Two big local teacher elections.
New York and Chicago.
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Today is the anniversary of the Pullman Strike of 1894.
It is a good day to talk about two teacher union elections.
They are counting ballots this morning in New York.
Voting for leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union is next week.
Jonathan is an active teacher from the Bronx. Norm is a retired teacher. Neither are non-partisan. Both are firmly on the side of the challengers to the incumbent caucus that rules the New York local of the American Federation of teachers with an iron undemocratic fist.
Last election the challengers to the incumbent Unity Machine won a breakthrough with victories for seats that represented the high schools.
What’s different this year is that a number of separate caucuses have united in a challenge to Unity boss Michael Mulgrew.
The incumbent’s historic reliable base among the retirees (who can and do vote) has been undermined by Mulgrew’s secret sellout of the retirees of their health insurance.
According to Jonathan, the outcome is unpredictable.
Unity has always won the overall election – half the seats are at-large, all the officers are at large – and has always won it by a comfortable margin. In 2016 they got 76%, which I believe was their lowest total ever. In 2019 they climbed back to 83%.
On the other hand, incumbent president Michael Mulgrew is the least popular UFT president, well, ever. Unity looked weak and spineless during the pandemic. And our retirees, long a bulwark of Unity’s support, learned a year ago that Unity was forcing them off Medicare, into a private program. The retiree vote for the opposition in an election as the news was breaking rose from 15% to 30%. These were signs.
In Chicago, the incumbent CORE leadership is also being challenged.
In 2010, CORE won against the hapless and corrupt regime of Marilyn Stewart.
Led by the CORE caucus and the brilliant strategist and committed reform President Karen Lewis, the CTU took on the Democratic Machines of Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel.
Lewis was such a strong and charismatic reform leader that in 2014 she was getting strong support for a mayoral challenge to Rahm Emanuel.
My family hosted a meet-and-greet for Karen that packed the house.
But illness forced her to to withdraw and she died last year.
Frankly, it is difficult for me to recognize the current CTU leadership as the ones I saw in 2010.
Things seemed to go sour after the last city election when they backed the sitting President of the Board of Commissioners, Toni Preckwinkle against Lori Lightfoot.
Preckwinkle is head of the Cook County Democratic Party.
While putting on a face of Democratic Machine opposition, the current leadership has many ties to the regular Democrats, even to the indicted former Speaker Michael Madigan.
Preckwinkle lost with only 25% of the vote and the CTU became what more than one local observer called “never enders”.
They seemed to refuse to admit they backed the wrong woman.
CORE is being challenged by the Members First caucus and the Real Caucus, a caucus of former CORE founders who have become disappointed with what CORE has become.
Here is the most important point to me:
The election has turned on the premise that a union local must choose between service to members or social justice activism.
CORE’s 2010 victory was based on their commitment to both.
Their win gave those of us fighting the same fight in our own locals great hope.