Sunday, August 13, 2017

UNION POWER 101 QUIZ

Instructions: Choose the best answer to the following question:

QUESTION: What gives a union its power?

ANSWER CHOICES

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).

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I got no problem striking. You get docked 2 days for every day you strike but I am high up on the salary schedule so I can afford to. Question: What is the legality of a partial strike? In other words, let's say everybody in the MORE caucus decides to go on strike. Would we all get fired or just docked pay? A full on UFT strike will never happen but I do believe there are enough teachers that would be willing to engage in a partial strike. Thoughts?

James Eterno said...

I don't think I should advocate for a wildcat strike online. Give OSI a reason to come after me. It would be illegal for sure. Its chances of success would hinge on how many people you could get. A few hundred it is easily defeated.

10,000 a different story.

Anonymous said...

lets see--
42 of 45 women on my staff went on a "protest/pussy day" thing organized by linda sarsour, and what happened to them?

Anonymous said...

A charter group gets 20 parents to protest ATRs and Chalkbeat is all over it like mayo on a ham sandwich. Why doesn't the UFT make banners for the Labor Day Parade? Stop Grade Fixing Now!; ATRs are Targeted because of Salaries; Eva Moskowitz makes 500,000 a Year and she wants to help your child!; Many NYC Principals have never taught a day in their life!; Schools have no money because of individual budgets, but the city has a surplus! - the list goes on and on. Mulgrew will just do a little limbo dance, eat some curry quail and off he'll go.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you make these signs and go to the labor day parade? I know -- you pay dues to the UFT and so why should you? Therein lies the answer to James -- too few willing to take on the powers that be.

Anonymous said...

I guess putting a target on your back when your paying a union to fight with you is financial suicide. I have a mortgage and kids. I'm also an ATR. I'd like to go down there with some signs but I'm afraid of ending up in a 3020a. I'm afraid for my family - does that make me a pussy or smart or both. I pay a lot of UFT dues, why should I or any individual teacher put their livelihood on the line when we're paying a union. If I wasn't paying the union it would be worse and we'd all be down at that parade with signs. That's the irony and what's coming.

Anonymous said...

When only 20% of the working rank-and-file of the UFf even bothered to vote in the last election, there's a major problem. If you can't even be bothered to fill out a ballot, you will bw dumped on time after time, Stop the malaise, and start with the ballot, coming up in 2018

James Eterno said...

2018 is chapter elections, 2019 is UFT elections for officer and executive board.

Anonymous said...

If it's true that only 20% of membership voted in the last UFT election, that is very telling. The quality of New York City teacher has been in decline for decades, and that would surely be clear evidence. NYC teachers get to union they deserve.

James Eterno said...

It was closer to 25% turnout in last UFT election. Much higher than that in Queens High School.

Anonymous said...

High school teachers need a separate union.

Anonymous said...

Agree.

Anonymous said...

James, you would advocate for a full on strike but not a wildcat strike? Both are illegal.

James Eterno said...

I would like to point out that I am not against wildcat strikes because they are illegal. The first teacher's strike in NYC was a wildcat strike by evening high school teachers in 1959 before there was a UFT. The strike was very successful.

James Eterno said...

True both a full blown strike and wildcat strike are illegal. I am not advocating for either here. I am merely pointing out that a union whose rank and file is not willing, ready and able to strike if necessary has no real power. That is the UFT in 2017.

I would like to see a a powerful teacher's union again in NYC before I leave this world.

Read that as you like.

Anonymous said...

There is an article in the NY Post about a guidance counselor and principal. The topic: grades. The guidance counselor had to pay a fine for what the principal did. What is going on when trying to do the right thing!

Anonymous said...

A strong union could emerge like a phoenix rising from the ashes after this uft crumbles. That could very well happen after SCOTUS gives members the freedom to walk.

Anonymous said...

Why don't the high school teachers take the freedom to walk now? No need to wait for SCOTUS.

Michael Fiorillo said...

The climate of the era has a big influence on these things.

By the numbers, the UFT's first strike in 1960 was a huge failure, and the union could have easily been suffocated in its cradle. However, there were liberal (in New Deal-era terms, not the decayed "neo" form we're currently leashed to) people in office, and more importantly, the overall labor movement was strong. Harry Van Arsdale of Local 3 of the electricians/electrical workers gave (liberal) mayor Robert Wagner an ultimatum to bargain with Al Shankar and the UFT, and that's what led to it's legal recognition.

Evil as it is, the right has correctly had a long-term view of politics, and understood that you have to control the terms of debate, which they've successfully done. They've even gotten liberals to accept their premises of policy-driven inequality, deregulation, and a "business knows best" ideology. One of our many responsibilities is to work together and do what we can to cultivate different assumptions and expectations among working people, so that a different climate might follow.

James Eterno said...

Excellent analysis Mike. Your goals make real sense. If working people came together and said "Enough" it could start to make a difference. People don't even know about their collective power. We are so easy to pick apart.

One argument: AL Shanker was involved in the 1960 and 1962 strikes but Charles Cogen was the UFT president who City Hall had to deal with.

Michael Fiorillo said...

A thanks for the correction and clarification, James.