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Against redbaiting in the UFT

March 25, 2007 pm31 7:23 pm

The following are excerpts of a piece written in response to a Unity Caucus mailing about Kit Wainer. Although it is authored by David Gurowsky, its condemnation of the campaign tactic used by Unity Caucus is representative of New Action policy. It is available in its entirety at the New Action website. Regular readers may note that I wrote about this same issue in “UFT Election Campaigning” a bit over a week ago.

It’s an old expression that “all’s fair in love and war,” but it seems that Unity Caucus has extended that idea to include election campaigns. Unity stooped to new lows when it mailed to members a post-card entitled, “The Man with No Plan.”

The piece was directed at Kit Wainer, presidential candidate of ICE-TJC. We at New Action have our differences with Mr. Wainer, and in this 2007 UFT election have endorsed Randi Weingarten for UFT president, but we cannot condone literature that stoops to red-baiting.

(there is more below the fold –> )

If one wants to attack ICE-TJC, they can do it on many issues. Once can look at their knee-jerk opposition to every program and initiative put forth by the union leadership. Wherw was ICE-TJC when the Organizing Committee was set up? Where was ICE-TJC in recent contract negotiations? Though they had several members on the Negotiating Committee, they had minimal input. Could they have joined the Committee with the express purpose of waiting to vote against whatever contract the union negotiated?

In an age when negative campaigning has become a fact of life, one would hope that all caucuses of the United Federation of Teachers would be above the use of red-baiting tactics. A caucus should be able to win elections on the issues, not through some of the most discredited tactics in our nation’s history.

The full letter is signed by David Gurowsky, Chapter Leader, Stevenson HS, Member New Action Executive Board, Candidate for UFT HS Executive Board.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Leo Casey permalink
    March 26, 2007 am31 1:14 am 1:14 am

    Jonathan:

    I find this a strange and inconsistent standard you and David are advocating here.

    Unless I missed something, neither David nor you felt compelled to criticize ICE and TJC when they engaged in outright falsehoods as part of their campaigns, such as the claim on the ICE blog that Randi Weingarten had had the DOE falsify her teaching records to obtain tenure, or the claim on the NYCEducator blog that the UFT was corrupt, without the slightest bit of supporting evidence.

    But you have left it necessary — not once but twice on your blog — to criticize UNITY for raising as a campaign issue the comments Kit Wainer published in Against the Current, the official publication of the organization Solidarity. No one, not even ICE and TJC, disputes that what UNITY cited were the actual words and ideas Wainer published, but the suggestion is that it is improper to discuss his published words nonetheless. Indeed, I note that there is no specific citation of the part of the UNITY leaflet David and you find worthy of criticism — just a general charge that it somehow constitutes “red baiting.” In short, UNITY is being criticized for telling the truth, while ICE and TJC get a free pass on using outright falsehood.

    Here is what Wainer wrote, and what UNITY quoted. On one occasion, Wainer felt that it was fitting to use Al Shanker’s passing to call him a “pro-imperialist ideologue” and to attack him for his advocacy of teacher professionalism and his position that strikes should only be used as a last resort. On another occasion, Wainer described how he and fellow Solidarity members work in trade unions as part of building their “revolutionary socialist” current.

    UFT members have a right to know if someone who is running for union president holds and has published such views — they speak directly to what he would do, if he were elected. They should know if he thinks teachers should not be professionals, if he thinks that strikes are primary tools of union leverage, rather than a last resort, if he thinks that opposition to authoritarian regimes makes one a “pro-imperialist ideologue,” and if he thinks that one becomes a union activist and leader to promote “revolutionary socialist” politics. Every one of those issues is material to what he would do as UFT President. All that the UNITY piece did was raise those published views. Can you tell us which one of those published opinions are not the proper subject of an election campaign?

    It seems to me that “red baiting” is being used here in a way that attempts to immunize ultra-left politics from open political criticism. One can say whatever one wants, and if one does so under the cover of some ultra-left politics, no one else is supposed to mention it, as if it were some personal predilection, like one’s views about religion.

    That is certainly not how we in UNITY view the matter. Democracies, in unions as well as in society at large, require open and honest political exchanges. No one requires an individual to stand for public office, or to publish his political views, but when someone voluntarily makes that choice, he or she surrenders any claim to privacy in their political views. The only way that the electorate can exercise true choice is for it to be informed choice: they have a right to know where they will be led.

    UNITY leaders and members have always been open and honest about our politics, from the day our caucus was founded. Those politics are a matter of public record. They are in every major book and article written about the history of New York City and American teacher unionism, and they were in the well-known series of articles Jack Shierenbeck wrote in the New York Teacher on the history of the UFT. We come from the democratic left which believes that there is something wrong, something indefensible about a politics that needs to stay hidden, that depends upon keeping voters in the dark about what one believes. We not only consider it entirely appropriate for another caucus to criticize our politics, and our published views on teacher unionism — we welcome it. That would be the sort of election campaign UFTers would deserve to hear.

    Leo Casey

  2. March 27, 2007 am31 7:25 am 7:25 am

    Leo, you wrote: “Unless I missed something, neither David nor you felt compelled to criticize ICE and TJC when they engaged in outright falsehoods”

    If you scroll back a few posts, you’ll find that I indeed criticized ICE for exactly that. Here’s the link

    Hardly a “free pass.”

    In this country individuals, including union members, have been persecuted for their political beliefs. Before the UFT was formed, NYC teachers were hauled in front of Congressional Committees and threatened if they would not name names. Your position on redbaiting ignores the history of which you must be aware.

    I’ll end by enjoying this bit of irony: two caucuses have been accused of campaigning in inappropriate ways. For the third, my caucus, New Action, however, you seem to have higher expectations: you expect us to speak louder about injustice.

  3. Leo Casey permalink
    March 27, 2007 pm31 10:32 pm 10:32 pm

    Jonathan:

    I think there is difference between understanding history and hiding behind history.

    Kit Wainer is not in the slightest danger of losing his job or being persecuted for his political beliefs, in part because he is a member of a strong union which would not allow its members to be targetted for their political views and in part because the US has come a long way from days of McCarthyism.

    The only real “danger” Wainer faces is that UFT members who are made aware of the political views he chose to publish will decide that they don’t want their union to be led by someone who thinks that teachers should not be professionals; that strikes should be a union’s main weapon, rather than a tool of last resort; that supporting opponents of authoritarian regimes, such as the independent Polish trade union Solidarnosc, makes one into a “pro-imperialist ideologue”; and that the purpose of participating in and leading a union is to build a “revolutionary socialist” political current.

    That is a “danger” that Wainer assumed for himself when he decided to stand in a democratic election for a public office. It is a “danger” which, I dare say, you would have imposed upon a liberal, a conservative or a reactionary without a second thought. It is a “danger” which, in a democratic election, every candidate for public office must face.

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