Monday, August 16, 2010

CPE's Mark Torres' View of the UFT

Sisters and Brothers,

When Michael Mulgrew first became president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) I, along with many people, gave him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to hear him and see what he was going to do. In fact, we even spoke on the same panel at the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus in Albany. At that time he sounded very progressive and promoted community involvement in our city’s education system. However, his actions have not been true to his words. Instead of being someone we can count on to defend and improve public education he has instead proven to be more of the same. Continuing a brand of unionism that is focused on accommodating the corporate/political interests that want to dismantle the union while alienating parents, students, the community and most UFT members.

As conditions get worse for UFT members there will be great opposition to Mulgrew’s policies. During this time there will be two types of opposition, one that is pro-labor and the other anti-labor. We must be sure to be on the side of the forces that are pro-labor. As we, the Coalition for Public Education/Coalición por la Educación Pública (CPE-CEP), continue our work among members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) we should always judge our words and actions by our human rights principles. We must ask ourselves ,“Is the work we are doing in the UFT going to increase union democracy and accountability, support working class interests and union solidarity, support the struggles against racism and sexism?”

In effect, our words and actions must strengthen the "House of Labor's" ability to fully attain human rights for its members, and the parents, students and communities that depend on public education. We must be vigilant, self-critical and aware of our words and actions and see if they will buttress the following pillars of our human rights work:

1. Democracy and Accountability
From Albert Shanker to Michael Mulgrew, the UFT has become less and less democratic. At one point in our union's history the district reps were elected by the membership, now they are appointed positions. The current leadership has also engaged in a systematic attack against the voting rights of our members in their change of the voting rules in its efforts to isolate members of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) and other opposition caucuses. These types of anti-democratic changes only dis-empower UFT members and allow the leadership to consolidate power. As the leadership institutes more and more anti-democratic policies it creates a barrier between decision-making and the membership.

This barrier is created because the union leadership feels that it allows it to make decisions, which are unpopular with the membership, while insulating itself from scrutiny and accountability. Mulgrew feels that he can make any kind of back room deal without consulting the membership at large, the delegate assembly or even our union's executive committee. As he makes these decisions, with the support of his core group of advisors, he is not only weakening his own position within our union but he is also weakening the overall effectiveness of our union as it is faced with an unprecedented corporate/political assault. This corporate/political assault has already diluted our tenure rights and our rights to due process. It has also been able to establish non-union charter schools that receive public funds but are not accountable to parents, or our communities.

Democracy and accountability must be hallmarks of our work. As we organize amongst union members we must demand that the decision making process include them and that union officers be held accountable through the use mechanisms such as voter recalls, election of borough officers and union referenda. We must work to give control of our union to the membership.

2. Working Class Interests and Union Solidarity
There are many unions in New York City that do not trust the leadership of the UFT. The reasons for this distrust were apparent when Randi Weingarten, former UFT president, did not support the Transit Workers Union in their strike. In order to support the transit strike the UFT did not have to violate the Taylor Law and go on strike, but it could have raised money and raised issues of fair pay and benefits for working people. It could have also raised questions about the legitimacy of the MTA and its pro-business, anti-union maneuvers.

Also, not only does the UFT leadership consistently makes deals with Bloomberg/Klein without consulting its own membership but it makes these deals to the detriment of DC-37, parents, students and our communities. There is no consistent class analysis coming from our leadership that would move us in a direction to strengthen the power of unions and its members. Mulgrew fears raising consciousness because it would jeopardize his position in the union. We need to discuss and debate the class interests of our members and show how labor solidarity will only strengthen our union and the power of working people in this city.

3. The Anti-Racist Struggle
The leadership of the UFT has been one of the greatest obstacles to community and parent control of our schools. Since the time of Shanker the leadership of the UFT has actively supported racist, anti-parent and anti-community policies. In 1969 Shanker used anti-semitism to cement his control over the UFT and to dis-empower the primarily Black and Latino parents and communities that were trying to exert their human right to control public schools. Despite all of the corporate/political attacks launched by Bloomberg/Klein, Mulgrew continues to support mayoral control over our schools and continues to insist that the UFT is not against the creation of charter schools. In fact, the UFT continues to manage two charter schools in Brooklyn.

Moreover, the UFT leadership has been complicit and has done nothing to halt the disappearance of Black and Latino educators. The racist hiring practices that keep the teaching profession predominantly white, and increasingly transient, are in effect because the union is a collaborator in this process.

In the area of curriculum development, the leadership has been complicit in allowing students to be subjected to lies and to materials that are irrelevant in their lives. The current leadership does not take responsibility for its acceptance of this racist educational process that unfairly tracks students so that a substantial failure rate is assured. There is no outcry or move against this "school to prison pipeline."

4. The Anti-Sexist Struggle
Another area in which the union is silent and complicit is the struggle against sexism. The UFT is predominantly composed of women yet the interests of working women are never at the forefront of any union campaign. Our union should address issues dealing with childcare, maternity leave, sexual harassment and support for working class (employed and unemployed) mothers. This is an area in which there are natural links to the parents of public school children because it is primarily mothers and grandmothers who attend parent association, parent-teacher and school district meetings. It is also primarily working class mothers who are the officers of the different school based parent associations.

Although, the UFT has had two women as presidents of the union, there has not been any consistent effort to address the specific needs and to promote the interests of working class women. Also, the weakening of the teaching profession, especially in the earlier grades, has had a disproportionately negative effect on working women in this city and yet no one raises this issue.

In closing, my challenge to CPE-CEP members is to come up with an organizing plan that will strengthen human rights in the UFT and strengthen the "House of Labor." If we act against human rights and weaken the "House of Labor" then we are only helping the corporate/political assault which is directed against all of us.

Your brother in struggle,

Mark A. Torres
Co-chair, Coalition for Public Education/Coalicion por la Educacion Publica

"No one can serve two masters. Either he/she will hate the one and love the other,or he/she will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Matthew 6:24

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