Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Last Saturday, I received  the agenda for the January 18, 2012 Delegate Assembly well in advance.  It contained two proposed constitutional amendments that won't do anything to make the UFT a more democratic union.  The UFT Executive Board, which has the constitutional responsibility for running the organization, will be expanded from 89 to 101 members.  The reason to add to the Executive Board is that the UFT is growing with the addition of the Family Child Care Providers and many new retirees.  Therefore, I agree that it does make sense to add to the Executive Board.  However, the Executive Board is one of the least democratic institutions in the world because of the at large system of voting for most of the seats that in such a huge union makes it virtually impossible to challenge the incumbents.

Most of the Executive Board and all 11 officers (president, vice presidents, etc...) are elected at large which means all members of the union vote for each position.  At large voting allows a retiree or a non Department of Education Family Child Care Provider to be voting for the high school vice president and most of the other people who represent the high schools.  This is ridiculous.  It is just as absurd for a high school teacher like me to be voting for someone to represent the Family Child Care Providers.

A better amendment would have been to put in place some kind of proportional representation system so that if a caucus (political party) receives a certain amount of votes (say 25%) in any UFT election, then that caucus would get that percentage (25%) of the seats on the Executive Board.  That is a fair system but you won't see that happening because the leadership of the Unity Caucus, which has run the UFT since the sixties and has a monumental financial advantage in every election, would have to deal with smaller groups who have support concentrated among certain UFT members.  Having that kind of diversity on the Executive Board would make us a stronger union as more voices would be heard but it would dilute the power of the ruling caucus so don't expect such an amendment to see the light of day.  Also, restoring the right of each division (high school, middle schools, elementary schools, special education) to exclusively elect their own vice presidents will not happen because the ruling caucus would have to admit that they might lose some day.

Expanding the voting representation of the retirees is simply a Unity Caucus insurance policy to expand their power. The retired UFT members are the most loyal Unity constituency so expanding their voice makes sense to Unity.  However, whether or not retirees should vote for active member leaders is highly debatable.  The New York State Public Relations Relations Board took up the retiree topic in 1997.

New Action (another caucus within the UFT) said the UFT should give them a list of retirees so they could mail the retired members UFT election material.  PERB said that since the retirees are not part of our bargaining unit, then no caucus was entitled to their addresses.  Since the state does not recognize retirees as not part of our bargaining unit, then one has to ask why they should be voting for who will represent active members?   Retirees should have their own vice president that they elect exclusively to represent them.

The retiree vote was capped at 18,000, meaning that if more than 18,000 voted, the votes are weighted so 18,000 is the maximum.  That cap will be raised by the amendment to 23,500.  Forgetting the issue with one man=one vote, this is a pure power grab by the ruling caucus to make sure that their loyal retirees have even more of a voice than they do now.  The active people will be further marginalized. What is really needed is to alter the UFT's fundamental foundation.

The structure of our union is basically designed to perpetuate one party rule forever and these amendments will worsen this.  In order to win an election with close to 200,000 voters spread out over many states, a caucus would need a ton of money to have a reasonable chance to communicate with so many members enough times to make a difference.  The Unity Caucus has the union patronage jobs and free trips to union conventions to buy loyalty and those people spread the word in the schools and in retirement communities. To obtain those perks, Unity members must sign a statement saying they will support the positions of Unity Caucus in union and public forums.  Many have termed this statement the Unity Loyalty Oath.  They also must pay to join the caucus.

One ad in the NY Teacher at election time is all the opposition is allowed and that is certainly not enough to get through to these masses of people to win an election.  The UFT structure is extremely unfair and these amendments will not change that.  Adding to the retiree vote total will just further alienate more of us.

I will be voting no on the constitutional amendments. It makes no sense to expand the Executive Board without changing how it is structured and expanding the retiree vote will not strengthen us.

Had the union really taken democracy seriously, they would have put together a committee with membership from all parties and independents and come up with a more democratic structure.


Anonymous said...

James, thank you for this article. It is clear and concise. I certainly learned much more about the workings of unity. I will be voting no against these constitutional changes.
Pat D.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Mulgrew has been watching "The Borgias" and learning a lot.

Anonymous said...

Don't thank Mulgrew. Thank Shanker and the anti-democratic practices of the leninists and trots. Every time I hear a leninist and trot scream about unity, I have to laugh because their organizations have the same practices. Democratic centralism. Different philosophy. Same practice. And I know that James is not a Leninist or trot.

Great post James.

Anonymous said...

I don't know of a single "Leninist" or "Trot" who was instrumental in developing this ridiculously undemocratic resolution. Let's be clear about where the blame belongs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:21

You are absolutely correct. Please reread what I wrote. Unity's practices of control and voting are grounded in democratic centralism. That's a fact. They are however anti-communist.

Put another way, if the trots controlled the UFT, regardless if I preferred their philosophy to that of Unity, the da would not be run democratically in the manner that people usually scream about when they yell, hey that's undemocratic.

Tow the line. Feel free to dissent within the party. But follow the party line in public...in voting.

Anonymous said...

Be that as it may. . .

As far as I can discern, the DA -- and our union -- are in NO danger of being taken over by communists of ANY stripe.

Your comments and elaborations serve only as a smoke screen to keep people from focusing on what is likely to happen to us and our union, and what forces are ACTUALLY BEHIND the proposed egregious changes, i.e.:

U ndemocratic
N asty
I diotic
T houghtless
Y ada, yada, yada!

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:52

Of course UNITY is the problem. They make me sick. What smoke screens? Who said the communists would take over? I made a simple, but accurate claim: "Thank Shanker..." There is a long history behind Mulgrew's actions.

Perhaps a better question for me to raise is this: What do we ed activists mean when we say, we need to "democratize" our union? And, wait, before that is answered, how might our ideas about democracy make it difficult to run an organization as large as the UFT. In short, there are very strong reasons for why Unity is run the way it is run (DA, Exec Board, Pledges, NYTeacher). I can't stand Unity and their practices. But please tell me how those practices will not be replicated by any other group (practices not philosophy) should they take over?

I don't know. That's why I ask.

Please don't respond with Karen Lewis and CTU. The CTU is tiny compared to the UFT. And when push comes to shove, Karen and our brothers and sisters in Chicago will be crushed by today's ruling class if they muster the courage to seriously challenge the city/state.

ed notes online said...

You are wrong about Unity - it is not democratic - if it were run by democratic centralism I might have even joined because internally that is a democratic process and issues could at least be hashed out. But Unity is as top-down as the union.

Even if we had democratic centralism in the UFT where we could engage in open debate on policy and evolve posiitions I think people could live with it. Take mayoral control. Do you htink if we had a vote the members would support it? But in the UFT the leadership can go through democratic motions and manipulate things to get the result they wanted.

What I will say about CTU is that the key is CORE - the caucus that runs the CTU. CORE/CTU has some people associated with parties on the left and I raised this with people and so far they have functioned completely in a democratic manner.

I've been involved with CORE people since their beginning and have watched worried about the democratic issues you raise. What is Karen Lewis' relationship to CORE? Does it have the right internally to be critical of her? And I believe it has and has been and even forced the leadership to change directions at times. In the UFT there is no internal debate other than amongst the very top leadership -- not at Exec Bd meetings or DA's or even Unity caucus.

Now for us - and you possibly - the need here in NYC is to build a caucus that is democratic from the ground up and remains that way. ICE was founded on that principal -- the reason the word Independent is in the name. But we may have gone too far in the sense that anyone in ICE could do whatever they wanted and as a caucus all kinds of mixed signals are sent out. So there needs to be some level of internal controls - but as long as decisions are made democratically.

I know trots and socialists have been involved -- they always will be. And generally do good work. My concern is that when one party or group meets on its own and comes up with a position and then sends its people into a group en masse that position can dominate since they all vote together -- like the Hasidic. So it is very important to keep an eye on that and struggle internally when you disagree and if a group that includes all kinds of people (don't forget there are goodness knows how many trot orgs out there who don't agree with each other) drifts towards an undemocratic direction pull it back.

Given that Unity is anti-communist from day 1, Shanker used that to keep any voice - trot or socialist - out of the halls of power -- thus the need to control 100% of the Exec Bd -- which by the way does have some people from New Action of left background -- but they serve at the pleasure of UNity.

Randi's big change from Shanker/Feldman was buying these people off ---and old line anti-communist Unity people are still upset.

Anonymous said...

Norm, you missed my point. I did not say they were democratic. I said their "practice" comes from "democratic centralism," which as far as I'm concerned is not democratic. Besides, democratic centralism has nothing to do with the UFT DA at large. You are confusing the Unity Caucus version of "democratic centralism" with the UFT DA.

Additionally, as much as you, I and other ed activists would embrace open debate at the DA, it would be impossible to do with the current structure of the DA. You would need real working committees and not the de facto Unity committees that are in place now.

What is true is that internally Unity does not have open debates at their caucus meetings. SO yes in that way they are pretending to be "democratic centralist." It sounds like I am contradicting myself. Let me explain. They took the most powerful and undemocratic part of "democratic centralism" and tossed the rest out. We are the leaders. Do what we say. Sign our pledge. Do not go against us. We will reward you down the road. We know best.

It's the leadership/vanguard who call the shots regardless if there is debate or not...same outcome.

In theory, democratic centralism allows for recall, but how does that actually work when you throw people, power and politics into the pot? How has it worked out from a historical perspective?

It's the leadership's way or the highway. Same thing in the Unity led UFT.

"But in the UFT the leadership can go through democratic motions and manipulate things to get the result they wanted." I AGREE WITH YOU 100% Just reread your response. Everything after this quote is right on too. Except the CTU. Wait and see. Will CTU support Obama?

Boy oh boy. What a world! One last thing. To their credit, leninists and trots are terrific activists and very, very patient. Very patient Norm. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for some of the leninist/trot meetings with the teachers who are also CTU. You have no idea Norm. :)

Anonymous said...

What is your affiliation?

Anonymous said...

What is your affiliation?


Anonymous said...

I was not putting you down by asking who you are. Your points are right on the money. You obviously know a lot of insider stuff.