In this, my first installment of the 2019 UFT elections -and the groups that make them- I'll be focussing on the MORE Caucus. Future editions will focus on the other caucuses but I though I would dispense with the least serious of them first so that I can focus on the serious business of teaching and of unionism in later editions.
I talk about the seriousness of teaching and of unionism because both are very serious. Teachers are up before the crack of dawn every day. We face the most grueling schedule of any profession and we don't stop working until long after the sun has gone down. If you're outside of New York, they do this for a very small amount of pay. Within New York, however, we are a profession. This 'New York difference" is because we developed a very strong tradition of teacher unionism and this is why it is important as well: Unionism has allowed us to consider ourselves professionals. It has empowered teachers to drag ourselves into the middle class and continues to empower us to strive so that we remain in the middle class during a historical period where many Americans have fallen out of it. For teachers in New York, unionism has made the difference.
And if these two issues -teaching and unionism- are serious, it's worth repeating that this week's caucus -the "movement" of Rank and File educators, has materialized as the least of the bunch. This not because they are some type of joke. They are not. It is because their many missteps have led them to the very back of the line of groups who have made a difference.
Founded in 2010, as an amalgamate of differing left wing groups within the union, the "movement" promised to empower regular rank and file teachers. They promised that, with enough hard work and an honoring of all voices, they would develop into a large broad based coalition caucus that would grow -with regular teachers- to take over the union. The group grew by 2016, embracing open balloting for elections, open committee meetings for each level and two rounds of votes -one at meeting and another through email in order to capture the most amount of voices -the whole while allowing for and working to find agreement with the voices that were not left wing socialists. The results were relatively impressive. They made a good showing in the union elections and won back seats on a committee called the UFT Executive Board.
But there were irresolvable differences just beneath the surface and those differences cost them everything.
At its height, the amalgamate was made up of different groups of activists, many of them (but not all) were fervent believers of progressive ideas. Some of those folks were comprised of left wing activists. These are folks who would identify themselves as activists first ... and they also came to teaching. Others were outright revolutionary socialists. I respect the presence of outright revolutionaries (from the left or from the right) and I'm happy to be friends with some. These are young (in age or heart) idealists and we all need those folks around. But some of these folks, sectarians, actually stopped teaching to move on to other activist things. One began publicly identifying with Antifa. Others moved on from the profession to work with their activists groups and related organizations. Of the scant few who remained with teaching (thereby remaining in the MORE caucus), infighting became the favorite flavor fantastique . They descended into territorialism. Members of one socialist group, who have been around since at least the 1930s, moved to take over the caucus and take it on a hard left turn into issues that were not directly related to teaching in the classroom or in New York. They began employing lies and deception in order to achieve their strategic intra-caucus goals.
And they were committed to these goals! They ended long-standing personal relationships with people who were their friends. They publicly asserted that the union's ruling caucus didn't care about Black Lives Matter (the ruling caucus is, in fact, made up of a great many persons of color, including many West Indian-American and African-American teachers (and many of us are proud to be part this)). They tried to convince members that Chicago teachers -who lose their jobs if they become ATRs, who enjoy far less health and retirement benefits and who have never heard of Teachers' Choice funds- are better off than are we here in New York. They purged the "MORE Duo" Mike and John, calling them trouble makers for disagreeing with them. They then insisted that anyone from the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) choose between membership in ICE or membership in MORE. This was how that group has spent their time since 2015.
(Full disclosure; most folks in ICE just ignored them and have retained their membership in both groups anyway. That "I" sure stands for independent).
In 2019 -after nine years of hard work, the "movement" currently has less than 50 members and has almost no one other than left wing socialists and revolutionaries wiling to count themselves among them. That's great if you're a college fraternity or a social organization. Not so good if you're a union (which can be defined as "the set that comprises all the elements ..." (in other words, all of the elements (left and right wing) coming together around a common purpose). At one recent meeting, 40 people showed up. Longstanding members counted less teachers, with the rest being "guests" (activist talk for visiting activist, just there to support).
Outsiders are not even sure if they are aware of their own state of affairs themselves. Recently, when one new members came to a UFT Executive Board meeting to try to introduce a resolution, he found that no MORE members of the EB were there to introduce it on the record for him. They did not even bother attending. Some observers felt that maybe the MORE EB members did not get the memo. Others speculated that there was no one around to read it. Still others joked that there was probably no one left to write it. They are currently so small, they will not even run a presidential candidate. That is a far cry from where they once were in the political sphere. And it seems as though those who still remain want no one knowing. Says one former member "I really don't know [what they are] anymore. They do everything in secrecy now. How can anyone really know? But their secrecy is obvious now".
You want a union? You have to learn to deal with people you don't agree with. You want a party where no one comes? Alienate, in-fight and purge. That will scare others away quite well.
Please don't be confused by the title of this blog post. I don't throw insults. MORE is filled with some very smart, savvy and experienced people. To "Retard is "to "delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment". Progress is defined as "forward or onward movement toward a destination". Progress is forever held back missteps. Infighting among other progressives is one. Excluding moderates or conservatives is another. Not realizing how badly you have shot yourself in the foot is still another. These are missteps that retard of the type of progress that many signed up for with MORE and these setbacks are what MORE will be remembered for most: For the many retards of progress that occurred during their moment in UFT History.