Archives For Debate

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By James Eterno

Teacher/Chapter Leader- Jamaica High School

ICE/TJC 2010 UFT Presidential Candidate

UFT DELEGATES ENTHUSIASTICALLY ENDORSE DE BLASIO FOR MAYOR BUT MULGREW ONCE AGAIN STIFLES ANY DISSENT

On Wednesday there was a special Delegate Assembly meeting called to endorse Bill de Blasio for Mayor. UFT President Michael Mulgrew used a major part of his report to talk about how he brought Democratic mayoral candidates Bill deBlasio and Bill Thompson together last weekend for a meeting at UFT HQ.  His unity meeting obviously succeeded as it was one of the reasons Thompson was persuaded to drop out of the race for mayor on Monday even though all of the votes in the primary were not yet counted.

While Mulgrew appeared magnanimous with the mayoral candidates, he did not treat his Delegates the same way as he cut off debate on the deBlasio endorsement resolution before anyone was allowed to speak against the motion. Instead, to kill time he spent several minutes telling jokes while Delegates waited for deBlasio to show up to address them.

I raised a point of order and read the following line from Robert’s Rules of Order (the parliamentary procedural rule book), “Ending debate.  Debate of a question is not ended by the chair’s rising to put the question to vote until both the affirmative and the negative are put;” It goes on by saying that “a member can claim the floor and thus reopen debate.” That is clear language.

Now look up the meaning of the word debate from Webster’s Dictionary: “Debate-1: To discuss a question by considering opposing arguments.”  The leadership of our union does not understand the words opposing arguments as in this so called debate, two Delegates from the majority Unity Caucus spoke in favor of supporting de Blasio and then a third, a retired teacher, rose to call for the end of the debate.

Since members of Unity Caucus sign a pledge that they will support decisions of the caucus in union and public forums (the so called Unity loyalty oath), Mulgrew knew how the Delegates from his party would stand on the issue and the only Delegate who wanted to oppose the de Blasio endorsement was Marjorie Stamberg, a person whose call for an American working class party is known throughout the DA.  She should have been permitted to address the body so we could hear an opposing viewpoint.  That is the whole purpose of debate.

Mulgrew not only ignored my point of order, instead he erroneously stated that a point of order is a question. What was he talking about? A point of order according to Robert’s Rules is “an assertion that a rule is being violated and a request that the rule be enforced by the chair. It takes precedence over any pending motion out of which it arises.”

At this point, the UFT’s parliamentarian just fumbled through a book that looked from a distance like Roberts’ Rules but said nothing.  Mulgrew, as previously mentioned, had nothing to say so he told jokes while waiting for de Blasio to arrive and then as soon as he had word that the Public Advocate was in the house, he called on Delegates to vote on the endorsement.  The vote was nearly unanimous (I voted for the endorsement as readers of this blog know I endorsed de Blasio prior to the primary) but I was once again disgusted by the lack of democracy at the DA and I wish that all of the people who complain about the DA would vocally show support when someone attempts to see that democratic protocol is followed.  Delegates came to me after the meeting and said I was right but during the meetings there needs to be a movement for real democracy.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT
Since this was a special Delegate Assembly, there was only a report from President Michael Mulgrew and the resolution to support deBlasio. The President covered much of the same ground he touched on last week in the Chapter Leader meeting.  However, before he began there was a moment of silence for Florence Wilpon, a UFT activist from PS 137 who recently passed away.
Concerning the opening of school, Mulgrew reported that the problems were the evaluation system and the lack of curriculum. He stated that the parents were upset with the recent test results and we need to be there to support them.  He talked about the desperate situation for teachers nationally.  He then took a poke at Bloomberg calling him the worst education mayor in history.
He followed by speaking about evaluations and said we would not go back to the old system even though the current process is not that great.  The biggest concern is the Measures of Student Learning portion of the system. He said we had an agreement with the Department of Education in March that fell apart that was much better than the system State Education Department Commissioner John King imposed in his arbitration.
He added that there are contradictions in the arbitration and that it isn’t going to work but that the point of the new evaluation system is supposed to be to support and develop the work that teachers do.  He told us he can’t understand how a teacher who does not teach English can be held accountable for English test results.  He then stated that this is not the evaluation system we would want a year from now and said it would be fixed in contract negotiations.
The remainder of the report concerned politics.  Mulgrew said that our candidates won the vast majority of the 54 campaigns we were involved in this year.  He then spent time saying how Republican Joe Lhota wants to continue the Bloomberg education policies so we must defeat him and elect a Democrat as mayor.
On Thompson he pointed out that it is unconscionable that 10% of the primary votes are still not counted as of today and as a Thompson supporter, he respected the wishes of the candidate.  Then he talked about the meeting that was held last Saturday between Mulgrew, Thompson and deBlasio where they all agreed to do what is best for the city that they love by electing a Democratic mayor in November. Then, there was the aforementioned motion and the usual one sided debate.  Mulgrew then stalled and finally deBlasio came in and addressed the crowd.
DE BLASIO SPEECH
De Blasio told the Delegates that we must fix what has been broken.  He thanked Mulgrew for handling a delicate situation well.  He said there was now a danger of complacency.  He stated that he saw the poll showing him way ahead but he wasn’t fooled because vicious attacks against him would soon be coming because of his proposal to tax the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten as well as after school programs for middle schools.  He said they would throw the kitchen sink at him because of his alliance with the teacher’s union.
He then declared that we can have a safe city and a strong city.  He spoke about his “Tale of Two Cities” theme noting that it is a patriotic act to acknowledge it and fix it. He said it is not anti-business to build affordable housing or for people like car wash workers and fast food workers to organize into unions.  He complimented the UFT for organizing the child care workers and said that he was honored to be a part of that campaign.
He pointed out that he is trying to be the first mayor to have a child in the public schools.  (Someone in the crowd yelled the name of his son Dante and received a warm reaction from the candidate.)
He then concluded his remarks by saying that he thinks of teachers as heroes and that in the next seven weeks we will need to give it our all as we must fight back against the brutal attacks that are coming and we must achieve a strong victory on November 5.  He received a thunderous standing ovation and the meeting ended.
Note- James Eterno will be filing reports for MORE after each UFT Delegate Assembly during the 2013/14 school year. These are his thoughts and may/may not represent the official position of the caucus.

The following will be part of a series of posts based on our summer series forum that was presented on Thursday 7/25/2013. The purpose was to share the various perspectives on how we, an opposition caucus,  views Unity, the dominant party in power of the UFT? As potential partner, foe or something in between? There were four presentations, this is an introduction for the next three to be posted in the upcoming days. These views do not necessarily represent those of MORE, rather they are part of the diverse viewpoints that represent our membership.

[UPDATED WITH AUDIO]

By Norm Scott

Publisher of Ed Notes Online

Member of ICE, GEM, MORE

Diane Ravitch’s recent  post, My Friend Randi Weingarten garnered over 250 comments, mostly critical of Randi and some of Diane for posting this (I think it was a good thing she did),

Diane wrote:

It serves no purpose for those of us opposed to teacher-bashing and corporate reform to fight among ourselves. We must stand together so that we will one day prevail over those who want to destroy public education and the teaching profession. We can’t win if we are divided. I will do nothing to help those who pursue a strategy of divide and conquer. They want us to fight among ourselves. I won’t help them.

Peter Goodman – Ed in the Apple blog – Unity Caucus shill – retired District 22 Rep.

Unfortunately the union movement has spent too much time fighting internally rather than concentrating on their enemies…

For the past 45 years this has been the constant Unity line used to kill internal criticism and brand it anti-union.

There have been internal debates for years in ICE, GEM and MORE on this issue. How far does an opposition caucus go in criticizing the leadership? Does it risk blow back — feeding into a sense of anti-unionism, especially from the newer generation of teachers who often enter with an anti-union bias? How do you try to compete for power in the UFT without being critical? How does MORE manage to counter the so-far successful propaganda campaign by Unity over the last 2 decades that it is the mayors (Giuliani and Bloomberg) who are the problem, not the people running our union?

Julie Cavanagh sent me this question:

How do we connect our members to our union and help them to understand its importance and galvanize them to get involved– how do we overcome the disenfranchisement and disconnectedness and instead convince people our union is actually a force for good and justice locally, nationally, and globally?

We basically put forth the concept Julie is talking about in our film The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. But I have trouble saying what Julie is talking about the union without qualifying it. How do we do the above with a union leadership that at best can be considered ineffective and at worst collusive with our enemies? I won’t get into the whys and wherefores of motivation or reasons for their actions  this time but maybe some answers will emerge later today.

Other questions that have come up:

What strategies and tactics should an opposition caucus use in relating to the union leadership? Should the opposition work with the leadership? If so, when, how and under what terms? If it’s going to be critical, what kind of tone should be maintained? If the decision is to criticize/attack the leadership, then how should it be done, while making it clear to all that The Union is always to be supported [unless it goes so far off the tracks, this is impossible morally and politically]? In other words, how can the leadership be separated from the Union in the eyes of the rank and file? And should it?

Given the power balances in the UFT do you attempt to lobby the leadership towards better policies? That’s pretty much what New Action does. They have no grassroots and they play the role of a loyal opposition — not even an opposition given that they could not win one position in an election without Unity support.

Some in MORE think that the leadership can be pressured, but instead of playing the inside New Action game, by organizing enough rank and file and the leadership will be forced to respond.

Some think the UFT leadership cannot really be pressured to change direction, given their history of capitulation and even when they look like they are doing something right, that is only on the surface. In fact they coopt the language of the critics (what they say) but don’t actually do anything very much different from what they’ve been doing (what they do).

Peter Lamphere will touch on many of these issues in his presentation.

  • what are the interests of the union leadership?
  • why do they act the way they do?
  • to what extent are the susceptible to pressure?
  • to what extent can we work with them?
  • comparing the UFT leadership to other union leaderships.

I hear all the time, even from newbies: if only we had Al Shanker instead of Randi/Mulgrew we would have a militant fighting union. As a 43 year activist I don’t buy that line and in fact believe that there is a direct line ideologically from Shanker, through Sandy Feldman through Randi and Mulgrew.

Ira Goldfine, my colleague from the 70s and a founder of ICE in 2003 will do a presentation going back to the late 60s through the 90s pre-Randi to show this connection. That Randi did not in fact take the union in another direction. Shanker started the give back ball rolling as far back as 1972, the last time we got a good contract.

The UFT/AFT/Unity leadership has made it easy to be critical based on their support for so much of ed deform.

Vera Pavone will present a comprehensive list focusing on the UFT capitulations over the years.

UFT Friend or Foe is too simplistic a description for what we are doing today. I’m guessing there won’t be a lot to disagree on. We hope to come out of today with a clearer sense of how MORE can navigate this territory and refine the way it addresses the  issue of when to we support/when to we criticize/when do we attack.

This is the start of a conversation and if there is interest we will do an informal follow-up.

Below find a list of items that the UFT/AFT leadership has collaborated on:

  • supporting the teacher accountability ed deform mantra – the evaluation mess
  • signing on to “we must get rid of bad teachers” as a solution
  • variations of merit pay schemes
  • mayoral control
  • common core
  • charters and co-locations
  • rating and grading schools and generation of phony statistics on graduation rates, dropouts, all resulting in….
  • Closing schools (which the UFT supported through the end of 2009 and still supports to some extent), destroying neighborhood schools, dezoning, eliminating comprehensive HS and availability of electives for the vast majority of HS students. Forcing children to travel longer distances.
  • tepid defense of reducing class size, which ed deformers disparage as a solution
  • the contract and agreements in 2005 that coupled school closings with the burgeoning population of ATRs who started off as in-house subs and ended up as the wandering unwanted. Leading to the forcing out of thousands of older and experienced teachers.
  • charter schools, co-location (the union had 2 co-located charters), unequal treatment from DOE. The growing corps of temporary, non-unionized at-will teachers.
  • the growing segregation of the student body—the wanted vs. the unwanted
  • denial of tenure to newer teachers (year after year extensions, discontinues from principals with a grudge — no rights for non-tenured and increasingly restrictive rights for tenured teachers who are now facing even the end of that protection
  • a grievance procedure in the toilet
  • multi pension tiers

By Julie Cavanagh

Wow. While having breakfast with my husband and almost nine month old son (who is finally on the mend after more than a week of a fever ranging 102-104 every day, during the same time my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was in the hospital, who by the way, is also a teacher and a single mother of two young children), I picked up my phone to see a mention on Twitter from Arthur Goldstein (teacher and chapter leader in Queens). I frankly couldn’t believe what I was reading. Usually a mention from Arthur has me in stitches. Not this time.

Now instead of relaxing while my baby takes a nap, I am writing this in response to comments on the ICE and MORE blogs attacking my commitment as a unionist and chapter leader and questioning my worthiness as a candidate for UFT President. All of this because I, and the caucus I represent, had the nerve to insist that Michael Mulgrew engage in a forum or debate with me so that our members can be fully informed and engaged when it comes to their voting choices in the upcoming election.

First let me say that I do not feel I need to defend my role as a chapter leader. Nearly every UFT member in our school, signed my petition for UFT President, and many of my colleagues are actually running in this election with MORE.

Second, I certainly do not need to defend my attendance at Delegate Assemblies. While I do attend, often, DAs are not a democratic forum. As I am sure the commenters on the ICE and MORE blogs know, and as all Unity folks know, the room is not even large enough for all of the CLs and delegates to be seated and when you do go and sit, you listen to Mulgrew practice his stand up routine for an hour or so, after which you *might* have the chance to ask a question or bring a resolution to the floor if Mulgrew recognizes you. Regardless, it is an effort in futility because it really doesn’t matter what you say, ask or bring to the floor; the ruling Unity caucus will disagree with it or vote it down, since they control the DA. If the UFT leadership actually held Delegate Assemblies each month that were informative and provided fair and ample time for discourse and discussion, I would be there in a New York Minute. As this is not the case, I attend as many Delegate Assemblies as I can, but sometimes other events such as a childcare issue, my son being ill or an important meeting in my community to bring a new partner into Red Hook to service children and families with disabilities will take precedence. I do not need to go to the delegate assembly to prove who I am or that I am committed to my union; I act every day in a way that highlights why I should be president of the UFT.

I am a mother and a teacher. I have been a teacher for thirteen years, and have been working with children with special needs and their families for even longer. I have stayed in the same community and school since moving to NYC in 2001, because I am committed to the process of leading school change and improvement from the school level. I became chapter leader at the request of my colleagues a few years ago and have worked hard with them, our parents, and our principal to make sure our children and our teachers have the best learning and working conditions possible. I fought for my school during the dictatorship that my union handed to the mayor, during a co-location of a charter school in my building that my union didn’t adequately help fight (which is difficult since the UFT leadership chose to co-locate its own charter), while our class sizes rise steadily and our budgets are slashed, while teacher’s choice was eliminated and insultingly reinstated to cover no more than a few boxes of pencils, while ATR’s rotate in and out of my building- some of whom  have approached me on the brink of tears desperate for someone to listen to their struggle, during a time of a tidal wave of assaults on our children, our schools, and our profession.

Throughout this time, I not only worked in my own school community, I worked with parents and union members across the city and the country to fight back. You can find links to some of my work here, but I will list a few highlights: I co-wrote/edited/produced/and narrated a film that stood up to corporate education reform, a film that has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people in every state and on every continent (except Antarctica); I have appeared on several TV and radio programs and written several articles where I have spoken out forcefully against corporate education reform and for the schools our children deserve – and I was invited or asked in every single case to participate, so while those in Unity caucus pretend to not know who I am or what I have done (but yet “know”, falsely, that I am not at DAs) apparently the national media does; I have also worked with other union members in the city and nationally  I helped organize a conference, and attended and facilitated, in Chicago in the summer of 2011 with other teacher union members; I helped lead the solidarity efforts with Verizon workers at the end of that same summer. I have sued, with a parent and a student, Mayor Bloomberg for the right to protest school closings and co-locations on his block and successfully organized and co-led that protest. I was the only teacher petitioner in the effort to stop and overturn the appointment of Cathy Black and also recently the only teacher on record to join with parents in sounding the alarm of student and teacher data privacy issues regarding SLC/inBloom data systems (Randi Weingarten, by the way, sits on inBloom’s advisory board). I say all of this not because I think anything that I am or that I do is so special, I share this information to highlight the outlandishness of the attacks from people whose usual line is there should be no attacks on union folks because we are under attack from outside forces and therefore need ‘unity’. I also share this because these are the things the president of a union should do.

Beyond of all of this, if Unity caucus can attack me for the number of times I went to the DA (this year I believe I have been to four DAs), the number of grievances I have filed (none), the number of UFT trainings or committees I have attended (none), then I wonder why they nominated Randi Weingarten as their presidential candidate, since she never attended a DA as a chapter leader, was never a chapter leader, and therefore never filed a grievance, attended the trainings, etc.

I personally do not think any of those things are what makes someone qualified to run our union. What matters is leadership. What matters is vision. What matters is the philosophy by which one will govern and represent the membership. I believe in a union that is member led and member driven. When I, or a candidate from MORE caucus, become president of the union, you will not have to attend a DA and sit idly and listen. The DA will be yours. When we take over leadership of our union, we will organize, support and build fighting chapters at the school level with elected district representatives who are trained organizers.  When we run the union, leadership and staffers will make salaries equivalent to the teachers we represent — there will be no extra perks, no double pensions.  When we lead our union, you will not go more than three years without a contract, at least not without organized job actions and a fight.

When Unity’s stranglehold of the leadership of our union ends, the members will have representation that believes in solidarity with other unions and in the power of our collective action. You will have a union that educates, mobilizes, and organizes our members and the public and who organically partners with parents and young people. You will have a leadership that truly understands that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, that a harm to one is a harm to us all, and that we must stand side by side with deep roots in the communities we serve to fight for social, racial and economic justice in our schools, in our city and across the country.

I am more than ready to share who I am with the members of the UFT and I am happy to answer their questions. In fact, that is precisely the reason I sent the email below to Michael Mulgrew. I believe a union membership with a less than 30% voter turnout needs to be engaged and exposed to open discourse and conversation between the two people who seek to represent them.

Mr. Mulgrew, I am still waiting for a response.

***

Sent: Mar 14, 2013 8:01 PM

Michael,

I hope this email finds you well.

While we have differences and disagreements concerning education policy and union democracy, we both are committed to our union and the children we serve. In that spirit, we should be able to engage in an open conversation during election season so we can ensure our fellow members are informed and engaged.

To this point you have ignored outreach regarding your participation in a debate or question and answer town hall with me. I would like to directly and formally ask you to participate in such an event.

I believe that our members deserve the opportunity to ask questions of their presidential candidates and I strongly believe this kind of open and honest discourse strengthens our union: an educated and engaged membership that is listened to and participates makes us stronger.

There is precedent for an event such as this between presidential candidates during election season.  As you know, Randi has participated in presidential debates in the past: one in 1999 and again in 2001.

I am open to a debate format with a third party moderator or a town hall question and answer event with the membership. My only specific asks are that the event be filmed and/or livestreamed so that we can maximize member participation, that the date, which I am open to any, be agreed to a few days in advance, so that I can secure child care and that the date be as close to April 3rd as possible, so that we provide a fair amount of time for members during the election timeframe.

I look forward to your response.

In solidarity,
Julie Cavanagh

The MORE caucus has requested several times, through several means that there be an open debate between our UFT presidential candidate Julie Cavanagh and Michael Mulgrew who represents the Unity/New Action caucuses. Repeatedly Mulgrew and his caucuses have ignored our invitations.

This constant denial to debate should be of concern to all our union brothers and sisters, as well as the communities we serve.

In order for our union to remain open and democratic all UFT members should  be encouraged to cast ballots in the union elections and provided forums that would give them meaningful insight into the very different visions for leadership of our union. It  is our firm conviction that as in any democratic election the voters must hear from candidates they are asked to choose from so they can make an informed decision.

The UFT is one of the largest local educators’ union in the country, is the controlling force of national union AFT, and the decisions of our union leadership affects the daily lives of millions of children and their parents around the city and the nation. The leadership of this union directly impacts educational policies through-out the country,  therefore this is a vital election and it is in everyone’s best interest if the two candidates engage in a debate.

Mr. Mulgrew speaks once a month to only the delegates and chapter leaders of the UFT, MORE has called for a debate that can be viewed by all our UFT members through-out the city.  In the true spirit of fairness and and solidarity we call on Michael Mulgrew to join Julie Cavanagh in a debate moderated by an independent third party moderator that can be live-streamed via the Internet, so that members can ask questions of both candidates.

We anxiously await His reply.