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Regressive and Passive UFT Pales Behind Aggressive and Progressive Unions: Is it the Leadership or Membership?
Norm Scott, longtime UFT dissident leader and union activist, shares his insights as he stood with our union family on the SAG/AFTRA/AWG picket line.
IT'S THE UFT/UNITY LEADERSHIP, STUPID.
This is basic premise of this post and was stimulated by attending the SAG/AFTRA/AWG picket line with thousands from a variety of unions that make the UFT/Unity leadership look like ghosts.
In the midst of thousands from active unions, seeing the sparse turnout from the UFT - they looked mostly like staffers - got me to thinking, a very dangerous thing.
The sense of militancy on that picket line was inspiring.
I started thinking of the strike fever around the nation and the contracts being won and realize there's no way our UFT leadership wanted our rank and file to witness this strike militancy.
I heard a UAW worker on a podcast recently talking about how demoralized workers were under the old leadership which bargained away their rights -- asking them to vote for bad contracts and how the new leadership has invigorated the rank and file.
United Auto Workers members voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike for their 150,000 members. If the CEOs of the Big Three auto companies―Ford, GM, and Stellantis―don’t offer fair terms, the workers will have no choice but to turn this Hot Labor Summer into a Crisp Labor Autumn.....
The same thing in the Teamsters which voted in a new and aggressive leadership.The membership had voted down a recent contract but the leadership over ruled them. Sound familiar? Think of the overturning of the OT/PT NO vote. I wrote:
From Detroit to Hollywood, New Union Leaders Take a Harder Line Pushed by angry members, unions representing actors, autoworkers and UPS employees are becoming increasingly assertive under new leadership.
New Leaders: Several prominent unions, representing groups from automobile workers to actors, are now in the hands of outspoken leaders who have taken their membership to the brink of high-stakes labor stoppages — or beyond.
United Auto Workers: Shawn Fain, the new U.A.W. president, has vowed to be tougher than his predecessors in contract talks with the Detroit automakers. His initial demands attach big numbers to that promise.
The UFT outspoken leader focuses on attacking our health plan, critical voices in the union, and to sell an inferior contract.
Then I read articles about how in a little over a decade the newly elected leadership in the Chicago Teachers Union has turned what was a moribund union into the most progressive and dynamic political force in Chicago. The same with the UTLA. And then fought down nausea thinking of the 60+ year reign of our own Unity Caucus in the UFT.
You know what Unity shills say to this? We still have it better. It we do it is because of the militant strikes and contracts won over 50 years ago.
...an insurgent socialist-led caucus, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, had taken over the union in 2010. By 2012, the teachers’ union — then under the leadership of the late visionary Karen Lewis — had launched a strike in response to the state legislature passing a bill that curtailed teachers’ bargaining power and right to strike.
I followed the Chicago story since I connected with the late George Schmidt in 1999 and that union was dead in the water in 2009.
Look at how things changed with the new leadership elected in 2010? In over a decade they've made up a hell of a lot of ground, and in times when teacher unions have come under massive attack.
So I make the case that only new, progressive leadership will change the UFT from a passive to an aggressive union.
The big issue is whether such a nascent potential leadership currently exists like it did in LA and Chicago? So far I haven't seen anything comparable to CORE or the coalition in UTLA here in NYC with similar outreach. After all, this is a much bigger enchilada with 1800 schools. (George Schmidt used to tell me Chicago is roughly equivalent to Brooklyn -- in the 2010 election there were about 675 schools).
Also, neither city had a Unity-like machine or anything like a lock on the union that Unity has had. (In the 2010 Chicago election, there were 5 caucuses running and a runoff). Unity has set up an undemocratic fire wall that other unions don't have.
There will be no change in UFT leadership until there is a powerful counter-force to the Unity machine with deep outreach into the schools, especially elementary and middle schools.
So far building such a force is a work in progress and progress has been very sketchy with too many caucuses doing their own organizing. The founding of the coalition, United For Change for last year's UFT election was a step forward. I don't believe any one caucus can win power in the UFT. So the UFC coalition is the only way forward and Unity will do anything to disrupt its progress, including divide and conquer.
Unity may be passive when it comes to dealing with the DOE and principals but when it comes to threats to its power from opposing forces, Unity becomes a tiger.
So what's the verdict? Is the UFT leadership saddled with a membership -- New York's meekest as my late friend used to lament?
Or is the rank and file saddled with a leadership that only shows militancy when its own members who challenge it?
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