Activism Is Circulating the Petition
by Arthur Goldstein - Repost: http://nyceducator.com
Posted with the permission of the author, Arthur Goldstein. Originally posted on Arthur’s blog: https://nyceducator.com/2023/04/activism-is-circulating-petition.html
Activism is what we, as unionists, do. Right now I'm very excited about the petition demanding we get a voice in decisions regarding our health care.
At first, I was skeptical. I thought it would be better for us to support NY Health Act. I still do, but given the behavior of our leadership, I think this petition is also necessary. It will take some time, but we'll reach the goal of 10% of union membership signing.
We need to have a voice. Michael Mulgrew's eagerness to demean our health care does not represent the wishes of rank and file. Nor does Unity Caucus, which represents only UFT employees or would-be UFT employees. Nor does the Municipal Labor Committee, controlled by UFT and DC37 bigshots.
These orgs have dumped all of our retirees into an Advantage plan with fewer doctors and more pre-approvals. Now they want to replace GHI, which most of us use, with something or other that costs 10% less. If you think we'll get a better plan than we do from non-profit Emblem for 10% less, I have a bridge in Brooklyn with your name on it.
Leadership and its Unity Caucus will define activism as what they say it is, and nothing more. I was really surprised by a Unity claim that our HS Executive Board member, Nick Bacon, referred to contract actions as pointless. I don't think contract actions are pointless, and I'm absolutely certain Nick doesn't either. I think some contract actions are pointless, though.
My thinking is very much influenced by Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven Greenhouse. This book documents effective and creative union actions, as well as some that have gone down in flames. I'll bet you dimes to dollars Mulgrew hasn't read it. Even money on whether anyone running our union has. Their actions don't remotely resemble effective ones I've read about.
Our leadership's most recent action was a work-in of sorts. Now it's one thing to gather boots on the ground to stand and protest something. I'm all for that, but UFT hasn't organized such an action in years. It's quite another to gather groups of teachers in various Starbucks to grade papers. In fact, considering the blatant anti-unionism of Starbucks, we probably shouldn't patronize it at all. Now sure, there are other places we could gather and mark papers, but I'm not precisely sure any of them are quite as visible. In fact, I'm not sure any locale will mobilize the public to say, yes, Mayor Swagger, give these teachers a contract. Frankly, even if we all graded papers at Starbucks like so many dancing monkeys, I doubt people would give it a second thought.
In fact, even in the highly unlikely event people wanted to urge a contract for us, we appear to be wedded to the pattern. We'd be out there battling for a 3% raise when inflation hovers closer to 9. So yes, I can see why members might perceive this as pointless. I'm in my building doing prep at 6:30 AM most mornings. I started this as chapter leader so I could work without interruption, and it just became my habit. There's no way I'm going to Starbucks to support Howard Schultz, who not only busts union, but also fails to provide me with books, office supplies, printers, copying machines, or any number of things I might need to do my job.
Our union leadership wants us to engage passionately in the actions it approves, and reject those that simply benefit us. They wrote a particularly nasty thing about Nick on Instagram. They essentially concluded that anyone who did not support their officially sanctioned action did not support action at all. It shows you the pretzels they need to twist themselves into in order to defend their preposterous positions. Next month they want to do leafleting. I might support that, but honestly I have no idea what we're even demanding. Whatever it is they do at those meetings is Top Secret to rank and file, so who knows? Could it be the three percent raise that lags well behind inflation? More work for less pay? Eliminate health care entirely to save even more money for Eric Adams?
It really doesn't matter, since we know Michael Mulgrew is skulking behind the scenes, giving away our health care for nothing as though it's a grab bag of goodies for Eric Adams. What are we giving away this time? Will it be hidden away in some appendix somewhere like it was in 2018? The fact is we can no longer trust our leadership, and we need to face up to that before we blindly support demands to which we are not even privy.
Right now we need to protect ourselves. We need to protect ourselves from Michael Mulgrew, his Unity Caucus, and particularly his MLC. They sold out our health care to get us a contract that should've had no givebacks whatsoever. And that's why real activism entails circulating the petition to get us a vote in any changes to our health care.
I've been doing that all week, and I can tell you it's the easiest piece of activism I've ever performed. When I tell people they've degraded health care for retirees and are coming for us, they can't wait to sign. They can't wait to help. Retirees working as subs ask me for blank sheets they can get filled out. In my building I've collected hundreds of signatures in just three days, and people have jumped at the opportunity to help circulate it themselves.
We need a lot of signatures to force Mulgrew to hear us. You can download the petition right here. My colleagues and I have collected hundreds in a matter of days. Your school may not be as large as mine, but do what you can. Print it out, make multiple copies, and get everyone you know to sign and/ or circulate.
I guarantee you you'll feel better than you would sitting around some union-busting Starbucks shop grading papers.
Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher at Francis Lewis High School, former chapter leader and a former UFT executive committee member. And plays a dang good fiddle.
Find him on Twitter @TeacherArthurG.