Later today (Thursday) there will be a rescheduled emergency Delegate Assembly to discuss the UFT's reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to strip teachers of many of our remaining rights.
Cuomo has made a number of anti-teacher proposals that will hurt students, parents, and public education. Now that Sheldon Silver has resigned as Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Albany politics are a great unknown.
While we have to work to support a decent new speaker and continue the political battles, anything we salvage through the political process in Albany will more than likely not be enough to move forward a strong pro-public school agenda. We must mobilize at the school and community level to save public education as we know it in New York.
Under these desperate conditions, I fully expect UFT President Michael Mulgrew to call for unity among the members. He will probably argue that any internal division will embolden our enemies.
Under normal circumstances, he might have a point. However, these are anything but regular times. Mulgrew and his loyalists from Unity Caucus are in no position to call for a temporary halt to dissent as they in many ways are responsible for our current predicament and have done nothing to make us feel like we are one union.
Remember that it was at the January 15, 2014 DA where we introduced the resolution to repudiate Cuomo. Mulgrew's Unity Caucus voted it down. Throughout the year, Unity at the city and state level stayed neutral in the election for governor and then doubled our defeat by pushing for but failing to gain Democratic control of the State Senate.
Now, Mulgrew and the new heads of NYSUT have no real plan after the governor is repaying us for staying neutral, as opposed to endorsing his opponents, with an attempt to basically finish off teachers with a proposal to base half of our annual ratings on student test scores on inappropriate, invalid/unreliable common core exams. The union's reaction has been a call for us to tweet Cuomo until he cries uncle. In addition, Mulgrew last year shoved an inadequate contract down our throats while attempting to stifle all dissent. While many members continue to feel battered in the schools, leadership continues to thrive.
At the state union level, Cuomo has not, however, left the newly elected Revive NYSUT leadership out in the cold. Four new officers and one incumbent, helped enormously by UFT leadership, ousted former NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and his increasingly anti-Cuomo team. The governor rewarded the new Revive group by signing a bill granting NYSUT officers credited service time in their districts for time spent as NYSUT officers. They will now get the same double pensions at the state union that Unity officers, district representatives and special representatives receive here in NYC.
Are NYSUT'S new handsomely rewarded officers up for the real fight it will now take to save public education? Can the leadership of the UFT and AFT lead this struggle?
Norm Scott of Ed Notes fame often compares AFT-NYSUT-UFT leaders to Vichy France where Marshal Petain infamously collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. I think Norm's analogy is somewhat harsh. Instead, I would rather compare AFT-NYSUT-UFT top brass to the British government before and during the early stages of World War II. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the end proved to be an honorable person because he relinquished power to do what was best for the people of Britain.
Chamberlain has gone down in history as the man who gave away 1/2 of Czechoslovakia to Hitler at the 1938 Munich Conference. His appeasement strategy obviously failed when Hitler then took over the rest of the country and then went after Poland in 1939 thus starting World War II. Chamberlain's government then went to war but most historians feel they were unprepared. By 1940, after an unsuccessful Norway campaign and just before France was about to fall rapidly to Hitler, there was a vote of no confidence in Britain's Parliament that Chamberlain won easily but he still stepped aside which allowed Winston Churchill to become Prime Minister. The opposition Labor and Liberal Parties would have nothing to do with working with Chamberlain. Even at the low point of a major war, dissent continued.
Churchill subsequently placed opposition Labor and Liberal Party leaders in prominent positions in his wartime coalition government including making Labor leader Clement Attlee the Deputy Prime Minister. It worked; the country survived The Battle of Britain in 1940 and Hitler was eventually stopped by the US and the Russians along with Britain by 1945. After the Germans were defeated, Churchill lost the next election to Labor's Attlee who used a wartime report as the basis for the modern Welfare State.
My purpose in telling all of this here is not to say that the plight of teachers today is analogous to what Britain faced in 1940. Losing our profession, as bad as that may be, does not compare with the sacrifices the people of Britain and many other countries made during World War II that should never be forgotten.
My point is that when any organized entity calls for being unified at a time when it is threatened, its leaders must show they are willing to put the needs of the whole ahead of their own personal interests. Britain's leaders did that brilliantly during World War II.
Can anybody today see Randi Weingarten, Karen Magee or Michael Mulgrew sacrificing their perks or positions for the good of the membership, which except for loyalty oath signing Unity Caucus members and a few others, has completely lost confidence in them?
I didn't think so.
Their main strategy of playing the political game has been such a colossal failure; we need a new plan that requires more than tweets, emails or even rallies. Can they be truly inclusive?
I am picturing readers laughing right about now and saying, "Are you serious James? Not in a million years." "They'll concede a few Executive Board seats but they will not do anything of any substance to fight back."
I will support almost any union action but at the same time, we must continue to criticize our union heads for their failures. When Mulgrew-Weingarten-Magee call for unity, I recommend asking what they are prepared to sacrifice in the name of unity and then point them to Britain in 1940 as an example of how it was done properly.