Instructions: Choose the best answer to the following question:
QUESTION: What gives a union its power?
a) A strong union president who can talk the talk.
b) A rank and file that makes strong demands.
c) A union with a robust top-down bureaucracy that knows how to provide services such as dental/optical benefits and handle grievances for its members thus providing confidence in the union.
d) An organized rank and file willing to use any peaceful means available, including the threat of a strike and then striking if necessary (even if it's illegal) for as long it takes, to get better working conditions.
e) Choices (a), (b) and (c).
It seems that many of the people who comment on this blog think the answer is choice (e). If we just ask for it and have our president go in and use his/her negotiating skills, then we can have anything we want. Add to this that we can use the union as a kind of insurance company to take care of us so the rank and file doesn't need to do anything more than pay our union dues. That is the union we have; it's called the United Federation of Teachers. (Well, choice (a) is debatable but let's give President Mulgrew the benefit of the doubt and say he wants what's best for all of us. Ask yourself: Could the best union leader in the world do a thing if the rank and file is not willing to do anything?)
I want you to show me examples from history where a union that has components (a), (b), and (c) but doesn't have an engaged rank and file willing to collectively fight, but the union still wins contracts that make the rank and file truly proud.
Union power comes from us ladies and gentlemen. It's as simple as that. Union leaders can inspire the rank and file to action but in the end it's up to the membership.
Organizing 75,000 teachers and around 35,000 other UFT Board of Education employees to work for each other is not an easy task.The current UFT leadership from Unity Caucus can't or won't even try to organize us for real action. They are there to protect the institution of the union as a primary goal. It provides them with a pretty good living.
As long as the collective rank and file does nothing more than complain on the internet or in the teacher's rooms, then nothing of any substance, and I do mean nothing, will improve in the schools. Mayor Bloomberg challenged us in 2005 and won. We have yet to recover.
By being a divided and passive rank and file, we are, as Unity leadership tells us, lucky we have a job with decent pay and benefits. Even the best of leaders can only do so much.
The correct answer is choice (d).