Archives For Union Democracy

by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

[The following is a compilation of two different reports, originally posted at the ICE blog, about Wednesday's DA]

President’s Report


President Michael Mulgrew opened the June Delegate Assembly by talking about California.  He said the decision of the judge to get rid of tenure and seniority rights because they violate the California Constitution is very troubling but we are confident about the appeal.  We knew once the case was assigned to this particular judge that it would be difficult to win.
The premise of school reform is that public education is failing but this isn’t true.  Judge said students were having their civil rights violated because of bad teachers.  The judge is wrong because the problem is poverty and teacher retention and not subpar teachers.  We expect copycat lawsuits in New York State from front groups like Students’ First.

Continue Reading…

by: Mike Schirtzer
Teacher/UFT Delegate (Leon M. Goldstein H.S.)
2013 MORE/UFT Vice Presidential Candidate

“The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory.” -Jonathan Kozol

This quote by the great writer and public education advocate Mr. Kozol leads one to infer that without a struggle there cannot be victory. One may also assert that there is victory in the struggle itself. The question of how an opposition caucus within a union can gain power and victory is one that must be answered in order for that caucus to progress.

Without power, there can never be victory. Power in any group is obtained when the individuals that make up the group feel empowered. Empowerment comes when each member is able to stand up and fight back against the corporate and political forces that seek to destroy public education and bust our unions. We empower our members by assuring them that their voices count, and by asking them for their input on all major decisions. An organization that allows for true democracy is one that empowers its members. We also empower our members by having a space where dissent and debate are welcomed, not suppressed. Empowerment comes when we stand together at delegate assemblies , rallies and school closing hearings, when we cheer each other on, and offer words of encouragement. Empowerment is when new activists who join our caucus realize their ideas are as valuable as  those of our founding members. Our caucus has power when each and every member feels as though they can stand up and speak even when they are the minority in the room, because they are empowered by the vocal and moral support of their brothers and sisters. Our members become empowered because each one is given a responsibility and they know the only way our caucus can be a success is by them fulfilling those responsibilities.

The caucus empowers our members by asking them to appear on panels, facilitate meetings, or join expert forums. We realize that the true experts are not paid off politicians, billionaire reformers, nor professors who have never stepped foot in a public education classroom. The real experts are the educators and parents whose lives are devoted to public education.

Power leads to victory when each of our members walks through the doors of their school, community center, union hall, or legislative building feeling as they have as much power as anyone in that place. Then we know we can achieve victory.

Victory is achieved when new members walk through our doors and say “thank God you exist,” having heard those very words out in the open that they hear in their head each day. They are feeling the very spirit that they wished they felt from their union and government leaders. But the real victory is when the members of the caucus turn to that new member and say, “No, thank God you’re here, because we need you.” That is real empowerment.  That is victory!

Victory is achieved when our members take what they learn at our caucus meetings and bring it back to their school, share it with their colleagues, and speak at Parent Association meetings. This is victory because the message is not being delivered by an out of touch media or an elitist politician, but it’s being delivered by someone who has a stake in the public education system.

We know we have won something when our members go back to their schools and organize a fund to help undocumented students attend the college of their choice, or when a member organizes a club for African-Americans and other students of color at their school where students teach their peers to respect one another and even organize multicultural fairs. When our parents opt their children out of the tests, we have won. They have done this because they realize social justice is more than just a slogan.

When our union brothers and sisters are offered a choice in a union election, an alternative to the current leadership, this is a victory for democracy. MORE’s very existence offers a beacon of hope to those who feel as though they are disenfranchised. Every time we stand up and voice our discontent that union leaders sell out public education for a seat at the table, we ensure that democracy thrives.

Victory is when the bonds of the members of our caucus become so strong that when one of us feels hurt we all feel that pain. We win every time we’re able to look past our political differences to advocate for public education, because we realize that what brings us together is stronger than what separates us.

We have won when we are able to look to each other for the moral and vocal support that is supposed to come from our union leadership, yet only comes from those in our caucus.

Victory is being the largest and loudest contingent at the rare march or rally called by our union leadership, leading the chants as we march across the Brooklyn Bridge. We win when the leadership has no clue how to organize an action and all union members look to us for what to say or do.

We have achieved victory when the media and the general public know that when they want to hear the voice of rank and file educators, they call you, read your blogs, look for your press statements. We win when our social media has as many readers, if not more, than the corporate reformers who pretend to be interested in our children, but only care about profits.

MORE has yet to achieve victory. When our entire union is organized and mobilized to lead the fight for a fair education for all, we will declare victory. When our leadership is responsive, transparent, and truly democratic, we will declare victory. When educators, parents, and students are treated with the dignity they deserve, we will declare victory. When every child is offered equal opportunity and equality of conditions in their education, we will declare victory. When the “new Jim Crow” policies of privatization and closing schools ends and proper funding for public education is restored, we will know we have won.

Until then, we continue our struggles together. We will succeed because when we stand united, we can never be defeated!

Read the Results of MORE’s Mayoral Race Survey!

 The fight to protect and strengthen public education and our unions did not begin with Mayor Bloomberg and it will not end with him. The upcoming Mayoral election in New York City may provide an opportunity to create a shift in local education policy, polices that for the last ten years have devastated our schools and our profession.  The UFT has endorsed a candidate for the New York City Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor, Bill Thompson.

The real strength of our union lies in its ability to use collective action to advance the goals of our members. Working with politicians can be part of a union’s strategy, but cannot substitute for genuine grassroots organizing. Union members need to understand how the current political system works and be prepared to take advantage of opportunities it might present for working people and unions to advance their goals. Elections can be one of those opportunities. However, there is a well-established pattern of campaign promises that evaporate in office. Furthermore, despite their rhetoric, both of the main political parties are deeply implicated in the privatization of our public schools and the attacks on teacher unions. For these reasons, stakeholders who deeply care about public education need to be informed and have a voice concerning New York City’s upcoming mayoral election.

We cannot protect public education without an educated and organized rank and file whose voice and feedback is not only valued by our union, but drives our union.  If we do not find a way to seek and hear our members’ input and involve them in the in the major decisions facing our union, then our union’s advocacy will always be seen as “the UFT”, as opposed to an extension of our collective power.

Because of this, we must have a process to decide if we should endorse and which candidate we endorse that is inclusive and provides an opportunity to collect input from all of our members. This kind of democracy and transparency is essential in order to build a member-driven union.  The UFT leadership has not provided a mechanism to gather authentic and broad-based feedback.  Our union leaders should not make executive decisions about important issues such as a mayoral endorsement or a teacher evaluation system, without a more inclusive process.  Our members deserve a voice and a vote.  The mayoral endorsement, while brought to the delegate assembly, was a decision pre-packaged and ready-made: signs were pre-printed and Mr. Thompson was waiting backstage.  This illusion of democratic process undermines the strength of our union and disconnects our members from fully engaging in the important work of our union, effectively weakening the potential of our collective power and action.

MORE wants to know what UFT members actually think about the upcoming Mayoral race.  Please take the time to fill our survey below and stay tuned for follow up reporting and action in the fall.

Together we can build a better union!

Take MORE’s Mayoral Race Survey:

Here is a quick overview of where some of the Mayoral Candidates stand on important education issues:

de Blasio Lhota Liu Quinn Thompson Weiner
Believes in ending Mayoral Control and has put forth a vision for democratic governance of our schools. No No No*has agreed to give up some appointed PEP seats No No No
Believes there must be a change to current policing policies in our schools that moves authority over school safety officers from the NYPD and to school communities. No No Yes No Yes No
Has publicly committed to reducing class size. Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Believes charter schools should not be given space in public school buildings and/or believes in a moratorium on charter school co-locations and/or has called for current co-located charters to pay rent. Yes No Yes No No No
Believes in a moratorium on school closings and/or has stated that school closings as a policy is flawed. Yes No Yes No Yes Unclear
Believes teacher evaluation should be tied to student test scores and/or supports merit-based pay for teachers. No public statement Yes Not as currently implemented No Doesn’t want to “take anything off the table” No public statement
Has publicly stated he/she will provide a new contract with retroactive pay for municipal union members who have worked without a contract. No No Yes No No No