The Backbone of our Union – Volunteers or Staff?
At a small Bronx demonstration a few years back I heard a chant: “Who are we? UFT!” Ouch. The demonstration, aside from three or four activists, was entirely paid staff from the Bronx UFT Office. This was not the UFT.
The UFT is a membership organization. There are tens of thousands of us. But the leadership of our union is unable or unwilling to mobilize the membership. Perhaps they have given up on ever being able to mobilize the membership. Instead, they think of themselves as the union, and they think of the members as a passive constituency. This is a gross misunderstanding of what a union is.
The Backbone of a Healthy Union
They also misunderstand what a healthy union should look like. The UFT should have a backbone. And our current leadership looks in the wrong place to find the group that should makes it up.
Not the officers and staff on the 14th floor. Not the appointees and paid staff in the borough offices. And not the mass of members, mostly unorganized. The backbone of our union should be the one thousand five hundred chapter leaders.
The members in each school make up a “chapter.” And every chapter elects a chapter leader. Chapter leaders are, today, the only leaders of the union directly elected by the members they directly serve.
Defending our Union
When the Friedrichs case threatened to defund our union, our leadership reacted. They searched for ways to continue to collect dues, and to protect what we had. They acted as if a union’s ability to fund itself is vitally important. And it is.
But what about when your backbone is attacked? What happens when a principal announces that he can take out a chapter leader with impunity? That he is not afraid of the UFT, because the UFT won’t fight? This cannot go unchallenged. It must be stopped. Our response to an attack on a chapter leader must be at least as vigorous as our response to a political attack.
In the coming days you will hear about a Chapter Leader being singled out by an anti-union principal. This principal must be challenged. It will be a test of our new New Action and MORE Executive Board members if we can convince the UFT leadership to rise to face down this bully.
These words cannot anymore be empty: An injury to one is an injury to all.