Monday, February 20, 2017


There is a lead story in the current Village Voice contemplating a general strike in Donald Trump's America. We at ICE were ready for combined union action twelve years ago and raised the issue at the UFT Executive Board.

My friend Sam Lazarus (at the time Chapter Leader of Bryant High School) had an idea in 2005 that the UFT should unite forces with the Transit Workers Union Local 100 for a massive job action as both unions were fighting for contracts. I brought his idea up at the UFT Executive Board. I will never forget then UFT President Randi Weingarten's response saying that she has spoken to Roger. Roger was then TWU President Roger Toussaint. That's all she would say.

Soon thereafter the UFT agreed to the disastrous 2005 contract where we gave up nearly all of our seniority rights as well as many other concessions. The contract created the massive ATR crisis as the door was opened for then Mayor Bloomberg to close schools at will and not worry about having to place the teachers from those schools in different schools. Meanwhile the transit workers went on strike in December of 2005 and while they took a pounding at first by having to pay penalties from the Taylor Law -- two days pay for every day out on strike and the union lost automatic dues checkoff -- they have recovered and in the last two contracts they have clearly beaten the municipal unions salary increases at the bargaining table.

Randi wouldn't even call transit workers courageous as this partial transcript from a NY 1 interview from 2005 shows. I leave it to you to guess what she told Roger Toussaint in that conversation she told the Executive Board about.

TWU Local 100 is respected by the powers that be because they know they could strike. The UFT is considered a paper tiger because we are incapable of any kind of labor action.

In 2017, I cannot conceive of the heads of the mostly bureaucratic top-down unions in the United States even contemplating combined union job actions. Leadership seems to be content to have their membership shrink as long as the leadership keeps their high paying jobs and seats at the table with the Democratic Party. Labor resurgence will need to come from the bottom up.

Back to the Voice piece, 2016 MORE presidential candidate Jia Lee is quoted in it. Here is the part where Jia is featured.

Today, even though union leadership may not be eager for a general strike, some rank-and-file members see an opportunity for a broader movement.

"If we focus our attention on the person Trump, then our focus is too narrow. It's not like if we impeach Trump we get rid of systemic racism, institutional racism," said Jia Lee, a sixteen-year veteran public elementary school teacher at the Earth School in the East Village.

Lee recently ran an unsuccessful campaign against United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew as part of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, an opposition caucus within the union.

UFT members are prohibited from formally striking, and Lee is skeptical that big unions entrenched in the Democratic Party will get on board for a general strike, especially one organized hastily. But that might not be a problem, she said, since the real value of such a strike could be as a test run for would-be activists who have just begun attending marches and want to know what's next. Lee says the widespread dissent surrounding the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary is just one example of an awakening.

"It's parents, grandparents, students in college who grew up in the No Child Left Behind era, whose eyes are open. They're flooding their senators' offices to the point they've been pressured to vote no. It's pretty powerful," Lee said. Building on this momentum, a general strike could eventually be successful, even if it takes a few tries.

"People have decided they need to be really loud and in mass levels, a mass movement of people saying, 'We're not going to be a part of this if this is how you're going to play,' " said Lee

Since some of the UFT rank and file who comment here are more interested in not having to pay union dues to our bureaucratic union rather than organizing for a strike, I think it will take an enormous amount of actually educating working people about the potential of a massive job action for it to have a chance of actually succeeding. While I agree with Jia's central argument, the issue that will unite working people of all races is not institutional racism.


Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Read every post. I am 100% ready for a general strike. I am 100% ready for a city strike! I think we should have done this when they started closing "failing" schools. I work at one of the 20 schools Bloomberg decimated. I was horrible and terrifying. Our school did everything they ( DOE, JIT) asked for, they just asked for more. We organized students, parents, alum, local businesses, etc,,, We spoke at the PEP until 2 in the morning. The UFT was NO help at all. When we had to reapply for our jobs, the UFT rep on the hiring committee was worse than the DOE hiring rep. People who were not working at those schools or the current renewal schools HAVE NOT IDEA how bad it can get. Now I work at a "successful" school. It all comes down to zip code an demographics.... figure it out. The practices and the teaching talent and technique is NOWHERE near as good as the "failing" school I worked at. But the people I currently work with are clueless, they buy into the narrative too that because the successful school has good data their teaching must be good. Most ( not all) of the UFT membership is a bunch of morons basically. We don't have a union. We don't stick together because if we did their would have been a strike back in 2002 with mayoral control, 2005 when the ATR situation was created... back in 2010-2012 when the mayor started closing schools. Do I want to pay union dues to this union - HELL NO! But would I pay double the dues to a union that seeks to protect its members- Yes I would!

James Eterno said...

What school? Perhaps we met along the way at the school closing fights.

Anonymous said...

If we go on strike, we lose 2 days pay for every day we strike. UFT leaders can go to jail I believe. Is this the case?

Anonymous said...

They certainly would. It would be worth my two days pay for every day on strike to see Mulgrew taken away in handcuffs and put in jail.

Anonymous said...

Can't someone or group start a separate Union that people can begin to pay dues into? I know it sounds stupid but I do work for the doe. Lol

Anonymous said...

We have to decertify the UFT first before we could start a new one.

Anonymous said...

I would gladly take 2 days pay cut for each day striking. NYC would be brought to it's knees if schools were closed even for a few days. The nations biggest babysitter service needs to stay open!

James Eterno said...

You have a very valid point 9:05 am on how effective a strike could be. A teacher's strike won't happen because the leadership would never organize or mobilize for one. They would lose automatic dues checkoff as a penalty and the Unity empire would crumble faster than Friedrichs the sequel if chapter leaders have to collect dues from all the teachers individually. I would pay and would go around collecting if the UFT showed real guts. I don't see it happening.

Back after the 2005 disaster of a contract, Randi was pushing a no contract=no work possibility for a while. She was even talking about having dues deducted through a labor friendly bank (Amalgamated) as opposed to the DOE to lighten the impact of a strike. Needless to say, nothing came of this and Randi backed off. The early 2006 contract ended all talk of militancy forever in the UFT. Our working conditions have just continued to deteriorate since that time.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that all UFT teachers are bound under the laws of the Taylor Law. We strike - we allow our position to be filled by non union members. The two for one is a small price to pay - the loss of a job and medical coverage WOW

James Eterno said...

How many transit workers were fired in 2005? 0 Where does it say we get fired if we strike?

ed notes online said...

"We strike - we allow our position to be filled by non union members." We allow a charter school to open we allow all positions lost to the charter to be filled by non union members.
I guess you prefer a passive slow death rather than a fighting chance to win something.

But the bigger issue pointed out is how the UFT plays a partnership role in making sure there won't be a strike, thereby demonstrating to the powers that be their value and why they should be kept in business.
Dems know that and that is why they are against right to work.
Republicans assume that by trying to kill the unions they will benefit -- maybe short term -- but without a union bureaucracy to exert control who knows what militant leadership might arise -- ie - think Shanker in 1960--