Friday, December 17, 2010

The UFT and School Closings: The Non-demo Demo

Excerpts from ICE-Mail
The UFT/Unity is feeling the pressure over the prospect of the closing schools.  Also, there is a lot of anger among teachers and the black and Latino communities that the UFT not only side-stepped the fight against Cathie Black, but actually "welcomed" her as an alternative to Klein.

So, last Wednesday night, by phone consultation the UFT exec board hatched a plan to quickly pass their own resolution at the D.A. and adjourn the delegate assembly for everybody to march over to the steps of Tweed.  They are also calling for a bigger mass demo on Feb 13 at the PEP meeting where the DOE will vote to close the schools 

Unity caucus is trying to pick up the opposition verbiage; their motion talks of "building a grassroots movement" to stop the closings and a lot of militant talk, for them.  I also think the word got out that many of us were organizing to bring signs and present a motion at the D.A. for a UFT citywide rally, to bring together the local school-based protests against the school closings. The bureaucracy wanted to get in front of the train, before it left the station without them.

To see this in context -- if the big high schools go down, it's a huge hit for the union. The big high schools were the locus of strong union chapters--it will be much weaker if these go down.  Also, consider the mess over their (Randi's, then extended by Mulgrew) agreement with the DOE  to link teacher evals to student test scores, and then Klein stabs them in the back and decides to broadcast the teachers' names in the tabloid press.  So I think they see this as their chance to look militant, in an opportunity where there is much support among the community for a fight to keep the schools open.   Last January 26 proved that, as did the protests over Cathie Black, which they boycotted.

For our part, I think we should see this as an opportunity to push the work forward and struggle to save the schools --while knowing that whatever the UFT does, it will be done in the most blunted way, and only to sell out something else 10 minutes later.  That's the nature of the contradictory labor bureaucracy.

The UFT proposed motion is attached. I would like to see an amendment to the motion calling to keep the pressure on with a mass action in January -- maybe a march of UFT and parents, and community across the Brooklyn Bridge.  What do colleagues think?
-Marjorie Stamberg
A couple of things come to mind on reading Marjorie's interesting and thoughtful posting. 
First, it's interesting to note that the original resolution calls for the DA to vote on the following final RESOLVED:
THAT     in recognition of the outrage this Delegate Assembly, representing the educators of all NYC public schools, feels about the proposal to close 25 schools, we hereby adjourn this meeting and reassemble for a mass protest [emphasis mine] at City Hall and the central offices of the NYC Department of Education.

It's fascinating to see that, at least originally, our leaders were thinking of the number of Delegates and Chapter Leaders who manage to show up on Wednesday to constitute a mass protest.  I forget what the quorum number is, but the actual number of people in attendance rarely, if ever, exceeds 1,000.  Some mass protest!  I see London, I see France!

Second, Unity's talk about building "a grass-roots movement" reads as follows in the resolution:

THAT     this grass roots campaign of opposition to mass school closures include, but not be limited to, school demonstrations and picketing, community engagement, lobbying of elected officials, and a mass demonstration at the Panel for Educational Policy meeting which will consider the proposed
school closings; and be it further resolved...

Basically, this is no different from what occurred last year, when individual schools drove themselves crazy trying to bring out parents, students, community members, elected officials, etc., in what turned out to be a futile fight for survival.  The UFT took the question of school closings to court, won a 5-minute victory, then sold out the affected schools by not challenging the DOE's blatant violations of the court decision.  Now, apparently, 15 of the original 19 schools slated for closing are right back on the chopping block.  The words of the resolution sound militant, until you realize that, once again, the UFT "leadership" is putting the onus on individual schools, rather than formulating some sort of unified response that would apply to, and draw a connection between, all of the affected schools; and would also draw all UFT members into support of the threatened schools -- not just at the February "doomsday" PEP meeting, but in some sort of sustained way.  They've had the gall to suggest, at a variety of meetings, how they're going to "offer help" to the newly attacked schools just as they "helped" the threatened schools last year.  Nobody much mentions that there's a sizable overlap in the two groups.  Additionally, as before, it is both unfair and unrealistic to expect individual schools to attempt to solve their own problems.  Some schools have very strong chapters and very strong chapter leaders.  Others do not.  Some schools have very strong parental support.  Others do not.  Schools with strong parent and chapter leadership can wage stronger campaigns in the interest of their own survival.  The fate of a particular school should not necessarily hang on the organizational abilities of its parent or chapter leaders. 

Finally, Marjorie writes:

"if the big high schools go down, it's a huge hit for the union. The big high schools were the locus of strong union chapters--it will be much weaker if these go down."

I absolutely agree that "the big high schools were the locus of strong union chapters", and that "[the union] will be much weaker [when] these go down."  BUT I think that the closing of the big high schools has always presented a sort of ugly, horned dilemma to Unity leadership.  On the one hand, the big high schools were, indeed, the locus of strong union chapters, and provided much of our union's grass-roots strength.  On the other hand, many, many of the big high schools have historically leant toward "opposition" forces in terms of UFT politics.  Since decades back these high schools have handed most High School Executive Board seats and one High School Vice Presidency to something other than Unity Caucus:  NAC or ICE or ICE-PAC or ICE-TJC or whatever it is that NAC has morphed into, unbeknownst to the membership at large.  In fact, Unity was so terrified of the possibility of another loss of the HSVP that they rammed through a constitutional change to prevent it; and actually agreed to the byzantine system of co-endorsements for HS Exec. Bd. and Exec. Bd. at Large seats currently guaranteed to tame NAC members.  Additionally, for this reason, I believe that Unity leadership took secret pleasure in -- and did little to fight -- the closing of certain large schools with very strong anti-Unity chapters:  Charles Evans Hughes HS,  Mabel Dean Bacon HS, George Washington High School, Park West HS, Martin Luther King High School --  in essence, most of the large schools on the west side of Manhattan, serving students from Inwood on the north to Chelsea on the south.  Interestingly, it was chapter leaders of these schools that helped to vote in the only non-Unity district reps (Bruce Markens, Tom Dromgoole) in the history of the union. 

If we take a quick look at some of the schools currently on the chopping block, we see a similar situation:  Jamaica HS, Norman Thomas HS, Murry Bergtraum HS, JF Kennedy HS, Maxwell HS -- all "rogue" schools, to use a Palinism, or schools with a strong anti-Unity presence.   (I've probably forgotten a bunch, but I'm writing this off the top of my ADDled brain.  Sorry!)  In any case, I'm fairly sure that the closing of these schools would bring Unity leadership a bit of secret joy along with just the tiniest bit of angst about losing overall union strength.  On the whole, small schools are much easier to control, and keep within the Unity fold.
If the UFT really has the will it claims to have, to win over the support of parents and community members in the fight to keep targeted schools from closing, it will be better off if it wages a unified fight against the closing of any school.  When each school's situation is dealt with separately, by the school community of that particular school, the parents and community members of that school will see only the threat against their own particular turf.  But if the union were to fight an across-the-board battle on behalf of all the schools, all New York City citizens would begin to understand the enormity of what is being undertaken, and how large an impact Bloomberg's proposal is likely to have, not only on the closing schools, but on those that remain intact.  Work piecemeal, tackle each individual school as a separate problem, and you will win over only the stakeholders of each particular school.  Wage a unified campaign against all the school closings together, and the sheer size of what is being proposed should attract a much broader audience, many of whose members might comprehend that anything on such an epic scale cannot be good for the children of New York City.

Ellen Fox

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