Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Post-Friedrichs, What Do Leaders Do?

I'm not talking about people like Mulgrew, who will surely continue to draw his salary. I'm talking about leaders of smaller locals and UFT chapter leaders. Are we going to have to continue to represent folks who neither belong to nor contribute to union? Are we supposed to rise above it all if our dues rise because they won't pay their fair share?

I represent almost 300 people. A few are agency fee payers, though some are that way simply because the UFT website signs them up but never registers them. Year after year I have to go to them and tell them they aren't members, and year after year they tell me they've signed up, sometimes right in front of my face. I can't get mad at those people, though they get pretty upset with me for bothering them after they've done what I asked.

That's a much different case than that of free riders, people who have me pay dues so that they can keep the money and benefits negotiated by the union. Because as badly as Mulgrew bungles negotiations, I certainly feel better with tens of thousands of brother and sister unionists beside me. I know of at least one principal who would've fired me if he'd had half a chance, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with how I did my job. I am very grateful to be part of a union.

Some people care only about themselves. For a thousand bucks, they'll stab the rest of us in the back, and if it hurts them long-term, they couldn't care less. Sometimes people like that make bad decisions. So if they get into trouble, why the hell should I help them? Why can't I say, "Screw you, you contribute nothing and you're on your own."

What would the rules say about that? It's tough to say, since I've never been involved with such a situation. I've also never turned down anyone who wanted to be represented, and as long as I have this job I don't suppose I would. I guess if I felt I had to I could step down and represent only people who valued union. You never really know what you're gonna do until you're actually in a situation.

Losing Friedrichs could be a bonanza for the reformies. With union crippled by lack of funds, they could run ad campaigns and court people to support cutting not only their own throats, but those of their brother and sister unionists as well. It sounds counter-intuitive, but a country that buys Fox News will pretty much buy anything. I was in East Berlin in 1984. Someone told me they sold Pravda on every street corner but no one bought it.

There's a sucker born every minute said Barnum (or someone). Maybe the reformies will pay people. If a thousand people will sign a loyalty oath to Unity for perks big and small, why couldn't the reformies buy them off as well? Maybe instead of two conventions a year, they could offer three. And since AFT gives them Bill Gates as a keynote, the conventions might not be all that different.

It's gonna be a new world if Friedrichs passes. I don't believe UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who doesn't answer email, who isn't on Twitter, who isn't on Facebook, who thanks the Heavy Hearted Assembly for passing the very worst evaluation system I've ever seen, is capable of adjusting. I can't confirm this, but someone told me he uses a flip phone. Whether or not this is true, he's got a flip phone outlook in an iPhone world. I don't think he wants to be bothered reaching out to rank and file. Fortunately for his election chances, over 80% of working teachers are so cynical and apathetic they don't vote. Also the retirees he visits in Florida, who constitute more than half of our electorate, adore the status quo.

Whatever we do at a school level, the leader of the UFT post-Friedrichs will need to get out and activate the membership, something current leadership gave up on long ago. Taking video of a UFT bus at some school ain't gonna cut it. It's now more important than ever to elect a real leader. Because if Friedrichs passes, we're gonna have to relive a whole lot of the struggles of the twentieth century.

We simply cannot let the bastards win.

And if they lose, we cannot let our guard down either, because the thing with demogogues, as we've seen over the years, is every time you cut off one head, another grows in its place.
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