Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Your Door Knockers at Work

There's an interesting piece in The Chief ($) about reaching out "in building unity," and judging from this photo, it's pretty easy to see why. Note that the young woman in the photo is wearing a Unity Caucus t-shirt and appears to be in a UFT hall.

Now I'm not a fashion consultant, but I have to say that it's pretty inappropriate for anyone to knock on doors wearing a shirt like that. I'm not remotely sure that was the case, but she is clearly sending a message to Chief readers.

It is, however, a pretty good representation of union leadership, whether she intended it or not. The UFT is run by the Unity Caucus and has been since its inception. It's actually not something they widely broadcast. I barely knew it existed until 2005, when I started taking a much closer look at UFT politics. Until then they existed only as a name on a ballot that turned up every two or three years.

Unity Caucus is an elite, invitation-only caucus, a veritable gravy train of perks and gigs for those who sign up. As I write frequently, it requires its members to sign a loyalty oath. It basically says you may disagree within the caucus, but in public you must fall in line with all caucus positions. This can be frustrating, especially if you sit on the Executive Board every two weeks determined to speak what you see, as opposed to what you're told. There are seven of us in the opposition. You can recognize us because we're the ones asking questions. We're the ones bringing resolutions demanding things like, oh, following the C4E law to reduce class sizes, or giving ATR members a meaningful vote.

At the Executive Board, I watch dozens of people sit around, saying and doing nothing until and unless they're instructed otherwise. These are the people, hand-picked by leadership to represent your interests. The only problem is they aren't actually permitted to do that. In fact, they've signed a specific document pretty much promising to tow the line whether or not it serves your interests. Make no mistake, this holds us back.

Sometimes I feel the only thing I really own is my voice. I can't and won't sign an oath to give it up. That this is the price of what they call activism speaks volumes as to what our problem is. I'd actually love to work with and support the union. Sometimes I get called to do that, but not all that frequently. It's too bad we can't work that out. It kind of breaks my heart to see people whose only redeeming quality to the union is the ability to sit down and shut up. This is about the least useful quality an activist can have. But if you want to entertain working for UFT, it's the only one that matters.

We're now facing an existential threat. The reaction of leadership is the same as it ever was. Pay flunkies to work around the office, doing something or other, and continue to erect brick walls to keep the activists the hell out. That's an ass-backward approach. You are either a leader or a follower. UFT policy is to actively discourage leadership. That's bad organization, and it's also bad teaching.

I go to work each and every day and try to draw out the voices of my students. Given that they don't speak much or any English, that's not precisely a walk in the park. Sometimes I have to pry it out of them. Sometimes I feel like I'm a dentist with a pair of pliers trying to extract a recalcitrant tooth. Sometimes I feel like I'm holding them by their knees and shaking them up and down until something falls out. I never stop trying though.

UFT Unity seems to go about things differently. It's like they are emulating Michelle Rhee and taping their student's mouths shut. After all, if they're open, who knows what could come out of those things? Sadly, come Janus, listening to rank and file will become essential if we are to survive. Sadder still, leadership has almost no experience doing this, and as far as I can tell, little to no inclination to start.

It's gonna be a long and interesting year.
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