Should the UFT Take a Position on the Hamas-Israel War?
Should the UFT Take a Position on the Hamas-Israel War?
The Delegate Assembly, since COVID, is a hybrid meeting, you can attend in-person or on-line and most delegates choose the online option.
The technology was wonky in the beginning and now we’ve gotten used to it, you register choosing the in-person or online option, if you chose online your phone rings at 4:15 and you’re at the meeting, virtually.
The meeting begins with the President’s Report, usually what’s happening nationally, in Albany and in the City. Last week’s meeting included a preview of the “Fix Tier Six” initiative, 50,000 teachers, everyone who started in the last ten year are in Tier 6. See “Fix Tier 6” explanatory site here
The Question Period follows, members ask questions alternating online and in-person and then the time to add items to the agenda, a majority vote adds to the next meeting agenda, a 2/3 vote to the current meetings.
A delegate made a motion to add to the agenda of the current meeting, requiring a 2/3 vote, the same motion calling for a truce in Gaza that was made in November. Another delegate raised a point of order, the motion had already been discussed, and defeated in November and therefore was out of order.
Mulgrew hesitated and mused out loud, yes, the motion had been discussed and defeated in November, has the situation changed? And, would the debate divide and weaken the union? He did not ask for advice from the parliamentarian, he ruled the motion was appropriate and moved to a vote, the vote was 50-50, well short of the 2/3 required to place the item on the agenda of the meeting,
If the motion was to place the item on a future agenda it may have passed.
The delegates, reflecting their schools, are clearly sharply divided.
Back in the 60s the issue of Vietnam what today what we call DEI, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, almost tore the union apart.
School integration was bubbling, the Board of Education was planning an elementary school busing plan in Queens and a community group, PAT (Parents and Taxpayers) opposed, marched, lobbied electeds, and, the Board backed away.
The UFT was sharply divided, as was the City.
In a review of David Roger’s 110 Livingston Street Nathan Glazer wrote,
One can scarcely conceive of an issue more important to the future of the cities than the failure of the New York City Board of Education and the political structure of the City of New York to institute an effective desegregation of the city’s schools during the 1960’s.
The failure led to the 40-day strike in the fall of 1968 and thirty plus years of a decentralized school system, mayoral control and the current battle in Albany.
Even more divisive was the fight within the UFT over whether the union should support or oppose the war in Vietnam.
From the 30s to the creation of the UFT over sixty teacher organizations bickered, the Catholic Teachers Organization, The Jewish Teachers Association, Arts teachers, others by level taught, the largest factions were High School Teachers Association, Teachers Guild and the Teachers Union. You can compare the Guild to today’s Democratic Socialists and the Teachers Union, sympathetic to Marxist Communism as well as leaders in the civil rights fights.
The UFT website traces the history of the UFT here. Clarence Taylor, a former New York City high school teacher and CUNY professor, wrote a sympathetic history of the Teachers Union, Reds at the Blackboard (2012).
Delegate meetings were dominated by pro and anti-war activism, the creation of the union was the merger of organizations that had abhorred a merger for decades, would the battle over Vietnam split the union apart?
The UFT leadership conducted a membership referendum, should the union take a position and if so, for or against the war? The membership voted not to take a position, if they were to take a potion the anti-position would have prevailed. Al Shanker, president of the fledgling union, and a supporter of the war, put the survival of the union first, Richard Kahlenberg’s Al Shanker: A Tough Liberal is an excellent read.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) national convention will convene this summer in late July and the AFT response to the Hamas-Israel War may be on the agenda.
The AFT Executive Council and any local union can submit a resolution, the 2-3,000 delegates select a committee and the committees debate the resolutions, and prioritize the approved resolutions, the top three in each committee are debated on the floor of the convention.
On October 9th the leadership of the AFT issued a statement (See here) while a number of AFT locals have passed resolutions calling for a cease fire, similar to the resolution introduced at the UFT Delegate Meeting (See here)
By July, hopefully the war will have ended with some sort of peace agreement in place; however, predicting the future is perilous.
In the past I chaired the International Affairs Committee at the AFT Convention, I may have an “interesting” few hours in late July.
The thousands of attendees, teachers and health care workers from across the nation and guest teacher union leaders from around the globe mingling. I love talking with AFT members from other nations, from other large cities as well as rural communities.
I imagine Biden and Harris will speak as well as other major political personages, leaders from other unions, the convention is always well-staged, never a dull moment.
AFT President Weingarten and her team do an excellent job including a wide range of views from across the spectrum, A few thousand delegates, ten microphone stations, quite a scene.
I believe for 50,000 of our members “Fixing Tier 6” is more important than our position on the Hamas-Israel war, and, the union is nimble, it can juggle multiple policy goals at the same time.
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