Looking Back almost 20 years. How to Organize and Mobilize for a Contract Fight

Attending my second in-person UFT Executive Board on Monday, September 20 made me realize how much I miss being a member of that body and how much things haven’t changed. When the elected high school Exec. Bd. members presented their resolution (see the New Action report on the Exec Bd. That night), it was predictable Unity would line-up to attack the resolution. Two things came to mind. As one Unity Caucus speaker after another lined up at the microphones to speak against you could tell how scripted the attack was. Many speakers stated that the UFT Negotiating Committee of 500 should constitute and be the controlling factor in forming a UFT Action Committee. This was supposed to make sense! Really a committee of 500? But the real point is two-fold. In 2004 when Randi Weingarten was UFT President she agreed to form a bi-partisan committee at the recommendation of New Action/UFT. Parenthetically she formed other bipartisan committees -the UFT Organizing Committee and the Social and Economic Justice Committee. One other committee she said she could not get through her own Unity Caucus was one on Union Democracy.

Back to the point. In November 2004, she formed an Action Committee when there were only 30-35 UFT members on the then Negotiating Committee – not 500. Certainly a committee of 35 made more sense, was more manageable, and probably more effective. That Committee co-chaired by Elizabeth Languilli and Michael Mendel(officers of the UFT) put forward plans to mobilize and organize the entire UFT membership. New Action should and I hope will publicize the suggestions that came out of that bi-partisan committee. But Unity today doesn’t seem to have a collective memory of just how effective the proposal was. But equally important, the UFT Action Committee didn’t just convene to organize the fight for a contract. The scope of the committees work included: plans against budget cuts, a campaign against abusive administrators, plans to fight the closing of 47 schools, plans to mobilize the membership for smaller class sizes, to name few.

Sometimes it’s a good thing to remember history.

-Michael Shulman, Co-chair of New Action and former UFT Vice President of Academic High Schools.

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