Thursday, October 18, 2012
HOW OPPOSITION TO AFT/UFT ENDORSEMENT OF OBAMA WAS SUPPRESSED
It was clear to all after a protracted pep rally for Obama at the October 17 Delegate Assembly, for which Randi Weingarten returned for a star appearance, that not one word of criticism of Obama would be allowed on the floor of the D.A.
I had distributed a one-page “Resolution on 2012 Presidential Election,” handing it out as delegates came in and placing it on the literature table. The resolution began, “WHEREAS, it is self-destructive to continually endorse Democratic Party politicians (and Republicans) who are attacking teachers and seeking to gut our unions.” And after spelling out the roles of Rahm Emanuel and President Obama, the resolution ended, “THEREFORE, Be It Resolved that in defense of union rights, public education and the political independence of labor the United Federation of Teachers hereby repudiates the national AFT endorsement of Obama and calls for no vote for Democrats, Republicans or any party or politician representing the interests of capital against the working class, poor and oppressed.”
It was important that this opposition resolution come before the body as the teachers unions have repeatedly provided the troops for phone-banking and house-to-house canvassing
for the Democrats. Yet, it was noteworthy that not one of the several opposition groups in and around the UFT had a word to say about these elections. The M.O.R.E. did put forward a supportable resolution against the racist discrimination against black and Latino students in the specialized science high schools. But on the critical issue of breaking labor’s ties with the parties of Wall Street and capital, nothing.
The centerpiece of the rally (which masqueraded as a delegate assembly) was the performance by AFT president (and Democratic National Committee member) Weingarten. She went on at great length about if Obama is not elected, the Romneys, Michelle Rhees and the PACs “are all privatizers,” that the election is all about “the heart and soul of public education.” (Hello!? Rahm Emanuel? Arne Duncan? For the past four years, Barak Obama and his team have been spearheading the privatization of public education and attacks on teachers unions, from Central Falls, RI to Chicago, IL.) In fact, the assault on public education is a bipartisan offensive backed by both capitalist parties, Democrats and Republicans alike.
After the meeting had gone on an hour and a half and delegates were beginning to leave, the floor was finally opened for “Motions directed to the agenda.” I rose to say I had a motion in opposition to the AFT endorsement of Obama. At this point in the past, they usually declare that whatever I’m raising (such as occupying closing schools) is “illegal,” banned under the Taylor Law, or whatever. This time, they kept interrupting me every time I tried to say a word, calling out from the stage that I was not allowed to motivate the motion, I couldn’t summarize the motion, I couldn’t even the read the “Resolved.” UFT secretary Michael Mendel declared from on high that I could only read the title, claiming that this was according to “Robert’s Rules.”
I responded that “I understand from this that there will be no criticism of Obama allowed at this meeting,” and sat down. Mendel then became irate and went on a protracted tantrum from the stage claiming that this was not true, that his censorship was fully in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order, that it was democratic because I had been able to distribute the motion (a strange notion of democracy indeed). Mulgrew then took over and asked the body to vote on whether or allow the motion on the floor. Even though they had still not heard a single word from the motion, hundreds of Unity Caucus delegates dutifully raised their voting cards to prevent it from coming to the floor.
But this was not the end. In addition to quashing opposition to Obama, they still had to push through their pro-Obama motion. This task was assigned to Mike Shulman of the New Action caucus who motivated at length the E-board resolution to mobilize support for the president who is pushing non-union charter schools, “merit pay,” and teacher evaluations based on student test scores.
The second he stopped, I rose and said I oppose this motion and I want to speak against it. A number of other hands also went up to speak. But a Unity Caucus member up front quickly interjected, “I call the question” to end any debate before it began. President Mulgrew said there could be no debate; I called out that “pro” and “con” speakers are always heard on a motion. He said that speakers on both sides are not required, that is not in Robert’s Rules of Order, why don’t I ask the parliamentarian (Mendel!) who ruled that indeed both sides did not need to be heard. Debate was cut off and the motion (surprise, surprise) was voted.
Since to carry out this censorship, the authority of Robert’s Rules was cited, let me add that the UFT leaders’ claim is entirely false. In fact it directly violates Part I (Rules of Order), Article I (How Business Is Conducted in Deliberative Assembly), which states under Point 4:
“When a member wishes a resolution adopted after having obtained the floor, he says, ‘I move the adoption of the following resolution,’ or ‘I offer the following resolution,’ which he reads and hands to the chair.”
But I was not allowed to read the resolution, to summarize it or even read the one-sentence “resolved.”
Moreover, when on the leadership resolution to endorse and mobilize for Obama the question was called without hearing any opposition speaker although several hands were raised and I verbally objected, this also directly violates Robert’s Rules, which explicitly require that both the pros and cons to be stated before the body, unless there are none. Indeed, the rule in question, under Article VII on Debate, is written as if in direct response to the strong-arm methods of the UFT leadership. Here it is:
“The right of members to debate and, make motions cannot be cut off by the chair's putting a question to vote with such rapidity as to prevent the members getting the floor after the chair has inquired if the assembly is ready for the question. Even after the chair has announced the vote, if it is found that a member arose and addressed the chair with reasonable promptness after the chair asked, ‘Are you ready for the question?’ he is then entitled to the floor, and the question is in exactly the same condition it was before it was put to vote.
“Debate is not closed by the chairman’s rising and putting the question, as until both the affirmative and the negative are put, a member can rise and claim the floor, and reopen the debate or make a motion, provided he rises with reasonable promptness after the chair asks, ‘Are you ready for the question?’ If the debate is resumed the question must be put again, both the affirmative and the negative.”
You couldn’t ask for more clarity. Mendel’s bullying claim that there was no violation of democratic procedure since delegates could read the motion is ludicrous. So why have elections or debates at all?
But the main violation which occurred at our union was not the manipulation and outright negation of Robert’s Rules, it was the trampling over the union members’ rights to discuss and debate major issues. And finally, for a labor union to vote for a capitalist politician, and one who has been in the leadership of the agenda of corporatization, privatization of schools and union-busting, is a class betrayal, which we will all pay for.
The motion I was not allowed to read is appended below:
RESOLUTION ON 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
And Einstein’s Definition of Insanity*
WHEREAS, it is self-destructive to continually endorse Democratic Party politicians (and Republicans) who are attacking teachers and seeking to gut our unions; and
WHEREAS, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared war on the Chicago Teacher Union even before taking office; and
WHEREAS, the Democratic mayor has sought to institute “merit pay,” teacher evaluation based on student test scores, the closure of over a hundred schools and their replacement by privately run non-union charter schools, which Chicago teachers valiantly resisted in their recent strike; and
WHEREAS, these policies would lead to the layoff of hundreds if not thousands of teachers and deprive our students, particularly those from poor, African American, Latino and Asian families of a quality public education; and
WHEREAS, in his vendetta against teachers unions, Mayor Emanuel was carrying out the policies of Democratic president Barack Obama and his education “czar” Arne Duncan; and
WHEREAS, the Democratic Obama administration’s program of “Race to the Top” is the continuation of the destructive “No Child Left Behind” policies of the Republican Bushadministration; and
WHEREAS, in 2010 President Obama praised the firing of the entire teaching staff of Central Falls, Rhode Island by a vindictive and corrupt school board, as well as the firing of hundreds of teachers in Kansas City, Missouri; and
WHEREAS, Democrat Obama had and has no significant differences on education policy with Republican teacher-basher McCain in 2008 or with Republican labor-hater Romney in 2012, backing the corporate “reform” agenda to regiment education in the interests of big business; and
WHEREAS, Democrats and Republicans have joined in wars for global imperial domination against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, while waging class war on working people here, deporting 400,000 immigrants a year, presiding over racist police violence, racial profiling of African-American and Latino youth (“stop and frisk”) and wholesale dismantling of civil liberties; and
WHEREAS, the Working Families Party is nothing but a shill for the Democrats; and
WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have called for the reelection of President Obama, the man who bailed out Wall Street and seeks to privatize public education;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that in defense of union rights, public education and the political independence of labor the United Federation of Teachers hereby repudiates the national AFT endorsement of Obama and calls for no vote for Democrats, Republicans or any party or politician representing the interests of capital against the working class, poor and oppressed.
*Not E=MC2 but “Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.
--submitted by Marjorie Stamberg,
UFT Delegate, GED-Plus, District 79
Class Struggle Education Workers