After four years New Action Caucus (following the change from above strategy ) has pretty much disappeared into Unity with no discernible effect on policy.
ICE/TJC's challenge to Unity ( the change from below strategy) may be likened to 'grabbing an elephant by the tail' and has not not quite the budding insurgency we hoped for.
If follows from this that:
1) The tactics employed by NAC or ICE/TJC failed to achieve the desired ends of those engaged; or
2) The strategy failed to correctly identify and concentrate our tactics at the weakest link; or
3) Critical assessment is incorrect or premature at this time and we need to stay the course.
How do you assess the considerable efforts undertaken thus far?
UFT Incorporated and the labor management subsidiary of UFT Inc.
Consider for a moment that the UFT is not a teachers union, a company union, a corrupt union, or a retiree association. View it instead as a management corporation, UFT Inc. with two large office buildings, a health insurance plan, the $40 billion TRS, The Teachers Center and other properties and investments, perks and privileges to maintain.
A core management area is of course labor management. If the social and economic order of the city is disrupted through the concerted action of those within its domain, UFT Inc looses its dues checkoff, at least temporarily until such time as they prove themselves responsible and loyal agents capable of complying with the terms of their contract.
The UFT is a business, a management corporation that fronts as a labor organization. I'm sure there are plenty of members who think this is fine or don't think much about it or don't expect much more than a health plan and a pension plan for $40 per check. Most teachers I talk with however are discouraged with the job as things stands but think of changing schools or leaving the profession as their only option. The UFT is not viewed as a change agent. I think the rank and file opposition has to go beyond the "just"contract and more democracy formula' if we are ever to reach this disaffected, disgusted majority which is going to grow and not turn over voluntarily as the economy deteriorates and escape hatches close. (massive layoffs is another matter).
There is nothing inherently "progressive" about frustrated, angry, demoralized teachers so we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that worsening conditions will somehow grow a rank and file movement.
The Dues farm and the captive bargaining unit
Like the King and his vassals in feudal times, UFT Inc. occupies a position of mutual obligation vis a vis city and state executives.
By virtue of state labor labor law, UFT Inc is granted a modern day version of a fiefdom, officially designated to as exclusive bargaining agent, which entitles them to involuntary deductions made from members of the bargaining unit.
These deductions, called "dues" or agency shop fees are deducted by the city from the captive members of the bargaining unit and paid to UFT Inc. so long as UFT Inc makes sure that no strike or concerted action ensues. (In this sense UFT Inc has even less of an independent existence and is even more dependent on the city and state executives than the vassals of old were to their Lords.)
The Vassal/Lord relationship during the middle ages is summarized in 9th grade Global Studies classes as "lands for loyalty". I think the relationship between UFT Inc and the city /state executive may be accurately described as dues checkoff for loyalty. With our local and state government so completely under the grip of oligarchy, UFT Inc is nothing less than their agent(willing or reluctant).
As long as UFT Inc. can manage all discontent within the bargaining unit it is free to profit and service its other interests, including real estate, the health insurance company, the TRS, the Teacher's Center, a political patronage machine joined at the hip to the Israel lobby, and who knows what else.
The rank and file opposition engages only one branch of UFT Inc.; its labor management subsidiary. We have done so in the mistaken belief that working teachers can (given sufficient mobilization) hold their "leaders" accountable or put new ones in office. This is just not true beyond the school level. It represents an outdated assessment of just what the UFT is and misleads activists into a cul du sac with no way forward.
Recall that only around 1/3 of the population of the colonies supported Independence from Great Britain. Even during great social movements and revolutions, a relatively small number of people are actively involved. Even if a solid majority of the working membership of the UFT voted against the current leadership, the leadership would not change. No amount of membership engagement alone will lead to a removal of the current leadership or even a change in the structure or goals of the organization. If this is an accurate description we need to change horses.
What does Solidarity look like?
For over 40 years UFT Inc has rendered services to the corporate and political elite in exchange for their fiefdom over the bargaining unit. UFT Inc is powerful but I think they are vulnerable on a number of levels provided the opposition can go beyond the rank and file caucus strategy. I don't think that UFT Inc can be reformed from within as long as the dues check off relationship exists and the oligarchy dominates local and state government. School based organization however is possible and this is the most promising development coming out of the last few years. The challenge comes from connecting school based communities.
Change will come through a convergence of rank and file members in concert with a schools based movement for fundamental reordering of societal priorities. Call it a revolution or an evolution but its going to have to be a mass movement that creates a new sense of social solidarity strong enough to loosen the oligarchy's grip over the schools and local government.
Most importantly the opposition can help to build such a movement by breaking with the Shanker/Feldman legacy and the defense of white racial privileges that this legacy of opportunism is based upon. If we do this, the May 9th people's protest against Tweed(Minus UFT Inc) may be a hopeful new beginning.
I think a closer look at the new funding concensus between Tweed and UFT Inc shows that new inequities are being created and will shed light on the divide and conquer approach shared by both. Overturn the concensus on inequity! Senior equity funding for all schools!
I've said before that the whitening of the teaching staff should be opposed in the name of working class solidarity and positive role models for the youth. May 9th is an opportunity for rank and file teachers to publically put this forward. It is one small step but its something real and with deep roots. It shows up the collusion between UFT Inc and BloomKlein. It brings pressures to bear on the Unity caucus members. It brings together a working group of folks whose rejection of racial privilege can creates a bond of solidarity with lasting significance beyond a contract stuggle or a single issue. It's a seed worth planting that will grow and open many doors. More teachers of color, not fewer!
The preemption of a strictly rank and file reform initiative by UFT Inc
The large size of the local (largest in the US I think) and the small size of most of the schools creates a federal type system which gives inordinate power to a central leadership that can weather any localized rebellions. This is another reason why the caucus strategy is a dead end.
UFT Inc has carefully insulated their labor management division from even a perfect storm of rank and file insurgency. Witness the weight accorded the retiree vote. Plans are in the works to bring in new groups of members who don't work in the education field, further diluting the weight of those actually working in NYC public schools.
It is just not a viable strategy for UFT reform to say to working teachers, take back your union! Run for CL and Delegate and Vote against the tentative agreements, Speak up at meetings - win the majority of working teachers to vote against the Unity caucus and then we'll see. See what? That you are in a dead end? That UFT Inc has preempted rank and file control and reduced the entire apparatus from CL to local wide election to a consultative role, at best?
The BloomKlein/UFT Inc Concensus
The new agreement shows how the DOE and UFT Inc are in cahoots even as they quibble over the details. The majority of teachers and parents and students are on the outside looking in. This collaboration brings us one step closer to the Chicago nightmare. The people have to create some new forms and new connections and new leaders quick fast. I support the idea that the May 9 demo should go forward, with as many teachers and parents, students and community activists as we can muster. Hopefully this can be the begginning of a new solidarity at the school level.
Look closely at the crafting of this compromise. It pushes through the mayors reform agenda while at the same time institutionalizing a privilege for certain schools who now have the choice of hiring another teacher at $100,000 or a newbie for 50,000 and pocket the difference for another use.
A school with a senior staff now has a newly created form of senior 'equity", a school full of newbies on the other hand is frozen out of this new form of 'equity'. Who is being protected here? Who wins who looses? Look closely here and see the method of divide and conquer and social control as practiced by both BloomKlein and UFT Inc.
Isn't some sort of privilege being institutionalized before our eyes with the UFT as mid wife and overseer? This is supposed to be in teachers interests? Look at what they do, not what they say. Its divide and conquer.
If in fact the concensus is creating a new sort of privilege we should oppose it. We should demand that the 'senior equity' be provided to all schools, not just the ones with a predominantly senior staff or it be rejected completely.
UFT Inc is not a teachers union
If the UFT was a union they would have made a common front with the SSA and community groups and teachers and drew together the rising discontent to create liberated zone schools and classrooms throughout the city. Let BloomKlein dismantle the DOE bureaucracy, let the people in the schools, run the schools.
Did any of the extraordinary influence of UFT Inc trickle down to the rank and file or lead to improvements in working and learning conditions or increased parental involvement or accountability? Excuse me if I don't mourn over the destruction of the DOE bureacracy or rush to demonstrate on their behalf, or cheer at this latest concensus between UFT Inc and BloomKlein. This entire corporate takeover from UFT Inc's standpoint is just a renegotiaiton, an adjustment of the terms of their vassalage. The dramatically worse conditions in the schools are of little significance to them.
UFT Inc and BloomKlein have joined together to protect their interests and exclude people. School workers and parents and community folks need to join together out from under from the ageis of the UFT. This is a direction for UFT rank and file activists. There is no way to change UFT Inc apart from a broader movement. The self contained rank and file caucus strategy by itself will not bring about the desired improvements in wages, working and learning conditions for the large majority of working members.
The issues raised by the opposition caucuses over the past four years are very much within the agenda set by UFT Inc in the sense that they are limited to protesting tentative agreements and Unity's extremely centralized control over meetings and publications.
Apart from the good work that has been done at the chapter level, and the watch dog role performed by the rank and file EB delegates, ICE/TJC has not presented a positive program for a movement. We are at something of a crossroads now.
Highly centralized control over meetings and the UFT press are issues far removed from struggling teachers and not likely to arouse much interest. The reform program has not not resonated strongly within the rank and file partly I think because the contracts and the contract "struggles" look cheoreographed from start to finish, with the opposition playing a part we might not even realize has been written for us. (A caricature of a Union, a caricature of an opposition. The Truman show of a "labor" movement, its difficult to build up much steam about this)
What are the issues?
The less senior half of the staff is really struggling financially but the opposition has not taken on the tough nut of what to do about a vastly unfair salary schedule that UFT Inc has fashioned over the years. The future lies with the new members- is the opposition programme addressing them? Is the whitening of the teaching staff in the interests of these new members? Quite the contrary, it is further weakening the already frayed bonds between student and educators and strengthening the domination of the corporate reformers and UFT Inc. By reinforceing racial privilege, the oligarchy and UFT Inc reinforce the privileged ghetto, corralling teachers into the dead end they have been kept since the 68 strike. Divide and conquer plain and simple.
I think the opposition gives inordinate attention to the current active membership, those chapter leaders and delegates in the first place, and those who vote secondly. This is understandable given the rank and file caucus strategy. It also guarantees that you remain within the UFT Inc balliwick. Do you tailor your programme to gain a majority vote in the DA? Do you encourage activists to run for CL and delegate? Even if you have a majority at the DA, the EB can overule and negate any and all resolutions which brings you back full circle with little to show for your efforts.
It is a very good thing for activists to run for Delegate and CL, not because they can change UFT Inc this way, but because they can give voice to and organize around issues of concern to the members and lead the membership into a new schools based movement, independent of UFT Inc. There is no way out of the impasse faced by teachers without a radically new relationship with the working class communities of color. One that sees the common interests, one that rejects racial privileges as necesary corollary of solidarity.
I started thinking about this with all the brouhaha the UFT and their "allies" were raising over the Mayors' new funding scheme and how there will be a disincentive to hire senior teachers. I thought this was all for show, and the new concensus proves it.
If the UFT was a union and not UFT Inc the bargaining strategy would be shifted towards shortening the time to top pay with the aim of getting back to 8 years from the current 22. This approach builds solidarity and corporate education reformers will have a more difficult time slicing and dicing up the membership.
If the UFT was primarily a labor organization and not UFT Inc this would be the immediate response. Freeze the top salary and forgo all salary schedule changes save the one that each year kicks the longevity raises backwards, until all six of them are gone and top salary is reached after 8 years. Freeze the top and bring the bottom up. The case can be made, the interests of senior teachers can be enhanced, the membership can be won to such a program that places a union in a stronger defensive mode.
UFT Inc can't make this adjustment because it isn't in their interests to do so and would furthermore be a repudiation of their negotiating stategy for the past 30 years which has lengthened the time to top pay from 8 to 22 years. UFT Inc is the giant with their feet stuck in clay but as long as the dues keep flowing in and their perks and privileges are secure there is no incentive for them to change. Indeed, their overseers forbid it and everything UFT Inc has accumulated is contingent on their compliance.
What difference does it make to UFT Inc if the corporate reformers figure two for one ain't bad? What difference to UFT Inc if turnover in the teaching ranks increases and the median salary/seniority level is lowered? It doesn't matter if a member makes 50 or 100 thousand per year, if they have 3 years seniority or 30, UFT Inc collects the same amount per capita! The more the merrier! The two newbies for one old timer approach of the corporate reformers means more members, means more dues! More customers for the health plan (and they are younger and less costly)! More money for more real estate! More money flowing into the TRS and less flowing out! More perks and privileges to buy more supporters and grow the machine! At this rate UFT inc might be able to takoever the entire shell of the AFL -CIO and run the burgeoning federal educational bureaucracy! Oh their future is bright indeed provided that shining star Hillary assumes the throne in 2008!
Why did they even raise objection to the school funding formula? I think it was pure play acting between BloomKlein and UFT Inc. Parental agitation towards the Mayor's running of the schools was increasing, how best to divert it than by posing as a defender and advocate of equitable funding and decentralization. UFT Inc played the part of BloomKlein's whipping boy to divert parent criticism of the Mayor's own policies, if not the whole idea of Mayoral control in the first place.
BloomKlein's proposal had pro-parent sounding, provocative decentralizing rhetoric that tested the waters to see how far they could squeeze their vassal UFT Inc.
I think a new approach to contracts is needed that goes beyond upping the ante or calling for more militant demos,. protests, strikes, etc. The opposition should be putting forward new ideas for compressing the salary gap, promoting solidarity across race and gender and uniting with the parents and communities of color that comprise 85% of the student body and the majority of the working class of this city. We should be calling for more teachers of color not fewer. Restoration of arts, music, athletics, hands on programs that lead to skilled employment, and engage older students. Dramatically reduce the class size in k-8. End mandatory grade retention. Eliminate CUNY tuition for NYC HS grads and teachers
Each election should be used to shine a light on to the true nature and workings of UFT Inc. We should be calling for a fundamentally new mission and structure for UFT Inc. Divest and decentralize. Send all these high paid full time officers packing or back to the classroom. Sell the buildings and create local meeting places dispersed throughout the city. Break up the city wide local into borough wide locals who join with other school worker orgs and parent/community groups in a city wide school community congress. UFT Inc should divest itself of all Israel bonds and sever all links that support occupation and the wall.
Its nice to be able to borrow and save through the TRS but is our $40 billiion being invested to build affordable housing and improve our quality of life or is it all military industrial complex, coca cola and big pharma and companies that do more harm than good? This is a whole other piece of the puzzle which I frankly don't know much about but I recall the advice of 'follow the money' which we might make good use of.
Let's have a health plan instead of a pharmaceutical/desease plan. Etc, etc. But it all starts with a focus on solidarity...I remember when thousands of uncertified teachers were fired, where was the UFT Inc? Where was the so called opposition apart from PAC? Solidarity should be our guiding principle. Under mayoral control the pedagogical staff has been whitened by a defacto affirmative action hiring for whites plan, which neither the UFT Inc nor the oppsoition groups have publically opposed. Without solidarity we go no where. This works fine for UFt Inc and the corporate reformers but not for us. UFT Inc and BloomKlein et al manage to contain the people because we let ourselves be deluded and disuaded from independent thought and action.
In the words of the great Irish revolutionary and labor leader, James Connolly: "The great are great because we are on our knees. Let us arise!"