Wednesday, May 02, 2018

On UFT and Militancy

I've been watching as "right to work" state teachers rise up all over the country. I'm thrilled about it, actually. It's beyond appropriate, and long overdue. If we don't exercise our voices, we may as well not have them. Meanwhile, last weekend a bunch of people gathered in Buffalo, ostensibly to represent NY State teachers, and NY City high schools had not one single elected representative. We are 19, 000 strong and we have no voice there. Nor have we got voice in NEA or AFT, yet we have the dubious privilege of paying dues to all of the above. UFT leadership does not wish to develop a militant union. They seem to prefer us quiet, compliant, and largely in the dark. I'll get back to that.

This notwithstanding, things are not nearly as bad here as they are in other states. Thus far, we aren't watching our salaries and pensions get cut year by year. We are not exactly backed up against a wall with nothing further to lose. If I get any choice in the matter, we won't be. I don't ever want to see us like that. Of course, there are powerful forces that wish to push us like that.

That's what Janus is all about. A lot of people tell me they won't pay dues when Janus passes. I tell them great, that will make the Koch Brothers very happy. After all, that's what they are paying for. For every dollar unions lose, they pop open another bottle of champagne. It's really hard for me to respect people who don't respect what I do, and I spend an awful lot of time with UFT work. Say what you will about Michael Mulgrew, but I'm just as UFT as he is.

Should Janus succeed in crippling UFT, we will be in precisely the position teachers in West Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and all the other "right to work" states find themselves, pretty much treading water before being flushed. I don't envision that happening here, but my magic 8-ball has not proven 100% reliable, so who knows?

People say that Janus is a referendum on leadership. Some people saying that are the same ones who brought the suit in the first place. Hey, I don't support UFT politics all the time. We supported some reprehensible homophobe for city council. We jumped way ahead of the curve and supported Hillary Clinton, which proved an unmitigated disaster. On the other hand, we also played a part in fighting back the Constitutional Convention. I deemed that a worthy cause and signed up a whole lot of people for COPE, for the first time since I became chapter leader.

A militant UFT is something I'd like to see, but it is utter anathema to current leadership. I know activist teachers. I confer with activist teachers. But when I go to UFT meetings I see people who barely object about anything happening to working teachers. Everything is wonderful. Everything is ideal. Every program we endorse is perfect, and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is subject to scorn and ridicule. Otherwise, why would they ask that anyone who entertained the idea of serving the union sign a loyalty oath?

This isn't personal. I've gotten great support from UFT, and some members of the Unity Caucus are among the smartest and most competent people I know. Others are stuck in this ideological cloud, and can't even conceive of questioning anything. 22 Danielson components? Excellent. A great victory over Bloomberg, who wanted only eight. 7 Danielson components? Fabulous. Much better than the 22 we used to have, and a great victory for the union. UFT transfer plan? Wonderful. A great opportunity for members. ATR and total control for principals? Also excellent. Teachers guilty at 3020a before proven innocent? A fabulous opportunity for teachers to own the process, even as they lose their jobs.

Long term this is a failing strategy. Power comes from below and does not reside permanently at 52 Broadway. You'd think Janus would be a wake up call to leadership, but thus far I see no evidence of that. Instead, we've made a deal with Andrew Cuomo to withhold representation from people who don't pay for it. Short term that may work, but counting on Cuomo is risky at best.

I'm up for pushing union membership to my members. I've spent quite a bit of time assembling a team to do so. Nonetheless, I don't want to sell this via fear, and I'll be sorely disappointed if that's how we're asked to do so at our meeting next week. I don't want to simply tell people about services they forfeit by failing to join. I don't want to threaten people. I want to tell people we are brothers and sisters and we stand together. I want to tell people our power is in our numbers. I want people to know when we are together we are a force to be reckoned with.

This is something UFT members haven't thought about for altogether too long a time. We need a union of activists, and people who stand for something. Otherwise, we're just a bunch of people calling for a free pair of glasses every few years.

We can do better than that. As always, I hope leadership not only agrees, but also comes along with us. This will be a far better ride if we're the ones doing the driving.
blog comments powered by Disqus