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Forging the UFT Unity Wilderness

This school year I went to UFT Executive Board twice a month. The only one I missed was the last one, as I'm told that was some catered affair with waiters and such, in which we celebrate our achievements. I was not in a particularly celebratory mood after a year of unnecessarily adversarial episodes.

There are seven of us who represent the high schools, and 95 who ostensibly represent everyone else. We are outvoted at every turn, so it can be discouraging. I can generally shrug it off, as I am not surprised when Unity fails to display capacity for growth or change. The only time I was really quite upset was the night I brought a substantive and detailed class size resolution and they voted it down based on nonsense. However, I got over it and I doubt they will be able to shock me again unless they suddenly turn supportive.

If you've been reading my notes, the thing that most stands out is that virtually nothing would happen if we were not there. They'd probably just eat their cardboard sandwiches and go home. Once or twice Unity tried to change that up, but the questions they had people ask were generally so stupid they'd have been better off keeping their mouths shut. Fortunately for Unity, its members are quite skilled at keeping their mouths shut. That's mostly what they are selected to do, since their loyalty oaths explicitly prohibit them from unapproved utterances.

Sure, sometimes they call the question if, perish forbid, we are discussing something the High School reps brought up. (Recently Secretary Howard Schoor praised a Unity member for calling a question after having said precisely nothing all year.) And sure they'll get up and speak against anything we bring up if they're told to do so. Will they make credible arguments? Probably not, but it doesn't really matter when we're outnumbered 14 to 1.

So now maybe you're asking why I even bother to go. There are a few reasons. For one thing, I've never seen leadership in the position of having to answer questions from lowly teachers before. How could we not take advantage? Because I take notes, I've gotten into the habit of preparing my questions word for word in advance. This way I need not record my own comments while others are speaking. Often the answer is something like, "We'll look into it." Sometimes they follow up and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they say, "We'll take it under advisement," and what I hear is, "We'll ignore it utterly."

But there's a good takeaway here. See if you notice a pattern:

Let's pass a strong resolution against abusive administrators, the bane of our existence. 

No.

Let's pass a strong resolution to enforce and improve existing class size regulations.

No.

Let's offer unequivocal support to CPE 1. 

No.

In other areas we fared better. We asked questions about supporting immigrants and UFT actually held an immigration forum. There was an expansion of workshops for immigrants all over the city. There was much discussion over the Netflix documentary called 13. UFT eventually held a showing and discussions about it. No one knows how else they may have been influenced because outside meetings, when given a choice, Unity never talks to us about anything. When we asked who changed Trump's name when bemoaning racism to "the Presidential Election" the answer was "the leadership of this union," as though that should end all discussion. It did, but only because we then knew no one would personally own up to it.

We supported just about every initiative they brought up. We opposed their waffling on Trump and their support of a homophobe for city council. But when they're in campaign mode, they say we reflexively oppose everything they bring up. In fact, they are describing themselves, not us.

I'm glad to do this work and I don't regret a thing. There are people in leadership with whom I work eagerly, and there are times when we can work behind the scenes without worrying about caucus politics. My goal is to help improve things for working teachers, and I absolutely believe the MORE motto that our working conditions are student learning conditions. I'll support all efforts that move in that direction.

But it's sad to see UFT Unity as the reflexive Party of No. They can do better, and I hope at least some of them know it, Five decades of unfettered power have not had the effect of making them reflective or visionary. People hired by virtue of loyalty tend not to be our best advocates. Time after time I see them scrambling to justify leadership positions (and thus their part or full time jobs) regardless of actual ground conditions. We're under siege like never before and we need to do better. I'm ready to help, and I'm fairly certain all my fellow High School Executive Board members are too.

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