Saturday, February 10, 2018

February 7th DA Takeaway--No First Amendment Rights Necessary in Democracy, Unity Caucus Style

I went to the DA, not expecting much. I was wondering whether a few resolutions would come up or pass. I got a little more than I bargained for. After an unremarkable address from the President, the President of the Wisconsin Teacher Association, Kim Kohlhass, came up.

I have to tell you, I found her remarkable and inspirational. She's fighting an uphill battle against a rigged system. Wisconsin teachers are being screwed beyond belief and she shows courage at every step. Their hands are tied but they keep on fighting. This is the sort of spirit that spells leadership.

They will have to work to change the legislation that's left them scrambling for relevance. And work they do, running sympathetic souls to take back the legislature, currently stacked with mostly reps from the Koch Brothers. Of course the most prominent Koch pawn is Scott Walker himself, elected to do their bidding pretty much no matter what.

I don't know anything about what union was like in Wisconsin before Walker stripped them of their right to collective bargaining. I know quite a bit about what UFT leadership was like before Janus raised its head. Right now they're scrambling to do door knocking, but for decades earlier they didn't give a golly gosh darn about contacting individual members. They're doing meet the VP events now, but I never heard of such a thing before.

Much as I oppose Janus, it's kind of a wake up call for entrenched union leadership. People need reasons to pay, and it's on leadership to provide them. Of course, this is a pretty extreme way to make leadership reach out. Organizing ought to be an ongoing activity regardless. Perhaps if it were, more than 25% of us would bother to vote in union elections.

I was thinking about writing a paragraph in my weekly to members about this remarkable woman. Instead, I ended up copying and pasting one UFT sent me. All the inspiration I'd felt personally ended up in the toilet when Mulgrew began to speak about how we face the press. In fact it was this blog that alerted at least one journalist to the BLM debate.

Now when I call it a debate, I'm already stretching the truth. Here's what happened--Dermot Myrie introduced a resolution to support Black Lives Matter. Unity's LeRoy Barr urged people to vote against it, and every single loyalty oath signer voted as told. A debate, to my mind, is an open exchange of ideas during which people may or may not be persuaded to change their minds. That's not remotely what we have at the DA or Executive Board. What we have, frankly, is a controlling bloc that has promised to vote as they are told, whether or not it's in the best interests of members.

Considering that, let's look at what Mulgrew said. Essentially, when presented with the issue of the press discovering we failed to support Black Lives Matter, there was no reflection or examination of this position. The issue, evidently, was how we could keep the press from finding out what we do. Mulgrew suggested that the DA could make rules and preclude it. He said we are a democracy.

We are a democracy very much in the sense the United States is a democracy. You know, Hillary gets more votes and Trump becomes President. Voters are disenfranchised and have no voice. They're blocked because some guy in prison in another state has a similar last name, or they're unable to come up with an acceptable ID, or whatever. In our case, the majority of voters have signed an oath to vote as they are told, and high schools have no representation whatsoever on NEA, NYSUT, AFT, or worst of all, Adcom.

Adcom is the UFT officers, the ones who make all the actual decisions about what will come to Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly. In truth, they make all decisions about what comes to a vote and what passes. They have an army of loyalty oath signers who stand to lose perks and jobs if they don't vote as told. Hence they vote against two observations a year, stronger class size regulations, or dumping test scores from our evaluation system.

The test scores thing is particularly egregious because NYSUT has just demanded that locals be returned the ability to set their own evaluation systems. James Eterno spoke to that and asked that someone rated under Advance respond. To their credit, rather than have Howard Schoor come to the microphone yet again and tell James to go to hell, a real live chapter leader got up and said her rating was saved by the test scores and it was therefore a good thing.

I absolutely believe that chapter leader, and I'm certain she's not the only one saved by test scores. In fact, our school does well with test scores, and I know people who've gotten upward bumps via scores. However, not all schools are like ours. I know someone from another school who was rated ineffective based on test scores. While I realize that's now mitigated somewhat by the matrix, it's still junk science, and it's still a crapshoot. Our jobs ought not to hinge on a system dependent on (a.) insane administrators and (b.) dumb luck.

But let's get to the crux of what Mulgrew suggested. He's saying let's make rules against reporting what we do. The issue, evidently, is not that UFT voted against supporting Black Lives Matter, but that people found out about it. So let's stop reporting what we do. Oddly, I thought reporting what they do was a good thing. I see fewer cases of members being openly ridiculed and abused at the DA since I began reporting on it.

Frankly, it's absurd to think you can make statements in front of hundreds of people and keep them secret. I have union meetings, but I never say anything I wouldn't want the principal to hear. I'm not completely stupid (or at least I hope not). So what are they going to do? Forbid people to report on the DA? Will they expel me for doing so? I'd love to see that. Go ahead, Adcom. Go ahead, patronage-motivated loyalty oath signers (after Adcom decides for you, of course). Make my day. I'm perpetually looking for new things to write about, and I'll wear it as a medal of honor.

And then there was that Unity pamphlet, the one I found on a seat on the way out. Here's a comment my friend Harris Lirtzman left on Facebook:

Arthur: the least of it is that you were called "a liar." You were, in equal parts, called a "traitor," a "collaborator-quisling," "un-American" and other associated McCarthyite adjectives, "stupid," "incompetent" and, worst of the worst for a union so closely connected with the City's teacher evaluation system, "ineffective." You will shortly be given a "UFT member improvement plan."You are, of course, none of these. You have been, however, HUAC-ed in the way that people were HUAC-ed in the 1940s and 1950s. An unworthy and deeply sad and, ultimately, pointless exercise by our own union.

He said it better than I could have. I merely saw parallels to Trump, who just suggested that Democrats who didn't applaud for him were treasonous. Like the Unity Caucus, Trump thinks everything he does is wonderful, and any criticism of him or his actions is "fake news." I work pretty hard as chapter leader, and I'm working pretty hard to keep the largest school in Queens in the union column post-Janus.

I won't be bought off and I won't be shut up, but that doesn't jibe with their idea of democracy. All I can say is I'm relieved not to have been their social studies teacher.
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