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Reformers make modest gains in UFT elections
What's next in fight for NYC teachers' contract?

By Megan Behrent, United Federation of Teachers | April 16, 2004 | Page 11

NEW YORK--After almost a year of working under an expired contract, on April 25 members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) voted to declare an impasse in contract negotiations with the city and passed a resolution allowing the union to seek fact-finding. The fact-finding process can take up to a year and provide little opportunity for members of the UFT to achieve a decent contract.

It demonstrates a lack of strategy on the union leadership's part. They are unwilling to mobilize the union to launch a militant contract fight and provide a credible strike threat which could help win a decent contract without the numerous concessions demanded by the city.

The vote was taken in an extremely undemocratic fashion at an emergency Delegate Assembly called for by UFT President Randi Weingarten with 24 hours' notice on the evening of parent-teacher conferences for high schools throughout the city. Also, lack of credentials required at the meeting made it impossible to determine how many of the people in attendance were in fact elected delegates.

Weingarten's strategy of declaring an impasse comes almost a year after the last contract expired --yet was called as an "emergency" vote at the tail end of citywide union elections when most members had already cast their ballots. While Weingarten and the Unity Caucus of which she is part recently won the UFT elections with a vast majority of the overall votes, this should not, however, be seen as a validation of her strategy or an unwillingness on the part of UFT members to fight.

Weingarten's Unity Caucus won by a large majority primarily because the majority of UFT members did not vote at all. Much of this abstention was undoubtedly because of feelings of disenfranchisement and confusion over the sellout by New Action, the longtime opposition group that made a deal with Unity to not oppose Weingarten for president. New Action argued that, given the current assault by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, unity was required--and that Weingarten shouldn't be criticized.

Two other opposition groups, Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) and ICE/PAC, decided to run slates in the elections for the first time. Teachers for a Just Contract came out of the elections as the lead opposition group, winning 16 percent of the high school vote and over 8 percent of the overall vote of active members. In addition, TJC and ICE/PAC won the six high school executive board seats for which they had run cross-endorsed candidates.

Clearly, this demonstrates that there are thousands of UFT members who want a more militant union and who are willing to organize, fight and even strike if necessary to win a decent contract. With the elections over, it's time to organize a stronger opposition within the union that can lead a militant contract campaign and organize an effective fightback against Bloomberg and Klein.

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