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May 22 Executive Board Takeaway--Chutzpah on Parade

There were both good and bad moments last Monday. My favorite was when CPE teachers presented Howard Schoor with their t-shirt. I asked him to wear it and indeed he did. He spent the rest of the evening with a green CPE 1 shirt over his shirt and tie. This was an indisputable victory, and of course it merited celebration.

Another bright spot was Janella Hinds, who told us she was meeting with DOE to bring back Regents grading to high schools. Visiting other schools has been disastrous for lots of my members, and our administration, among others, has tried scheduling midterms exams and even classes during January Regents week, with miserable results. It's ridiculous that the Board of Regents doesn't trust us to grade our students, something we do all the time. It's even more ridiculous that the city doesn't trust us to grade students in our buildings, and spends millions that could be used to reduce class sizes to pay us for what used to be part of our job.

I'm afraid I was less enthusiastic when Schoor suggested that Michael Mulgrew was solely responsible for the CPE 1 victory. I don't mean to diminish Mulgrew's role in this. He may have worked a lot for it. But it's outrageous to ignore the contributions of CPE 1 faculty, parents and community. They came together, stayed together no matter what, reached out for help everywhere and anywhere they could, and didn't give up when the odds were against them. I also have to say that we in the high school exec. board supported them in every way we could.

This notwithstanding, it's not really good policy to attach all success to one single person. Was Mulgrew solely responsible for the atrocity of Moskowitz moving in to JHS 145? I'd argue no, he wasn't. But if you're going to singlehandedly take responsibility for success, you also have to shoulder defeat. We are union. Theoretically, at least, we stand together as one. We share responsibility both in success and failure. The Unity MO, taking 100% credit for success and zero responsibility for failure, is preposterous and unsustainable. We rise and fall together, that's the most fundamental concept of union, and that's why we need to work together for our common goals.

Sadly, that's not how leadership sees things. The next major item on our agenda was a resolution to support our struggling brother and sister teachers in Puerto Rico. Of course I support that idea, along with our entire high school exec. board. I spoke in favor of it. But I didn't feel qualified to do so until I did a little research. I asked my friend Aixa Rodriguez what I could say and she put me in touch with Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico. The situation sounded pretty dire. Based on what she told me. here's what I said:

If we’re gonna be public school proud it means standing up not only for ourselves, but also for our friends and neighbors.  I spoke to Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico, who tells me another few hundred schools are to be closed to raise millions of dollars to pay the criminal loan sharks who’ve purchased the debt. Tens of thousands of teachers are facing pension loss, and also furloughs which will mean immediate cuts in salary. In Puerto Rico, vulture capitalists have converted human misery into a financial bonanza.

Puerto Rican teachers face criminalization of protests and years of jail time if they strike. In fact it’s likely they will do just that, and they need our support. Allowing this in Puerto Rico is tantamount to allowing it everywhere. It behooves us to do everything in our power to stop it dead right there. I urge support.

Mike Schirtzer then said we ought to add FMPR to the resolution, and also add "collective action" to our support of collective bargaining. Evidently, though, there is a history with this union. FMPR broke off from the AFT, and are therefore unattached to our parent organization. The question then becomes does that mean we can't support them? When Mike told me about this early in the evening I tried to imagine on what grounds they would oppose it. I couldn't come up with anything.

But I didn't have to wait long to find out, because LeRoy Barr stood up and said we had to clear these things with the AFT. I don't really know what that entails, but the fact that this union had specifically pulled out of AFT indicated to me that chances were somewhere south of excellent.

What really shocked me, though, was when a Unity Executive Board member got up in front of God and everybody and asked what collective action was. I mean, collective means together, and action means to do something. I was in Lawrence last week, picketing with teachers from various unions, including UFT. That's collective action. As Mike Schirtzer said, the various strikes in which UFT participated were collective action. In fact, the UFT theme these days, Public School Proud, is also collective action. Our Immigration Forum was collective action. Opt-out is collective action. Electing Christine Pellegrino to the NY State Assembly is collective action. In fact, having the union meeting itself is collective action.


Everything we do as a union is collective action, yet this particular handpicked Unity Executive Board member was entirely unfamiliar with that concept. Perhaps a better question would be what do we do that is not collective action. For my money, one example is having one person make all the decisions, going along with them without question, and hoping like hell to keep that after school gig answering phones or whatever the hell you do, and therefore shutting your mouth when it's high time to speak.

With the specter of "right to work" hanging over the United States of America, we've got a lot of work to do, and we need all the friends we can get. Maybe, instead of dwelling on our political squabbles, we should look to expand collective action and solidarity with all our brother and sister unionists, including FMPR. This is particularly true when their cause is our cause. Otherwise, I don't know how we're gonna weather Donald Trump and his band of faux-patriotic alt-right slimeballs gleefully trying to lead us on some coal-powered airplane back to the nineteenth century.

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