I’ve been a NYC public school teacher and a member of the UFT for 12 years. I don’t hear from my union very much on issues of the day. Occasionally I get a robo-call encouraging me to vote for this or that Democratic candidate. A few times they have mobilized a contingent in a city-wide anti-budget cut demonstration. But during the past few years, I haven’t heard a thing. During solidarity protests with Wisconsin teachers last year the UFT was nowhere to be found. This past fall when unions organized a solidarity demo with Occupy Wall Street, the UFT nominally supported the march but didn’t mobilize its members. I ended up just going on my own without a contingent. Even when it comes down to our own contract, which has been expired now for over two years, the union hasn’t called upon the membership to do anything at all.
All around the union however, people are moving on educational issues. Smaller activist-teacher groups in NYC like NYCORE, GEM and Teachers Unite have mobilized teachers and others to protest school closings and high-stakes testing. Teachers in NYC have been inspired by the protests in support of collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the strike authorization vote by teachers in Chicago, and the occupy movement. Where is my union in all of this, I’ve often wondered? So it was a pleasant surprise to see a message from Michael Mulgrew, my union president, in my inbox this morning encouraging the membership to sign on to a resolution against high-stakes testing. A small move, to be sure. But it is the first time my union has asked me to do anything ever in support of educational issues. And I did it with pleasure and pride. It’s clear that the union is finally starting to respond to the pressure of its membership to act. Its wheels are creaky and slow but they are being pushed.