Monday, January 14, 2019

UFT Elections Part 3: Something Old. Something New (Action)

In this, my third installment of the 2019 UFT elections -and the groups that make them- I'll be focussing on the New Action Caucus (NAC). I had intended to do a lot of research before writing this up but then realized the date and wanted to get it all done quick. Aside from the ruling Unity Caucus, NAC is the longest running group within the UFT. In fact, they are the second longest continually existing caucus in the history of the UFT.

The caucus was founded by a group of progressive minded teachers in the mid 1980s and, according to their own website, is rooted in the activist spirit of the 1970s NYCBOE. Some call them small but small implies ineffective and, election after election, New Action has proven themselves to be very effective.  I have always thought of them as a lean, clear headed, progressively minded definitively pro teacher caucus.

They are always very adroit at making good, solid political decisions that allow them to put their voice across. In the mid 90s, NAC was part of the only "Vote No" campaign that actually won. Many (including themselves) credit NAC with leading the charge. By late 90s/early ought UFT elections, New Action was earning over 11,000 presidential votes (with a full slate). In the following years, they ran joint slates with the Unity Caucus. That decision, and the rather blistering attacks they received from other opposition groups because of it, resulted in a leaned out caucus.

But a caucus that managed to make a difference. Have you ever read "The Organizer?". The UFT Organizing Committee was formed around a NAC/Unity joint endeavor.  During their time on the inside, NAC members and Unity members would visit schools and NAC members would counsel teachers on how to fight back (as professionals) against difficult administrators.

And, like Solidarity, New Action has managed to survive. In 2007, they were predicted to "fade into obscurity". Here we are, eleven years later and the members of that caucus have never been more respected than they are today. NAC members aren't they type to run for the cameras whenever the press is in the room. They don't go to extremes to make their point and they don't stop the business of teaching and learning in order to advocate for their world views. They have managed to find a balance through all of that and to use that balance to bring some positive affect to the UFT.

They're saying for that this 2019 election, the opposition within the UFT has never been in worse shape. I would certainly agree that emotions are high. There are many voiced suspicions among the people who comprise some of the caucuses and tensions are running very high (I, myself, can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who is upset with me over something, I have wrote over the past few days. Everyone, in every caucus, wants to be right.  And every caucus thinks they have "the" solution. For folks within the opposition, if someone works with you on something they're "great. awesome." If they work for an opponent, then they're a "sellout" or "running around pretending". If they stay away from the frey, well then they "just don't know" or "simply don't get it". This is the suspicious nature of the opposition groups and, especially in 2019, it's fairly ugly -probably the ugliest thing about being involved with the UFT. It is, however, worth mentioning, and will bare repeating, that I have never once heard this type of suspicious ugliness advertised by the people who run the New Action Caucus. These are smart, serious union people who, at this point in their career are friendly and, under the 2019 circumstances, even sanguine. They will be running, probably a limited slate, this year and it will be worth researching some of the names on the slate and consider giving them a vote.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

UFT Elections Part 2: Nec Hannibal ad Portas

In this, my second installment of the 2019 UFT elections -and the groups that make them- I'll be focussing on the Solidarity Caucus. There may be lots of people who roll their eyes at the thought of having to read about Solidarity. In fact, that caucus has survived the most blistering trial by fire I have ever seen. Many of their members have been publicly ridiculed to the point of almost castigated -as individuals- by other UFT activists. Despite the many direct attacks at their personal reputations, and in the face of consistent rejections by members of other opposition caucuses, they have somehow survived and are still here, ready to stand for election again.

Established in late 2014 Solidarity grew out of a battle between Francesco Portelos and the people who ran the MORE Caucus. Undeterred from the falling out, Portelos stepped out and formed his own caucus.  By 2016, and to the surprise of many, they actually fielded a partial slate and stood for election. They finished third out of three but that this was behind the mighty Unity Caucus and a combined MORE and "New Action Caucus" ticket that included the famous and vote-catching teacher unionist Arthur Goldstein. Since then, MORE has been greatly fractured, Arthur Goldstein is no longer supporting them and New Action is running on its own line. As this has happened, Solidarity's numbers have grown. They enter the 2019 election with a playing field that includes both the shrinking of other caucuses and the experience of one election already under their belt.

And, as opposed to other opposition groups,  they have a candidate at the top of their ticket. And one with quite a background story.  Lydia Howrilka was an untenured teacher when the DoE fired her for running afoul of her principal's good will. Lydia, believing her rights had been grievously violated, fought back as hard as she could. (I'm not sure if these two facts are related but after almost two years of Lydia not giving up,  the department A) rehired her and B) ended the employment of the principal who had fired her). The experience left her with a strong sense of empathy for both teachers and students who had been mistreated. It also left her with a deep commitment to develop into the best classroom teacher she could be.

Other candidates are running as well. Here is a complete list of their slate so far, along with a link to volunteer to run with them. At least some of these names have already earned respect within the UFT. They are all working educators. None are activists. Few have been in the system for less than five years.

Because of tensions with its founder, this group has been ridiculed and castgated within the UFT to almost no end by each and everyone one of the other caucuses. Whenever somebody mentions their name, they refer to it as "FP" or "Portelos" or just "his caucus" instead of calling it the Solidarity Caucus. I think this is both disrespectful and near sighted. The caucus is made up of many experienced classroom teachers. They have included people from all parts of the political spectrum and now, in their fifth year,  have managed to continue to exists and, in fact, grow. Whether you like them or hate the, any serious UFTer who doesn't take this caucus seriously, does so at their own political peril.

Yet the hatred and mistrust for Portelos continues to be the lens through which other UFTer use to understand Solidarity. I will make no judgements about Portelos here (I will, however, remind readers that he and I have been friends for six years now and, in fact, greatly bonded with each other during the War Against Teachers when both the union and the opposition caucuses were uninterested in helping teachers who had put under undue pressure by the department). During his initial struggle with the department, Portelos was so assertive that it prompted me write the experience up and to relate him with the Carthaginian general Hannibal (the military leader who maurauded through Italy for more than a decade while the Roman Army stood helplessly by) and I joked that the old expression Hannibal ad Portas could be reused as "Portelos ad Portas" for the Bloomberg DoE (a DoE, by the way, that seems so distant from what it is today). That's how tough Francesco is, so I get that people would be concerned about him in the UFT political sphere.

But the truth is, Portelos has not been at the helm of this caucus for some time now. "Hannibal" is no longer at the gates, people. So you can all chill out and relax. This caucus is now run by other experienced teachers. It follows its own agenda, one that does not quite match Francesco Portelos' and, if what looks like is going to happen this year actually happens, Solidarity is about to become the second largest caucus in the UFT -and the number two in vote count this year. I respectfully suggest to others in the opposition (and in Unity) that it may time to take the Solidarity Caucus a bit more seriously.

I do. There is a chance they will finish right behind Solidarity this year. And while this all depends on how well they can organize and how adroit they are in selling themselves to UFTers,  it will be interesting to see how they do.

It will be a little while until I write about the second oldest caucus in the UFT (the New Action Caucus). This is because I have a bit of research to do. But i'll be back next week for the final two posts in he series.