Monday, July 17, 2017

UFT and the Politics of Identity

A little over three years ago, I ran for Executive Vice President of NYSUT. It was an illuminating experience on multiple levels. One thing I learned was that there were a whole lot of unions that didn't run like the UFT. I'm gonna count that as a positive, because real union power comes from the bottom up, always.

My coach in that campaign was Beth Dimino, who was the President of PJSTA. One of the things she first suggested was specificity in how I spoke of the UFT. There's leadership, and there's membership. A whole lot of us fail to make that distinction, and speak of UFT as though it means Michael Mulgrew. In fact, Mulgrew corrected a member at the DA who said UFT did this or that by saying, "You are UFT." There's a point on which we see eye to eye.

Of course, though Mulgrew said that, and though I agree, I understand quite well why people don't feel it. Leadership makes decisions in a bubble, and feels it ought not to be questioned. With seven high school teachers on the Executive Board unshackled by loyalty oaths, that's become a little more difficult. It's now part of their job to answer our questions, and that is what they spend much of their time trying to do at the otherwise largely humdrum UFT Executive Board.

A problem arises when their decisions appear arbitrary, but they overcome that through numbers--there are 95 of them and seven of us, so we cannot win a vote. However, that's not the only problem.

If you look a little deeper, you'll see something more serious and pervasive. Essentially, they cannot offer a believable rationale for some of their actions. I'll refer you to the UFT High School Executive Board Blog. There, you can see their arguments against us when we proposed resolutions against abusive administrators, and against excessive class sizes. You can see our resolution in favor of CPE 1. You can see how we questioned the ATR agreement and asked for member voice. You can see how we demanded Trump's name be included when we condemned the bigotry for which he and his minions opened the floodgates.

It's certainly possible that they have a rationale they cannot share publicly. Maybe they share it at top-secret Unity Caucus meetings, but I doubt it. It's one thing to have a justification with which reasonable people may disagree. It's quite another to make up the best nonsense you can muster off the top of your head with and hope for the best. And here I will share the next level of the problem--Unity has promoted an awful lot of people based on loyalty rather than ability. As a member and chapter leader, I've seen this in action for years.

How many times have you called the borough office to get inaccurate or terrible advice? How many people have gone to retirement consultations for the same? Do you think it's a coincidence that members opt to pay people for retirement consultations rather than chance UFT advice? How many chapter leaders have gotten bad advice from District Reps until they looked up facts themselves?

I've watched UFT hires come to borough offices and say outlandishly stupid things to groups of chapter leaders. I've had Unity chapter leaders admit these things to me privately, but not one would stand up at a meeting and say it. I have to respect that they'd go even that far, because a whole lot of them will not. I've had Unity chapter leaders complain to me at meetings, and then leave me hanging in the wind when I got up and repeated what they complained about.

I'm not surprised when I field face to face personal attacks from UFT employees. I'm not surprised when they contradict me without knowing what they're talking about. I'm not surprised when they tell me what I must think, fully expecting compliance. I'm not surprised when they recoil in shock as I tell them to go ahead and dump me from Unity Caucus. I'm not surprised when I'm publicly ridiculed at chapter leader meetings for calling VAM junk science, even though both Diane Ravitch and the American Statistical Association side with me. (Now I'm reminded of Trump supporters who deny global warming.)

But it's a big problem when people who can't or won't think for themselves are promoted solely for loyalty. It's a big problem when lazy minds who've simply faked their way through are placed in positions of authority. It's not a surprise when they rationalize anything no matter how absurd, nor is it a surprise when they glibly lie to do so. (And again, look at Donald Trump for exhibit A.) This needs to stop.

I will also say that I have encountered some very smart and capable people in leadership. I've seen a handful of people who really belong there. I always hope to find more people like that. Leaders have their own voices. They are not just parrots, repeating what they are told, and they are not weasels, rationalizing whatever they are told be it right or wrong.

Mulgrew was right--you are UFT, and I am UFT. We live UFT, and we breathe and bleed UFT whether we know it or not. If we wish to make UFT stronger, we speak the truth. We stand up for ourselves, and in doing so, stand up for our students and communities. We measure and monitor when leadership is right, and when they are wrong. If leadership builds a brick wall to keep us out, we have no choice but to kick it down. But if they build a bridge, we can cross it or meet in the middle.

I can go either way.
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