Report-back from UFT Delegate Assembly of December 14, 2016*
By Marjorie Stamberg
New York -- President Michael Mulgew opened with comments on Trump’s cabinet choices: The Labor Secretary, Puzder does not believe in the minimum wage, the head of the Environmental Projection Agency thinks global warming in a hoax, the education secretary doesn’t believe in public education, Exxon Mobil is the secretary of state, and so forth.
There was a slide show on Betsy Devos, who has almost single-handedly destroyed the Detroit public schools. She got the job after Eva Moskowitz turned down the job, because she woudn’t take the pay cut. On the state level, there is a proposed Constitutional Convention – we must have a “Vote No” campaign because if they have one, they will use it to destroy collective bargaining and pensions in New York State. Also vouchers are not legal in New York State – they will want to change that. Probably they won’t be overturning the new ESSA (federal education program) immediately.
Around the country, the election of Trump, who vowed to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants (after the Obama administration has deported more than 5.5 million) has caused great consternation, anxiety and fear among immigrant students, their families and teachers.
I raised a motion, “NYC Schools Must Be a Sanctuary For Immigrant and All Students” which has been put forward by my group, Class Struggle Education Workers. The resolution (attached) calls for setting immigrant defense committees in the schools, and for the union to take action to stop deportations.
Prior to the meeting, we handed out about 400 copies as the delegates streamed in.
After Mulgrew’s report, followed by Q&A, they opened the floor for resolutions.
I was called on first, and followed the procedure for “motions for next month’s agenda”: first present the motion and then be the speaker “for.”
I told the delegates that I would not read the “whereases” because they were basically to inform the members of current New York law regarding immigrant rights, and to document the specific threats made by the incoming Trump regime.
I then began to read the “Resolveds.” I didn’t get past the first one, which said that the UFT should state that “police and immigration authorities will not be allowed on school premises under any circumstances.”
At this point, a Unity retiree popped out of his chair to cry ”point of order” that the whole motion supposedly violated the Taylor Law. This is typical of the Unity machine. Anything that smacks of real struggle triggers a Pavlovian response among the bureaucratic hacks who act as constables for self-enforcement of the Taylor Law, which they regard as a godsend to block mass action. In any case, what the motion called was an on-going assembly of teachers, students, staff and parents to shut down the schools in the face of actual deportations.
The “point of order” was ruled out of order by the chair. I then continued to read the “resolveds” in the motion.
Then I motivated the resolution, saying that our November D.A., held the day after the election, was very powerful, because delegate after delegate spoke of their passion to protect the thousands of immigrant students in NYC schools. (Over half of all public school students in the city come from homes where a language other than English is spoken.)
I said we need to make the schools a place of sanctuary, welcoming for parents to come with any concerns or threats made to them, we need rapid response teams and phone chains in place to respond immediately to any threat of deportation. And we need to organize across the schools to actually stop the deportations if they occur.
I noted that the migra in NYC would quite likely not come into the schools where we will protect the kids; they were much more likely to break down doors in the dead of the night. I said I know people have some worries, that “we can’t do this because of the law,” and “we can’t do that…” But, I said, we are the biggest union in NYC, we have powerful allies like the TWU, we have strength, and we need to do what we need to do, because we are not going to let our students be dragged out of the schools or out of their homes.
There was considerable applause as I finished.
Howie Schoor, the convener of the Executive Board, then spoke against. He repeated that the UFT couldn’t just stop ICE (the immigration police) from coming in, we had no right to stop them, we couldn’t shut down the schools, because that violates the Taylor Law and would lead to teachers getting fired.
A chapter leader said to me, “Hey, I’d be willing to get fired for that, what’s wrong with these people?” But in fact, you don’t get fired for violating the no-strike, slave-labor Taylor Law, but you get fined.
The vote was taken, the delegates duly voted it down, having received their cue from Schoor’s diatribe. I looked toward the section of the hall where a lot of oppositionists sit and saw about 30 or so cards raised to vote “yes," I’m not sure how many total in the hall.
Mulgrew said it was voted down, but then added that even though some of the “resolveds” weren’t doable under any circumstances (says who?), and probably a violation of the Taylor Law, that he had already told the DOE that if they try it there will be arrests of teachers, that this is a decision every person needs to make themselves, but that he as UFT president was prepared to take the consequences because “I will not let kids be dragged out of our schools.”
What UFT officials will actually do is another matter, but here they have at least verbally made a commitment of sorts, and it’s up to us as educators to stand with our immigrant students, which is why we need to mobilize all of labor, together with parents and students and everyone who defends democratic rights.
Other points of note at the D.A.
• Opt Out Campaign. In the Q & A, a delegate asked whether we could be penalized under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) if the number of students who “opt out” of high-stakes testing goes above 5 percent. (ESSA is the latest federal education program, following “Race to the Top” (Obama/Duncan), which followed Bush’s “No Child Left Behind.”
The answer from Mulgrew was yes, we the NYC schools could lose pot-loads of money if that happened. This was a not-so-veiled barb against the Opt Out campaign which the bureaucracy in the past has suggested would “hurt children” if we lose the Title 1 federal funds. (This is the standard UFT leadership response to why we have to swallow Common Core or whatever national mandate, because otherwise funds will be withdrawn.)
• NY State Constitutional Convention The UFT is campaigning big time for a big “No” vote in November when the electorate will be asked to vote on whether to have such a convention. Apparently, the voters are asked to vote every 20 years on whether to have one. If people vote yes, then every law in the NY State constitution can be up for a change. The right-wing intends to use this method to outlaw collective bargaining, impose-right-to-work anti-union laws, take away pensions and many other items
• Argument in the Executive Board over the “Resolution Calling for Respect for All People.”
E-board members from the Movement of Rank-and-file Educators/New Action slate (who now have the high school seats) were incensed about the machinations over this motion. The motion talks about opposing racist, anti-immigrant, anti-gay speech, discrimination or harassment in the schools, particularly in the current atmosphere, but beyond “action committees” to vaguely “defend our values” doesn’t specifically call for doing anything concrete.
The motion in question starts with two whereases: “”Whereas, the presidential election campaign rhetoric targeted communities on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identify and religion, and displayed abusive behavior toward women, has threatened the nation’s promise that all people are worthy of respect” and
“Whereas, the presidential election campaign rhetoric has outlined an education agenda overtly hostile to public schools and teachers, promising to prioritize vouchers and charter schools at the expense of public schools”….
At the D.A., Peter Lamphere (MORE) put up an amendment to change “Whereas, the presidential election campaign”… to “Whereas, the Donald Trump election…” Peter said that was the initial wording of the motion in the E-board, and that the leadership changed it behind their back to take out the reference to Trump.
This sparked furious responses from some delegates and LeRoy Barr (secretary treasurer) about how a “lot of UFTers” voted for Trump and we have to win them back to the right path, and we can’t be hostile and we can’t insult them, etc., etc. When I asked out loud to people around me, “A lot of people? Who?” Delegates snapped back “Staten Island.”
So, the line coming down from the AFT tops is that the union is going to go out of its way to avoid criticizing the Trump administration as such: where they can’t work with it, they go to court, and meanwhile they dance around the issues where they can. However, it will not be possible to duck a fight over school vouchers, more charters, national right-to-work legislation, attempts to eliminate collective rights and defense of immigrant students, which are core issues for the Trump regime.
So here you have the “mainstream” Weingarten-Mulgrew business union bureaucracy trying to avoid direct confrontation with Trump, and the MORE/New Action “opposition” wanting an anti-Trump popular front with the capitalist Democratic Party. What we need is a class struggle workers party.
• Coming January demonstrations: Mulgrew said the UFT just learned that the Trump & Co. will forbid any demos around the Washington Mall (no word as to where they will be permitted, maybe in Maryland?). If people want to go to Washington, Mulgrew said the AFT will provide buses. The UFT will probably demonstrate at demos in NYC; they might go to DC, but were non-committal at this point.
• Mulgrew ended the meeting, wishing everyone happy holidays and a good rest because “when we come back, it is war.”
*As one of your UFT delegates I report-back on the monthly meetings. These reports are "my take" on the meeting. For official minutes, let me know and I'll send them along to you.