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Unity Caucus and Amy-Gate -- Reasons for Arundell removal as UFT Queens Borough Rep
Norm Scott, longtime union activist, former chapter leader, and blogger of EdNotes, offers his analysis of Amy-Gate
This post was originally posted at Norm’s blog: https://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2023/10/unity-caucus-and-amy-gate-reasons-for.html
Monday, Oct. 23, 2023
A major story in the UFT has been the recent removal of Queens borough rep Amy Arundell, popular with Queens chapter leaders and some rank and file, and even within Unity. There have been petitions going around in her favor calling for due process for her, and even a few Unity people have offered support for Amy. Also a lot of misinformation, some spread by anonymous anti-Amy forces in Unity. Claims she did stuff at the DA last week are not true -- she may have said some things at the rehearsal for the DA before the meeting. Yes, darlings, Mulgrew has to hold a rehearsal for a meeting. There has been some longer term friction between Amy and Mulgrew, as I chronicle below.
Some think AmyGate will cause a deep split in Unity. We hear there is a level of anti-Mulgrew sentiment due to his leadership style, but a revolt? You will see further down my treatise on how Unity operates like any totalitarian regime to keep control.
The story floating around: the reason for her removal is that she retweeted some tweets sympathetic to Palestinians.
I don't think that is the real reason, and that all you have to do is look at the pro-Amy reaction from all ends - internal, oppo and rank and file - for the real reason: her widespread popularity and the contrast to so many other in UFT staff positions, from middle management (District Reps) and up. But if it was something she said, a number of Jews who are pro-Israel back her. I hear she called for the UFT reso to be more fair to both sides. She also did a bunch of tweets and someone told me she was called out on similar tweets the last time there was friction in Gaza.
I've also seen that Amy, based on her public posts, may be an Irish nationalist and looks at things from the perspective of the brutal British occupation of Ireland. Not a bad point and as a history nerd and a liberal Jew who sees Israeli brutalism under a semi-fascist leadership, I get it.
I think removing Amy from real contact with regular people is the goal and she will probably be buried in a desk job at a good salary - if she accepts that. But if she takes an active part in pro-Amy protests --- well that may be a different story. She would have to go- and then she becomes an outside instead of an inside threat if she should begin to work with the opposition.
At today's Oct. 23 UFT Ex Board meeting, there may be an organized response in favor of Amy by some - shocking - Unity people, maybe even some from a middle level. Or maybe not --- assume there is a leadership attempt to stop or dampen it down.
I'm giving up a free dinner for volunteers at the elegant Palm house at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today to go to this meeting so LeRoy better come up with a meal for the ages.
MORE caucus has called for people to come out to show support for Amy. Is this focus on Amy or the perception she was sympathetic to Palestinians? Call it a draw.
There is genuine support for Amy from people she has assisted. People who have been helped.
Some current and former oppo chapter leader constituents like former ex bd Arthur Goldstein and current Ex Bd member Ibeth Mejia -
Here are a few of Arthur's posts:
"It’s been a remarkable week for UFT Unity. In addition to the ongoing shitshow of their massive health care sellout (coming soon to rank and file near you), they’ve added what I’m going to call Amygate. In fairness, Amy Arundell is not an elected official. However, by following the virtually unprecedented technique of actually doing her job, she’s earned a lot of loyalty and faith from those of us who do the nuts and bolts of union work."
Going beyond the Amy story and into a deeper analysis of how the UFT works - or doesn't work.
A just released new prototype video podcast from Arthur and Jonathan Halabi about Amy's work, a must watch two-parter and pro-Amy but also a deep analysis of what's going wrong at the UFT/Unity operation. And how Amy's removal is endemic to an tottering empire.
Part 1 goes into the work Amy has done:
In part 2, they talk about Amy as a true blue Unity supporter, even pushing bad policy - like healthcare. But contrast her as one who serves members, in contrast to Unity hacks who only push their line and do little else. So it's an honest assessment. And they do a segment on the middle east issue - smart and informative.
I'm so looking forward to this type of smart talk, so missing from the UFT - even from the opposition. I've talked about doing something like this for years with some union pals, so glad to see it done.
Both Arthur and Jonathan, newly retired, have joined Retiree Advocate in its campaign to win the retired chapter election this spring.
Other views, not all favorable to Amy
There has been a battle of sorts on the ICE listserve between some oppo people who feel Amy should be supported by the oppo and others who feel a Unity is a Unity all the way. If James were able to, I'm not sure where he'd stand as he has been critical of her in the past, but I think he would stand against Unity tyranny. Camille too - we just spoke.
One retired Queens chapter leader said:
Amy did and does not forget the caucus she chose and the one to which she continues to belong. With the todo being made by the Queens chapter leaders and beyond why would Mulgrew reinstate her? Mulgrew has not changed his mind or actions regarding what he has done to retirees and continues to do to active rank and file members.
Does anyone think that oppo people supporting Amy actually helps her with the paranoid Unity leadership? But if the goal is organizing opposition to Mulgrew, this is a hot button topic and may impact the 2025 UFT elections - if the oppo can get it together.
Some think a broad Unity internal revolution will be sparked by AmyGate. I think not - When You're Unity, You're Unity all the way.....
Let me repeat why I don't believe Amy was removed because of her comments on Israel or Palestine: The Mulgrew team using that as an excuse to remove someone who was way more popular with members than Mulgrew.
Totalitarian regimes have a paranoid fear of palace coups. And there are a number of Unity staffers licking their chops to be her permanent replacement (Middle School VP Rich Mantel is the temp). Some Unity whisperers are calling them back stabbers. Borough reps are amongst the highest paid UFT staffers with over 200K a year.
Based on my own pure speculation and analysis of the leadership dynamic (I am, after all, a 53 year expert on Unity Caucus), Amy was perceived as an internal threat by some in the leadership. There's a backstory to this going back years but I'm not going there until I get some confirmation from Unity sources.But here are a few instances:
Calling for due process for Amy even though she is an at will employee
There is no union for UFT employees. Why? Because Shanker set it up that way. The real genius of Al Shanker. (When people in Chicago took over they were saddled with sludge from the old guard and called me to ask how Shanker did it.)
I have an idea - let's start a drive to unionize UFT staff - We can call the union Unity Hacks United - UHU.
Leadership has the right to move people around and has done so all the time, borough reps in particular.
Seriously, there is a case to make for calling for UFT staff to be unionized not only to protect them but to protect the membership in a sense from having their advocates removed for, well, being their advocates.
This is not the first time. Debbie Poulos was removed as Brooklyn rep in July 2016 because she was supposedly too aggressive in battling principals, violating some possible hands off agreement between the UFT and CSA. Ed Notes broke the story on the eve of the July 2016 AFT convention.
Mulgrew Removes Brooklyn Borough Rep Debbie Poulos - Was She too aggressive on certain abusive principals? Night of the long knives at the UFT
Ironically, just a few days before, Debbie was hanging out with oppo people at an event in Washington and even put on a MORE shirt as a joke. I joked that she was at risk. The kiss of death.
Debbie has landed on her feet at 52 and is considered a go to person by insiders and outsiders. Will Amy face the same "fate"?
More background of possible longer term friction:
Amy was moved from 52 Broadway into the Queens office c. 2016 or 17 which we (oppo) viewed as a way to get her out of HQ at the time where she was very visible. That was my take, which may be wrong.
A too aggressive woman for Mulgrew to handle? She was saddled with the Queens staff - some viewed the Queen boro office pre-Amy as the worst in the city - so maybe she was sent in to clean up the mess, as Howie Schoor was once moved from Brooklyn boro head (Debbie's predecessor and mentor) to clean up the mess at the Bronx office. And he supposedly did.
Amy showed more aggression on fighting closing schools and opposing charters and some mixed results on fighting abusive principals. She got involved in getting rid of the Forest Hills principal after some pressure from below. But give her credit for responding. My big argument with Amy over the years was her claim the union will respond when the staff organizes and I said the union must get involved more deeply in weakly organized schools.
And I hear some of the former dead wood in that office came somewhat to life under her. I was especially impressed by her battle to keep two Rockaway schools open, one of them Daniel Alicea's school and he was quite appreciative and even supported Unity in the 2019 election, partly due to the work Amy did. Let's say relations were not quite as good when Daniel went over to the oppo. I was at rallies at the schools and Amy brought out the Queens staff to show support.
She was more knowledgeable and aggressive as borough rep than others and that may have created pressure on them and they may not be happy being compared unfavorably to Amy by rank and file. Possibly Knives were out for her beyond Mulgrew. I'm thinking of one particular Borough rep, which shall remain nameless. But that's just speculation on my part.
Amy was removed as UFT election chair for the 2022 elections
Things went very smoothly when I worked with Amy when she was in charge of UFT elections in 2013, 16 and she also handled the 2019 -- she was so totally open to requests for information and the observation process at vote counts was much more open that it's become.
But for the 2022 election Manhattan Borough president Carl Cambria was put in charge and no one knows why that was taken away from Amy - unless she didn't want to do it any more. But we viewed this removal as a slight from Mulgrew.
There has been some sense that the top level leadership is 3 men in a room and there has possibly been some resentment by some woman and maybe that seeped out.
So, there is some pre-history of friction between Mulgrew and Amy and some proof to my thesis that her comments on the middle east were just an excuse to remove her. But…
Amy is a loyal Unity soldier, but also willing to speak her mind
In reality, this is paranoia and Amy is not a real threat, as she has shown intense loyalty to the leadership with especially harsh comments directed at the opposition, both on social media and in person at Ex Bd meetings over the past few years (see some of Nick's reports for details), even fraying some personal relationships she had with some oppo people. I know I was pissed. But is it possible she has been viewed as being too cozy with some people in the oppo? As you will see below, too much contact with opposition can prove to be fatal. But her contact was part of her job. Maybe pulling her back into 52 will allow them to keep an eye on her.
Knowing Amy, I suspect she's willing to call bullshit internally when she sees it and that may have grated.
Now, I am not a suspect in being too close to Amy, though we did hug at the labor day parade --- oh, shit, maybe it's my fault.
But I have no personal relationship with Amy and have never spoken to her outside of union business and occasional chiding each other, but she's been my go to person when I need to help someone. I do like her personally and have had arguments with her and she is sharp and not easy to argue with. "Smart and efficient" are the words often used to describe her. Would the oppo love to have someone with her skills on their side? No worries, it won't happen if she is placed in another position. But if dismissed -- well, who knows? Some oppo don't care for her but I'd welcome her. I'd bet she could make the same effective arguments for our side. I know some people are dreaming of a fusion election ticket of ex-Unity with UFC. Dream on. No one is giving up their Unity gravy train gig unless forced to.
The mechanisms of internal Unity control, modeled on totalitarian parties.
Someone will accuse me of red-baiting, but Unity controls are modeled on the leftist political factions the early leaders of the UFT were involved in --- they morphed from anti-Stalin Trotskyists to straight out anti-communists, but they learned how factions in control manage to keep control -- an often faux democratic centralism where a supposed democratic process leads to a vote and everyone comes on board to support the majority - a vote often rigged from the top faction. Unity operates under a mock internal democratic system. Think Stalinism. Except for the executions - though I think of bringing a food taster to ExBd.
They use isolation or outright purges and an internal spy network. In 50 years of work in the oppo, I came in contact with many factions and saw how these groups operate. The word Independent in ICE means "not under the control of an outside party." ICE was founded on the principal of the anti-Unity. No controls at all.
Totalitarian regimes hold onto power not only by suppressing and controlling outside opposition - UFT top-down structure and control of the DA, but also by establishing mechanisms to prevent internal rogue elements from organizing and building opposition - making sure there is no coup by purging potential opponents or striking fear into them.
Unity Caucus falls into this category. Unity may be a failure in many areas, but in managing itself internally and controlling the membership and the opposition (even buying some off with jobs), their over 60 year reign is proof of their success in keeping revolts down.
There is no Unity democracy internally - orders are handed down from the top. Like who will be running for Adcom — Unity rank and file don't get to vote. They are told what the slate will be.
An elected staffer (when there were elections for Dist rep) who was non-Unity and a leading voice for opposition over decades and viewed by leadership as an enemy, told me this story.
He became friendly with a top level NY Teacher reporter, who wrote about the history of the UFT (Class Struggles). Jack used to slip money for Ed Notes to my friend. They went to lunch and as they were leaving the restaurant, a UFT/Unity hack staffer who had been close to Shanker (very close I heard) was walking by and saw them. Jack said, "this will be going into my file." He assured my friend they keep such files. I may be mistaken but I think there was a follow up and he actually got to see his file and sure enough there was a note about him being seen with my friend -- but don't hold me to it.
I have a bunch of other stories about people running to tattle on each other if they suspect too much contact with a perceived enemy. I believe Jim Callahan was fired because a former oppo person who wangled a job from Randi at the NY Teacher started bad mouthing him as being a leaker to Ed Notes - he even took some copies of Ed Notes to leadership and claimed Jim had said similar stuff to him.
Unity is also very clever in identifying people in the opposition who might be vulnerable to lobbying and they often assign a compatible person to woo them and over the years have had some success in weaning people into Unity who were formerly sympathetic if not active with opposition.
I could detect when people who I had been friendly with who usually greeted me warmly, even with hugs, and even distributed Ed Notes, suddenly started ghosting me by walking right by my at DAs and barely nodding or looking away. They didn't want to be seen even saying hello to me.
Let me close with this:
Too much contact with opposition can prove to be fatal.
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