The Mulgrew Show and the Unity Laugh Track

I’m livid. Absolutely livid. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Tarrytown after a full day at the chapter leader weekend. I’m typing this on a phone, because I didn’t think I’d need to bring my laptop to blog.

Why am I livid? I was prepared for a little bit of electioneering when I got here. So when Anthony Harmon repeatedly talked about Michael Mulgrew as if he was a saint and made sure to drop multiple lines of the unity slogan “doing the work,” just after thousands of teachers received unity flyers in the mail, I jotted it down, but that’s not why I’m mad.

I’m mad, because I just saw how low the Unity led UFT is willing to go to silence members who they perceive as even remotely critical. When Mulgrew got up to give his overly long presidential address, Jane Rubio immediately got in line so that she would have a chance to ask a question. At the last event, she also got in line very early, but Michael Mulgrew filibustered his answers to the other questions and Jane never got a chance to speak. This time he couldn’t get away with that, because she was right there in front of the first mic, and had been standing for over a half an hour for the chance to speak.

When she got her chance, Jane asked a reasonable question, and in a completely reasonable way without reference to any caucus or the election. She simply asked why the president’s reports were so long at the delegate assemblies, citing the fact that only 1.5 resolutions have been passed a month since December of 2020, and noting that if the president spoke for less than an hour, maybe we could get to that business. Immediately, staffers and unity members began to shout her down. Then they cut the mic. There were audible attacks made on Jane and chants of “UFT,” as if Jane, a first-year chapter leader from the Bronx, who was donating her time to learn more about the contract so that she could better help her members, wasn’t even a member of the union that she does so much work to represent.

Eventually the mic went back on. Mulgrew responded that delegate assemblies are part debate but also part president’s report. He claimed that during a pandemic president reports simply have to be longer. Then he scolded that if we want to get political, there are shenanigans at the DA, implying that UFC, who spoke for a total of maybe 5 minutes at the DA, mostly to try and extend the meeting so that there could be debate, was the real problem. The problem, in other words, is that we won’t shut up completely and let Unity talk at us.

Keep in mind that in events like this, a significant percentage of the room is staff. There are district reps, officers, chapter delegates, and other staffers who are positioned both in clusters of UFT employees and also interspersed at tables with teachers. So after Michael Mulgrew spoke, responding to the woman he had just silenced, who his staff had literally cut the mic of so that she would stop making a point that didn’t paint him as god’s gift to teachers, the room erupted in applause. Now this is a chapter leader weekend. Most of the chapter leaders here are chapter leaders for the first time. They aren’t members of a caucus. Like me, when I was a first year chapter leader, they likely have no idea that every single person with a UFT job in this room must be a member of Michael Mulgrew’s caucus. And that’s why this is a campaign event. Because Unity Caucus can attack a female chapter leader who simply wants to know why no resolutions are ever discussed at the DA, put on the Unity laugh track after Mulgrew speaks, and make independents think if the majority of room is clapping, I guess I should too.

If Michael Mulgrew is going to turn dues-funded events like this into tyrannical displays of his one party caucus, the least he could do is agree to a debate with Camille Eterno, so our union can see the other side. But there’s only room for one person in the Michael Mulgrew show, and that’s Michael Mulgrew (and his Unity laugh track).

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