We recently have been hearing from UFT members affiliated with Unity and non-political groups asking us the following question, “What point do you plan to make by running in an election Unity is most certainly guaranteed to win?” Another member asked us: “What have you learned from the past election? Why does it look like your platform is similar from last time?” This post was written by a council member and candidate for election as an officer in 2019.
A personal response
By Claudia F Giordano, UFT Solidarity Candidate for VP At Large Education
That’s a good question. Why bother going to the trouble of running in an election that is, frankly rigged in favor of the caucus that has made it impossible for any “alternative” or “independent” voices to be heard, much less allowed to participate in any meaningful way? Why even try?
The next observation was, how come your platform hasn’t changed in 3 years?
To which we could respond: How come Unity hasn’t fixed anything in the past 3 years? Why are these issues, and more, still relevant, overall?
There are few options for those in the teaching profession. A teacher can put their head down and hope no one notices them and they can get through unscathed. Or they can fight and win. And improve the profession for their colleagues, their students, and their communities.
When I was a novice teacher, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, at my first appointed teaching position, in an intermediate school, the chapter leader, a veteran teacher, put it in simple terms: “Salary and Soda”
In other words, teachers were and probably still are mainly concerned with:
- Where is my paycheck? (This was way before direct deposit was finally instituted in NYCDOE), and
- Is the soda machine working?
Of course this was stated, with a twinkle in her eye and tongue in cheek, by my friend, T. W. of the classic Afro coiffure, with her no nonsense, “tell it like it is” attitude. She was also the first person I ever knew who taped a principal and assistant principal in a meeting (and had me listen to it) where they trashed a gay, middle aged white male English teacher who could not have been more devoted to the school and the students, in a mostly black school district with a majority black teaching staff. He sang “Lift Up Your Hearts And Sing” – aka, the “Black National Anthem” and a beautiful song I’d never heard of prior to my assignment to this school – the loudest and proudest at every school assembly, and personally mounted a Kwanzaa display in the school lobby at Christmas.
So I can say from my first to my last school I experienced how viscous the politics of NYC public (and most other school districts) could be. I went on to teach in the Bronx, at several schools, from K-12, large and small, where the politics could not have been more byzantine and egregious. Married teachers and administrators having affairs with other married teachers and administrators. Retaliation and paranoia as superintendents, principals, A.P.’s, special ed supervisors, deans, department chairs, and anyone else with something to hide and/or turf to protect threw innocent novice teachers under any available bus to further their self interests. Yes I was one of those novice, naive, and clueless teachers. It took a long time to eventually learn the ropes, and recognize what was really going on around me, and how to protect myself and my career, which I’d worked long and hard to attain and keep. No one was going to screw me out of my livelihood and profession.
Yes, the UFT did come to my aid many times. It was an era, pre-2005 where there was still some teeth in the contract, and experienced, tough union reps were able to position themselves several steps ahead of the superintendents, principals, and other personnel who were making a teacher’s life hell. I came under the wing of a number of powerful individuals and I am certain, from my first to my last year of teaching that the Union had my back, although at times it was uncertain how things would pan out. Depending on the situation, there was either direct or indirect action. Not every hand was shown, and the union didn’t announce it’s strategies beforehand. For that I give total respect, for a union that has managed to stay strong despite the constant attacks on itself, on its members, and on the profession of teaching.
Having said this, I will also state the following: We cannot become complaisant. This is coming from a retiree who has not set foot in a classroom in over 6 years, or in a school building (except for my new polling location in a local middle school). I think if I had to stand in front of a classroom I might have an attack of PTSD. Or I might just slide right back into teacher mode. Who knows? I still have dreams about teaching, the kind where I am teaching a subject I’ve never taught but can’t find the classroom….
What I do know is that teaching leeches into your blood and doesn’t leave. I stay engaged and enraged every day, reading the various threads and posts on Facebook which has become my main connection to what teachers are going through particularly in NYCDOE schools, and it infuriates me.
I have not forgotten what I went through. I did not retire and ride into the sunset. People (non teachers) have asked me why I don’t want to keep working and my answer is: wasn’t half my life enough? (and that is just the teaching part, not including all my other work experience). Haven’t I done enough? Didn’t I do my part?
It’s not only about money. I found that, after retirement, I could afford to relax and enjoy my life in a whole other way. Suddenly, by NOT earning a paycheck I was now a free agent. There was no longer the fear of losing my livelihood or my position in life. I’m a free woman. I accepted reality and moved on, thanks to 25/55, and could not be happier. But I have NOT gotten amnesia.
Via social media I discovered Francesco Portelos, and his story ignited my passion for justice and fair play, that was eroded in the UFT after the 12-year, “Reign of Terror” inflicted on teachers by Bloomberg & Co. and aided and abetted by Weingarten & Co. It is a real shame what happened to the union. I believe things can change, and improve, going forward. This is the mission of Solidarity.
Bernie Sanders has been able to push the Democrats towards a progressive agenda, and I know that Solidarity has the capacity to do the same, to push the UFT to fight better and differently. We are a catalyst for progressive change. Unlike some other union caucuses we are not attached to any political party or movement. We don’t require dues to get past the firewall. We don’t have a “loyalty oath”, and we don’t bully or spy on our colleagues, or divulge their private issues. We’re not solipsistically blogging or irrationally trashing anyone who disagrees with us. We have better and more important things to do.
We are open and transparent. We could not be more accessible to our members, regardless of their affiliations, politics, where they live, how they worship, what hats they wear. We have one mission: to protect our members from the vicissitudes of teaching in the NYCDOE.
No one can do this by themselves. We are one together, or we are each alone and powerless.