The UFT Needs Opposition Parties: Here's Why
On Tuesday 12-12 at 5:30 PM, UFT’s New Action Caucus (NAC/UFT) will come together as they ramp up their education/advocacy efforts around healthcare, pension, and working conditions for UFT members.
On Tuesday 12.12 at 5:30 PM, UFT’s New Action Caucus (NAC/UFT) will come together as we ramp up our education/advocacy efforts around healthcare, pension, and working conditions for UFT members.
To join NAC: http://newaction.org/join
To register: http://register.newaction.org
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is a big union. We consist of tens of thousands of current and former education workers, together servicing a school system more populous than many states. Through collective action, we ostensibly fight for better wages, healthcare, benefits, and working conditions. But, through a peculiar brand of ‘business style’ unionism, the lion’s share of UFT decision-making goes to elected union leaders and appointed staffers, often with little or no consultation from the membership at large.
To some, this design makes intuitive sense. Teachers and related service professionals are busy. And we cherish the little energy and time we have after work to go toward our families or personal interests. Union work, particularly of the city-wide variety, can frankly be difficult to fit into our schedules. There’s a certain comfort to knowing someone else is doing it ‘for us’ full-time. Yet, when all of a union’s decision making is placed into the hands of a few individuals, the decisions are only as good as those few individuals allow them to be. In the case of the UFT, our leadership has made a series of very bad decisions. They’ve championed inflation-adjusted pay cuts, promised away billions of dollars in healthcare givebacks, and allowed pensions and budgets to deteriorate through sheer negligence.
This is where caucuses come in – basically UFT-specific political parties. There are several UFT caucuses, but the only one that has ever held more than a modicum of official power over union decision-making is Unity Caucus. A union member who wanted to influence UFT policy might think the best caucus to join, then, would be Unity. They’d be wrong. Unity, which is invite-only, is not a place where people have a say – it’s a place where you’re better off saying as little as possible. The caucus features a top-down, almost Leninistic model, in which all members, especially higher-up members, must follow the will of the top brass or risk expulsion or demotion. Coupled with this is a Tammany Hall style ‘patronage mill’ in which Unity members who show loyalty are provided relative sinecures that get them out of the classroom and into better paying posts in our union headquarters for all or most of the workweek. This has the dual effect of (1) keeping Unity members in check—disagreeing with leadership can lose you your job—and (2) controlling the larger UFT membership—every union staffer with whom rank-and-file members interface are in Unity Caucus.
Therefore, unless you’re Michael Mulgrew or LeRoy Barr, in order to have a chance to exert any influence over UFT policy, you’re ironically better off outside of the caucus that controls it. This leads to a few options: (a) being an independent or (b) joining another caucus. Most unionists go the independent route. I get the appeal – this is America after all, we like our independence. When the question of caucuses comes up, it’s common to hear rank-and-file members say ‘Can’t we all just be one union and say what we want?’ Yes, this is an appealing thought – but it’s a utopian one when coupled with the reality that the UFT is absolutely caucus oriented, and as such is under the thumb of one caucus that quashes opposition voices and acquiesces to nearly every demand by management. Independents can only get so far – at the DA or at a webinar, if you’re called on (usually you’re not); or, on social media, where you can perhaps share your opinion, and maybe be influential with it, but to what end?
This is why joining another caucus is important. Being a part of a community of like-minded unionists means a group of other people to discuss ideas with each other, divide up labor together, run in elections together, and organize alternative union events in a way that can have some impact. The existence of New Action Caucus serves a few functions. On the one hand, we run in elections. To the extent that we win, we are able to go to the Delegate Assembly and Executive Board to represent strong union viewpoints with which the UFT’s overall membership may find compelling, but with which Unity Caucus members may not be allowed to agree. At times, persuasive argumentation in these bodies, particularly in the DA, has allowed us to sway union policy. But, we also exert an influence on union policy outside of the DA.
Indeed, New Action has a 40-year record of accomplishments as the alternative to Unity caucus. Here are just a few highlights:
In 1995 New Action led the historic fight against the infamous “Zero, Zero” contract – Result: it was the only contract to be defeated by the members.
In 2002 and 2003, New Action organized informational picketing in over 100 schools – Result: salary parity became the number one union issue
New Action has argued that many chapter leaders need assistance and chapters need rebuilding – Result: Creation of the bipartisan Organizing Committee which sent retiree activists into schools to help chapter leaders. Before Unity closed this committee, we were active in over one hundred schools.
New Action pursued a pension reform petition that garnered over 10,000 signatures, helping lead to the creation of a 25/55 option in Tier 4.
New Action is working collaboratively with the United For Change coalition, a coalition slate of various dissenting rank and file caucuses, organizations and individuals that ran in the 2022 UFT general city-wide elections. Result: 7 UFC High School Executive Board members now currently sit on the executive board, where we’ve passed resolutions requiring the UFT to pursue reforms on discontinuance, assist members from the Dominican Republic, and fight the recent budget cuts
On Tuesday, we’ll talk about some of our recent projects. We have exciting stuff going on right now about fixing Tier 6, fighting to keep our healthcare robust and premium-free, and on many other issues on which UFT Leadership is either organizing insufficiently or literally organizing against. Wanna be a part of it? Join us.
To join NAC: http://newaction.org/join
To register for our general meeting on Tuesday at 5:30, do so here: http://register.newaction.org
To donate and help NAC continue to make an impact on improving things for UFT members: https://newaction.org/donate/