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.