Sunday, September 18, 2005

Five Minutes to Midnight for Teacher Unionism in NYC?

by Michael Fiorillo

The recently released Fact Finder's report is a clear result of the current UFT leadership's catastrophically misguided policies and their effects on teachers and the school system at large. Unless the premises and specific recommendations of this report, and the leadership's efforts to sell it, are decisively rejected by the membership, teachers and students in NYC will suffer its consequences for years to come.

Perhaps the most significant misstep by Randi Weingarten occurred in the run-up to the 2002 contract, when, without consulting the Executive Board or the Delegate Assembly of the union, she unilaterally gave her blessing to mayoral control of the schools. This was both politically unnecessary and strategically disastrous. The union had long successfully blocked mayoral control of the schools, previously preventing Giuliani from gaining that prize, and while the city's elites had long clamored for it, there were neither parents marching in the streets demanding it, nor Democratic leaders in the state legislature insisting on it. Nevertheless, with no consultation or internal debate whatsoever, Randi Weingarten allowed it to happen. This was a strategic blunder of immense proportions, since it combined and concentrated the power of our adversaries, the Board of Ed and the mayor, which had previously been split. And toward what end? It was done solely to obtain the short term gain of an inferior contract. These results show how the current regime's lack of real internal democracy and poor judgment (to be as polite as possible) have combined to lead us to our current dilemma.

The leadership's next stumble was to place its hopes in the Fact Finding process itself. Faced with an anti-union billionaire executive whose opening negotiating position meant the complete loss of union rights and protections, Randi made a conscious decision not to rejuvenate and mobilize the chapters for meaningful struggle, but to place our fate in the hands of the lawyers. She also put our fate in their hands after signaling her intentions to sell off our time for some extra money. Although she has denied this repeatedly to the membership, she never refuted New York Times’ reporter Steven Greenhouse's December '04 article where she admitted to it.

Her desperate need to appear "responsible," clearly stemming from the union's fundamental weakness under her reign, has placed us in a corner that we must now fight our way out of.  

Should the Fact Finder's report become the contract, as happened in 1995 and 2002, we will be that much closer to the endgame that Bloomberg, Klein, the Gates and Broad Foundations, numerous right-wing think tanks and the general corporate consensus about public education foresee: complete management control of instruction and working conditions in the schools, as a prelude to their ultimate privatization.

What Weingarten/Unity Will Do, and What We Must

The basic drift of their campaign to force this contract on us has been established: Randi has made a few mutterings about things she doesn't like in the report, but has accepted it as a "framework." Given the experiences in 1995 and 2002, we can expect them to negotiate a contract based on the report essentially term for term. The next step for her will be to attempt to frighten the membership by posing a false choice: accept the Fact Finder's terms or strike immediately. Of course, Weingarten/Unity have made no preparations whatsoever for a strike, and if they are honest with themselves they probably know that they could not even pull one off. The purpose of the strike talk is to scare the membership into accepting a contract that will lead to the final dissolution of the union as anything other as a machine for dues collection.

In the short time available to us, we must do everything we can to discredit this report and Weingarten/Unity's disgraceful incompetence that led up to it:

     - we must speak with everyone - colleagues, parents, the press, etc. - to expose and discredit the terms of this report and the process by which it came to pass

     - we must do everything possible to convince our colleagues and fellow union members that this leadership can no longer defend and represent  us, and that we must defend ourselves, first by rejecting Weingarten/Unity's scare talk, and then rejecting the contract proposal that she brings before us.

     - we must rebuild the union, chapter by chapter, starting in our own schools, by letting everyone know that we can continue to work under the terms of the contract we currently have until we have built sufficient strength to take the offensive

This may sound too ambitious, especially given the speed at which things will be happening. But Weingarten/Unity are on the defensive, as last Friday's Daily News headline showed. They are scared and weakened, and that does give us a real opportunity to re-direct the debate on this contract and influence the tremendous discontent that teachers are feeling.


Anonymous said...

We see that Michael Fiorillo is claiming that Randi unilaterally gave her blessing to mayoral control of schools without consulting the UFT's Executive Board or the Delegate Assembly.

This can't be further from the truth. According to my recollection, the delegates opposed mayoral control of schools for the vitriolic Mayor Guiliani in June 2001. Then a rank-and-file committee headed by V.P. David Sherman was established to study the matter. The recommendations were adopted as policy at the May or June 2002 Delegate Assembly, and that significantly altered the UFT's long-standing opposition to mayoral control of the school system.

In the NYTeacher, UFT President Weingarten said "One of the reasons the UFT has been willing to reverse its traditional opposition to mayoral control is that the current structure has given the mayor power to control the schools but the freedom not to take responsibility and therefore not be held accountable.

So we have become promoters of some form of mayoral accountability. Our hope is that giving mayors this authority will also increase their personal investment in the success of the system and thus make them the schools’ champion and supporter — in both words and dollars — instead of its detractor."

In fact, the UFT proposal, gave the mayor control, but it is control with the check and balance of a board whose debates and decisions are open to public scrutiny.

Obviously that didn't happen the way we hoped, but that's the proposal delegates approved.

jameseterno said...

If the Mayor has control of a majority of the Board of Ed as the UFT asked for in that report, then where is the check on his power? If that wasn't de facto control of the schools that the UFT handed to him, I don't know what is

bstamatis said...

But the argument is not that the mayor has control or doesn't, but whether Randi "unilaterally gave her blessing to mayoral control of schools without consulting the UFT's Executive Board or the Delegate Assembly." I may be off with the exact dates, but we dealt with this some time around June 2001 in the Exec Bd and in the DA. Therefore, I think Fiorillo's conclusion is wrong.