On January 9th, more than 140 people turned out on Long Island for the Restoring Power to the Teacher Conference hosted by STCaucus. The conference focused on ways to organize and empower teachers so that they can not only fight for the schools our students deserve, but for the democratic unions that we deserve!
The morning began with a panel discussion featuring four activist women:
- Beth Dimino, STCaucus Chairperson
- Mel Holden, Buffalo Teachers Federation activist
- Jia Lee, candidate for UFT President and teacher activist in MORE Caucus and STCaucus
- Samantha Winslow, organizer and staff writer at Labor Notes
Among the common themes of the discussion were union democracy and organizing at the rank and file level.
Following the plenary, attendees broke up into different workshops. During the first workshop, Melissa McMullan of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and Patricia Alberti of the Rocky Point Teachers Association facilitated a workshop titled Finding Your Voice: Supporting Children’s Rights to Fair and Accurate Standards and Assessments and Protecting Our Profession, in which they discussed the state of public education and how teachers could have their voices heard. Samantha Winslow of Labor Notes facilitated The Caucus as a Vehicle for Positive Change in Our Union, which centered on where our power comes from (the membership) and how a caucus can help harness that power. Ms. Winslow tied STCaucus’ work to what successful rank and file caucuses in places such as Chicago, Massachusetts, Seattle, and other places across the country have accomplished. Jia Lee’s Teachers of Conscience- Teachers Refusing to comply and Opting Out workshop dealt with the courageous steps some teachers are taking in refusing to administer New York State assessemnts to their students. Finally, Katie Kleinpeter of the PJSTA facilitated a “best practices” styled workshop titled Organizing at the Local Level.
The second round of workshops saw four more sessions for attendees to visit. Geri-Ann McNamee of the PJSTA and Tracy Zamek of the Hauppauge Teachers Association facilitated a workshop titled Creating Change Through Local School Boards. Both women are school board members in their home communities and, in one of the most promising developments of the day, at least one attendee to the workshop now appears intent on running for the board in her home district as well. The Young Teachers Collective, who traveled all the way from New Jersey to be a part of the conference, facilitated the workshop The Personal, The Professional, and The Pedagogical: Organizing for New and Pre-service Teachers. Their dedication to the profession that they are only now beginning is admirable. They clearly are a bright part of the teaching profession going forward. Ms. Winslow ran her second workshop of the day, The Friedrichs Case and Organizing in Right to Work States, dealing with the looming Supreme Court case and what it means for us. Finally, I worked with Norm Scott from the UFT’s MORE Caucus to facilitate a workshop titled Unity Caucus: Thirst for Power and the Undemocratic Nature of Our Unions. They helped to inform attendees to the workshop on how a small group of people within UFT leadership manages to control nearly every level of teacher unionism we have all while shutting out any opposing viewpoints.
The day was a remarkable success as it brought passionate teachers from all parts of the state together to learn from each other and to network as to how we move forward as a caucus. It was exciting, for a change, to see an event planned and carried out entirely by rank and file teachers, with the intent of having their voices shape the union, as opposed to the top down nature of NYSUT that we have all come to know. The success of the event makes it increasingly likely that similar events around the state can be planned.