Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vote ICE-TJC, and here's why

This piece just up at Ednotes, which some have called the almanac of union affairs for the past five years. Actually from before, since Scott was writing on union business in hard copy years earlier.

In this important post, he lays out the relationship between "ICE the caucus" and "GEM the movement." More than that, he talks about how alert and active these groups have been in analyzing and responding to the attacks on public education.

Had Unity more of the social conscience ICE and TJC have had, written about and demonstrated for over the past decade, not to mention the will to stand up for the integrity of our profession, union management wouldn't be having to re-set its course as it's doing today.

They continue to jump on a bandwagon they can lay no claim to having built.

Vote ICE-TJC in the March elections.

Historical Perspective of ICE and GEM: Getting the Message Out

by Norm Scott

I don't write enough about how proud I am of the role the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) has played over the years in the resistance movement.

With our large-scale petition signing event going on this afternoon and the time I have spent in helping to organize it, time I often resent because I am just not super interested in dealing with UFT elections and view it as worse than a trip to the dentist, I thought it useful to out out a few thoughts.

ICE has all too often been viewed only as a UFT caucus battling over internal UFT politics, something we have not always been too effective at doing.

But ICE was founded more as a group to analyze the state of public education and has done a great job at bringing the issues to people's attention. It was only the sell-out and collaborative policies of the UFT that forced us to get into the pit with Unity Caucus and its sell-out partner, New Action.

Since this the attack on public education began in NYC 7-8 years ago we have seen a big jump in getting our word out. Note how many speakers - even the UFT - are using our analysis. ICE began in Nov. 2003 (and Ed Notes years before that) motivated by getting the word out even to our colleagues in the opposition, people who told us mayoral control and testing were not their issues. When ICE people attended all the UFT mayoral control meetings and put out a minority position even someone as astute as Angel said he was beginning to understand the big picture. Michael Fiorillo has been sharing the "big picture" with us for years. Now Leo Casey is getting up and giving Michael's speech. We were a tiny voice but that is reaching a crescendo.

ICE has attracted deep thinkers about education, some of the highest quality people I have met. What we were missing were people who were activists with experience in organizing. When Angel Gonzalez joined us over a year ago (his retirement in July 2008 made him available) he brought that edge to ICE. Angel suggested ICE form a committee to address the ATR issue. The always amazing John Lawhead added the element that ATRs came from closing schools and closing schools came from the high stakes testing regimen.

A year ago a few of us from ICE held the first committee meeting in a diner. There were 4 of us. At that point I was attending meetings of Justice, Not Just Tests, a NYCORE group focusing on fighting high stakes tests. We invited Sam Coleman to attend our meetings. Others joined in and the concept of GEM was born. Following on the work CORE in Chicago was doing, we held a conference in March, reaching out to some of the Harlem schools under attack by Eva Moskowitz and a march and demo at Tweed in May. Somewhere in this time we picked up the GEM name.

In late June/early July when PS 123 came under attack by Moskowitz, GEM came out in force and started making contacts all over the city.

GEM has been a totally different experience from the more cerebral ICE. Most of the ICE core has jumped in. That has left ICE with less time and resources to devote to the UFT election, which we committed ourselves to a year ago. But I view it all as one movement over the long run. GEM is involved with ICE, NYCORE, TJC, ISO, Teachers Unite, CAPE and goodness knows how many other organizations involved. GEM is not a UFT caucus and is working with student and parent groups.

That TJC and ICE chose James Eterno as our presidential candidate last May has turned out to be a good thing. While James cannot campaign (Mulgrew naturally can visit numerous schools every week) due to the closing of Jamaica HS where he is chapter leader, he has risen to new heights as a fighter for his school. Despite his candidacy, he has worked closely with the UFT leadership and has in no way tried to make hay of his situation vis a vis the campaign.

What has been interesting from my point of view has been the interest of a batch of younger teachers in the election. Some have signed on to run with us and this is a major change from past years. Are there enough to make a big difference in terms of the vote? Hard to say. But in terms of organizing a core of committed activists, we are very early in the game. If the people who are praising Mulgrew as being very different from Randi are correct we will see a turn of the UFT and that would establish a different relationship between ICE, GEM and the UFT/Unity caucus.

But I believe it is due to style and over time he will "evolve" into the traditional UFT leader. In the meantime, he seems to be getting a bit of a honeymoon with even severe critics of Unity in the blogging world seemingly impressed. With people like Leo Casey getting up at public meetings and making a speech that ICE's Michael Fiorillo has been delivering for years, one would think the UFT has changed. But they have always adopted and adapted ICE and now GEM positions for rhetorical purposes.

Mulgrew has made the union even less democratic than Randi did with new restrictions on the delegate assembly. Until there is a move to democratize the UFT and add diversity to the Exec Bd (Mulgrew would have to end the phony alliance with New Action that allows them to get 8 Ex Bd seats and ICE/TJC none despite their outpolling New Action) nothing will change.

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