UFT Series Post #4: Do You Want MORE From Your Union?

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Our features this week (intro, James Eterno, Arthur Goldstein, Reality-Based Educator) that have shown how the leadership of the United Federation of Teachers operates may understandably leave you with a bad taste in your mouth regarding the state’s biggest local.  Today’s post is meant to highlight some of the extraordinary work being done by rank and file UFT members, in spite of the leadership of the Unity Caucus.  While a great deal of their members do the “every day hero” work that so many teachers across the country do, still others do tremendous work blogging about education (see our guest bloggers at NYC Educator and Perdido Street School).  However one group in particular jumps out for their activism.  That group is the MORE Caucus (@MOREcaucusNYC).

The MORE Caucus, standing for the Movement Of Rank And File Educators, bills itself as “The Social Justice Caucus of the UFT”.  Anybody who knows them knows that there is no finer example of grassroots unionism in New York.  Not the faux grassroots that the Pallotta/Mulgrew Revive NYSUT slate is touting, but real bottom up, member driven unionism.  So who exactly is the MORE Caucus and what do they stand for?  Via their mission statement…

1. We are members of the UFT and members of school communities and their allies.
2. We insist on receiving professional dignity and respect, and we insist on a strong, democratic union emerging from an educated and active rank and file. We oppose the lack of democracy and one-party state that has governed our union for half a century. It has conceded to our adversaries’ agendas and has collaborated with their attacks on us, leading to the terrible situation we find ourselves in.
3. We insist on a better educational environment for ourselves and for the students whose lives we touch.  Because of this resolve, we have established the MORE Caucus, which will educate, organize and mobilize the UFT membership.

In “Why We Need a New Caucus” they add…

The onslaught of high-stakes testing, privatization, weakening or elimination of job protections, school closings and charter co- locations threatens the very existence of public education as we know it. Unionized teachers in particular have been singled out for demonization. The strategy put forth by our union leadership to take on these challenges is inadequate. UFT officials rely primarily on lobbying, media blitzes and procedural lawsuits. When occasional mobilizations are called, they are organized without a long-term plan for escalating actions or increased membership involvement. The union leadership takes a concessionary stance in order to maintain its “seat at the table” with politicians and corporate forces like Bill Gates, who turn around and attack teachers and the union at every opportunity. Union leadership then sells serious concessions to the members as victories claiming – “It could have worse”.

Some of the key policy failures of the UFT leadership:

•    Supporting mayoral control even in the face of the devastating impact

•    A weak stand against closing schools

•    A compromising position on charter schools and co-locations

•    Giving up on the fight to reduce class size

•    The acceptance of rating teachers based on high-stakes tests

•    Agreeing to merit pay even though every single study shows the failure of this policy

•    Steadily deteriorating working conditions and power in the workplace

•    Erosion of job security and tenure protections

•    A one-party undemocratic system that shuts out the voices of the members

We need something different. A union that fights for the rights of students, teachers and communities.

A union that fights for racial and economic justice inside and outside our schools.

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Like the PJSTA, the MORE Caucus is an official member of the New York State Allies for Public Education.  MORE was formed in 2012, modeled in many ways after the CORE Teachers who only a couple of years earlier wrested control of the Chicago Teachers Union and have since become the model for how teacher unionism should be the United States.

Last spring, for the first time, MORE participated in the UFT elections as challengers to the Unity Caucus.  They were led by their candidate for UFT President, Julie Cavanagh, who was known for her tremendous work fighting for public education, including co-narrating and co-producing The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.  While they did not win the election, MORE garnered significant support considering their status as newcomers and, more importantly, the hurdles that stand in the way of fair elections within their local.  In his guest post earlier this week MORE member James Eterno detailed some of those hurdles (emphasis mine)…

In the most recent UFT election in 2013, less than 20% of active teachers voted. Members received a booklet in the mail with over a thousand names on it.  Most people who did vote chose a slate, which means they voted for all of the candidates from one caucus (political party) with one mark.

The party that has controlled UFT politics for around half a century is the Unity Caucus, the Michael Mulgrew-Randi Weingarten faction of the UFT. Their huge base of support is among retirees, who now make up a majority of the UFT voters.

There is no way for dissidents (the Movement of Rank and File Educators in the last election) to reach those retirees who live all over the place, other than one ad in the New York Teacher newspaper every three years.  Union officers, on the other hand, have complete access to the retirees.

A major union leader told me that when they visit schools during campaign season, they don’t campaign officially but everyone knows that they are there to run for office. How is it that UFT officials manage to visit Florida retirees during the election season? Challengers, who have to teach here in New York City, do not have any access to the masses of voters.

The opposition MORE slate and quasi opposition New Action slate combined won a majority of high school votes in the last UFT election.  That netted the two groups zero representation in NYSUT’s RA.

For a more detailed analysis of the election turnout visit Kit Wainer’s piece here.

Unfortunately the power hungry Unity Caucus has set up a system that shuts out opposition voice within their local.  As a result, NYSUT members do not get to enjoy the benefit of having members from the MORE Caucus participate in higher levels of our statewide union.  There will be no MORE members with a vote in April’s NYSUT election.   Outside of Andy Pallotta, Mike Mulgrew, and the Revive NYSUT slate of candidates I can’t think that this makes any teacher in New York State happy.

The contested election in this year’s NYSUT elections have, at the very least, brought a number of important issues to the forefront.  Hopefully that results in meaningful changes within the next three years so that together we can build a stronger, member driven union. Unfortunately, as currently constituted, this is NOT what democracy looks like!

I’ll leave you with this video of MORE’s Brian Jones speaking about teacher unions…

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4 Responses to UFT Series Post #4: Do You Want MORE From Your Union?

  1. Pingback: MORE THAN A SCORE: Talking Back to Testing Forum | The official website of the PJSTA

  2. Pingback: Thanks for the props, PJSTA! « Movement of Rank and File Educators

  3. Pingback: Cuomo’s Rigged Common Core Panel | The official website of the PJSTA

  4. Pingback: On Binding Delegates | The official website of the PJSTA

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