesn't engage us at all, and I don't anticipate him engaging Lillis either. Even if he were to surprise us, we know exactly what he wants of people in high positions--a loyalty oath.

My best guess right now is that Stronger Together doesn't wish to be mixed up with weirdos like us in MORE, because we are pretty much one of the last bastions of vibrant resistance to top-down unionism. Being mixed up with us would hurt ST's chances of a deal with Mulgrew, who didn't send us Christmas cards this year. in fact, I even hear there was a UFT Christmas party we didn't get invited to, being the only Executive Board members who didn't sign the oath.

James and Jia Lee and I, along with PJSTA member Brian St. Pierre met with Lillis and another ST rep at a Colombian restaurant near Francis Lewis High School. We talked for a long time, but didn't say much. I had already told both of them that I would not consider supporting any ticket that did not include UFT representation. I am opposition, but I am UFT.  Of course, like every one of almost 20,000 city high school teachers, I have no voice or vote in NYSUT. That's not the fault of ST Caucus, but I won't support any ticket that prolongs that arrangement.

At the meeting, they suggested we run for at large seats. They then told us they thought such seats were not valid and that they would not, therefore, be endorsing any of them. It felt a lot like, "Feel free to step up to the bar and buy yourself a drink." That's not my vision of hospitality, particularly when Jia Lee picks up the entire restaurant bill. (Thank you, Jia!) 

So maybe Lillis and ST are right. They don't need us. They won't gain a single vote from our participation. But if they are indeed a movement, they no longer have the support of anyone from the largest local in the state, or in fact the country. If they were to win, they would be as illegitimate as Donald Trump. Here's the thing with that, though--they are not going to win. Not this time. Me, I'm okay with losing now and building a movement long term. I can't explain what their long-term goal is.

My long term goal is to return control of the union to the union members. My long term goal is to establish a democratic union that's responsive to member needs rather than leadership caprices. I don't regret a single moment I spent running against Pallotta, or doing anything I've done to accentuate the voices of my brothers and sisters, and I'd do it again at the drop of a hat. On the other hand, I also don't regret not having to run statewide again this year. I'm pretty busy already.

Stronger Together has some really good people. They sorely miss Beth Dimino, who gave them an overarching vision that they now lack. But they don't understand what UFT/ NYSUT leadership is all about. They don't understand that this is a long game. And they don't understand that ignoring the largest teacher local in the country is not a good idea.

They will either learn in short order or rapidly disappear altogether.
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