Saturday, January 16, 2016

We Finance the Mulgrew Campaign

Several of my blogger colleagues have reviewed the new UFT commercial, and deemed it lacking. I agree. I find it misleading and unpersuasive, far too generous to Andrew Cuomo, and far too rosy in its outlook.  I also agree that its overly optimistic tone is calculated to instill faith in bumbling, rudderless Michael Mulgrew.

But this year leadership has another ace up its sleeve. It's sent this video out to chapter leaders and asked them to show it at meetings. It shows Mulgrew with people I recognize as Unity insiders tossing softballs. The UFT President is mostly off camera, in what's supposed to be candid and spontaneous discourse. I've watched Michael Mulgrew many times, and his off the cuff speaking is absolutely nothing like what's reflected in this video.

Now it's interesting to hear Mulgrew tell the story about how well-heeled union-busters set up Friedrichs and her cohorts to kill union. He's right, of course, and you've read it even in mainstream media if you're following the case. To see his outrage, you'd think he wasn't part of the brain trust that brought Bill Gates to be keynote at the AFT convention. You'd think it wasn't Mulgrew himself who helped write the law that first brought New York teachers junk science. You'd think he didn't champion the contract that made senior teachers into permanent ATRs. You'd think we hadn't given them charter schools, mayoral control, and EZ school closings. You'd think Mike Mulgrew himself wasn't the guy who thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for the draconian new evaluation system.

Since so few UFT members actually have dealings with the President, they may believe that guy on the camera is the real Mike Mulgrew. They might believe that the well-organized thoughts coming from the mouth of the off-camera Mulgrew are spontaneous utterances, or that this is simply a random group of teachers having an off the cuff conversation with our open and thoughtful president.

This is a much better video than the one that's airing on TV. It's tightly scripted and paints a whole new Mulgrew, one I've never seen before. There's none of his trademark smirking and private jokes. The tough guy posturing is gone. You'd think you were watching a reflective intellectual or something. And if you were not aware that the Supreme Court is already pretty much in the bag for Friedrichs, you might think that Mulgrew and his crew were actually accomplishing something.

UFT leadership depends on an uninformed and passive membership to stay in power. This is, and has been, our prime weakness. One thing Mulgrew says really strikes me. He says if we lose Friedrichs that the union will have to spend an inordinate amount of time organizing. He holds that out as though it's a terrible thing. In fact, it's likely the thing that Mulgrew and his loyalty oath signing minions have most neglected over the last decade or two. It's what union is largely about, and it's the sort of thing that might have precluded Mulgrew, who's never met a giveback he didn't like, from negotiating two-tier due process and yet another substandard contract.

Now it would be great if Mulgrew were sincere about organizing, but I don't think he has it in him. He's no Karen Lewis, he's largely unavailable to rank and file, and he certainly doesn't speak off the top of his head as he did in that video. What Mulgrew refers to as organizing would likely amount to no more than intensive dues collection. An activated membership would be a dire threat to the Unity machine, one it cannot risk or afford. There's a reason why UFT Unity builds barriers against genuine activists, and it's certainly not because they want a well-informed rank and file. Otherwise they'd be telling us the whole story, rather than painting only half of it and hoping we don't already know the rest.

Every Unity chapter leader will dutifully show this video to staff, and people who don't know any better may buy this week's Mulgrew as real. It's more important than ever for opposition to get the truth out. In light of Friedrichs, it's supremely ironic that our dues are, in fact, financing Mulgrew's campaign for re-election.
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