Thursday, July 17, 2014

The UFT Million Name Ballot Subverts Democracy

When you tell members of the elite, invitation-only UFT Unity Caucus that you don't like the fact that everyone with a vote in UFT, NYSUT, and AFT has signed a loyalty oath and represents leadership rather than membership, they'll first deny it exists. When you show it to them, they'll say it's just a guideline, or that it's meaningless, or some other such nonsense. When you tell them you're still upset that every rep without exception represents leadership rather than membership, they'll say no, there are elections, and everyone was elected. They'll forget that almost no one in rank and file knows about the loyalty oath.

Get up in public and talk about the oath and they'll shout you down. The truth hurts.

But they are right. There is a ballot, and you can vote. You can place a big X next to Unity, MORE, or New Action. You might know that former opposition New Action now supports the Unity presidential candidate, and you might not. But you almost certainly don't know the thousands of names on the ballot, and it's unlikely you want to split the ballot and pick names one by one. There are some Unity people I really like, but I wouldn't do that even if I found their politics acceptable.

One year I did, though, and it took me almost an hour. About twenty years ago Randi Weingarten came to our school. She came with the then-UFT VP for academic high schools, some guy whose name I forget. He got up and insisted that there was no truth to the rumor that UFT was going to make it 25 years to hit maximum pay, and that anyone who said so was a filthy liar. I raised my hand and asked why, then, did Sandra Feldman send me something in the mail asking me to vote for a contract in which it took 25 years to hit maximum pay.

The VP had no idea what to say to that. Randi quickly stood up and got him off the hook. I have no recollection of what she said but it was a tough question and she did give an answer. I decided she was the smartest person in the room. She also made very vulgar remarks about Rudy Giuliani, which I adored. I went home, voted for her, but everyone else on New Action's slate that year. My Unity chapter leader chided me for not voting for him. I had no idea he was even on the ballot, and like most teachers I had no idea how the small perks given the likes of him motivated so many people to join Unity.

A big issue with Unity is that of voting "at large" and in no place is that more apparent than in the ballot with a million names. Most of the small portion of working UFT members who take the time to vote are Unity, or encouraged by Unity leaders, and thus they get a huge portion of the fewer than 20% of members who are not too cynical to vote.

Here's the thing--this shuts out some of the most active and well-informed unionists in the city. It ensures that our union has no independent voice whatsoever. That's unhealthy, but that's what it's designed to be. It's designed to maintain a stranglehold on power, to squelch debate, and keep a remarkably ineffectual political machine at 52 Broadway.

Your chapter knows your chapter leader. Your chapter selects your chapter leader. But if your chapter leader isn't Unity, and beholden to represent leadership rather than you, your chapter leader gets no voice in union.

And that's just the way leadership wants it. That's why those of us who are activists have to concurrently fight on a dual front--the corporate reformers, and the union leaders who enable them.
blog comments powered by Disqus