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Unity, Cadre, Democratic Centralism/Loyalty Oaths, UFT, Mass Organizations and Democracy

Publication Date: 2015-07-28

This is from Norm's blog Ed Notes Online Norm is a longtime New York City teacher, now retired, a longtime union activist, and longtime nice guy. I met Norm when a group of educators traveled to the World of Opportunity (The WOO) in Birmingham, Alabama, to honor Steve Orel's work with pushed-out high schoolers. And I marched with him at Save Our Schools demonstration in Washington, D. C.

I read Norm's blog not only because I'm a former member of UFT and NYSUT but because I always learn something about how groups (the union in particular) operate.

What Norm writes about here gives us a peek into why activism against the Common Core never had a chance at the AFT convention. What Unity Caucus wants, Unity Caucus gets.

Unity Caucus Cadre at AFT Convention

What to do about an opposition party like MORE, even if it is the mildest of threats? If you can't buy them, undermine and destroy them.


  • a nucleus or core group especially of trained personnel able to assume control and to train others; broadly : a group of people having some unifying relationship

  • a cell of indoctrinated leaders active in promoting the interests of a revolutionary party

  • Unity Cadre in action: See the YouTube video.

    How Unity Caucus is like the Bolsheviks, not the Democratic Party

    I'm doing a series on the UFT, Unity Caucus and the opposition. I'm putting forth the thesis that Unity Caucus is modeled to some extent on the Leninist concept of a party with its own version of cadre whose main purpose is to promote the interests of Unity Caucus and to steer the mass organization it created and controls (the UFT) in the direction decided upon by the Party. Behind Unity from its early days was Shanker's Social Democrats USA -- SDUSA, led by Shanker ally Bayard Rustin at one point.

    Unity Caucus in the early days was a sort of front group for SDUSA for its national and international policies - like support for the Vietnam war. (Under Weingarten the ideological reigns become looser.)

    Here are some recent related posts.

    Is Unity a Democratic Organization: Unity Caucus a...
    How Unity Caucus Uses the District Reps to Control...
    UFT Election Musings: What Can Be Won and Is it Wo...

    I talked about loyalty oaths in this piece --- How Unity Caucus Uses the District Reps to Control...-- which is really democratic centralism -- where an ostensibly democratic group whose majority votes everyone is bound to support even if they are in the minority -- sometimes on threat of expulsion when they violate this on an essential issue.

    How democratic in reality are these groups given that they almost always have a hierarchy of leaders and followers. Does anyone think that Shanker, Randi, Mulgrew, Lenin, Stalin did not make the basic decisions and pass them down to be voted on by 100%. People tell me Unity Caucus internal votes when they're held are basically a joke.

    Let me be clear-- while Unity operates under Democratic Centralism, the UFT does not, despite attempts by Unity to make it so. In other words, upon joining Unity you must agree to abide by decisions of the group even if you disagree. Upon joining the UFT (a mass organization) you make no such agreement. But if you dissent they make it seem you are anti-union and a traitor. That is what they tell their cadre to say to the rank and file teachers in their schools.

    Organizations run under DC principles are in theory democratic --

    Let's go back to our analogy between Unity and a Leninist party -- both are made up of -- cadres -- (an organized revolutionary vanguard). Unity Caucus has its own version of cadres -- not all are super active, but the most active will be out front defending Unity policy in every quarter -- from their schools on up to the DA, Ex bd, NYSUT and AFT conventions. If you go to these events you see them doing the work of the Unity Party in every quarter.

    (See frequent commenter and Unity defender Paula Washington as an example -- Paula lost her election as CL due to her defending the interests of Unity over her own members -- but she will be going AFT/NYSUT RAs as one of 750 Unity delegates after next year's UFT election to rep not you but Unity while Arthur Goldstein who represents 300 UFT members in his school will get no voice for his members.)

    While not a perfect analogy, clearly Shanker had some experiences with Leninist parties -- through his mentor Max Shachtman -- a Trotskyist turned right wing social democrat -- SDUSA -- was the founding mechanism of Unity and the UFT -- and almost every member of the top leadership of Unity and UFT was also a member of SDUSA -- until Randi -- though we don't know for sure if she was too late to that party. (Leo Casey would be considered the left of the right.) Before Randi, key Unity was a bit more exclusive and top people seemed more ideologically pure to SDUSA principles. Randi has no principles so Unity became more open to anyone. At this point I don't think people like Leroy Barr give a crap about the ideology of SDUSA.

    Shanker modeled Unity on a Leninist-type Party as a mechanism to control the mass organization -- the UFT.

    What is the difference between a party and a mass organization?

    A party (Unity, Bolsheviks):

    Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, argued that a revolutionary party should be a small vanguard party with a centralized political command and a strict cadre policy....The Menshevik faction, however, argued that the party should be a broad-based mass movement -- in other words, open to all people who would not have to take a loyalty oath.

    The Menshiviks were social democrats -- which is where I pretty much stand -- but SDUSA is also SD -- but right wing.

    Mass Organizations (UFT)

    As the membership of a Communist party was to be limited to active cadres in Lenin's theory, there was a need for networks of separate organizations to mobilize mass support for the party. Typically, Communist parties have built up various front organizations whose membership is often open to non-Communists.

    The UFT is just one of the mass organizations controlled by the cadre of Unity Caucus. History shows that relatively small numbers of cadre have the ability to control mass organizations with thousands of members -- even nations with millions of people. This control is impossible without the cadre.

    Unity Caucus uses its cadre -- recruited through many channels -- to control a major segment of the national teacher movement through the UFT, NYSUT and the AFT, and even internationally, where it often functions hand in hand with the interests of American government policy (see George Schmidt: The AFT and the CIA).

    In other words -- how to explain their concurrence with so much of ed deform? They are partners -- the so-called seat -- or stool -- at the table. (emphasis added)

    The leadership is incredibly competent at maintaining their control and will stop at nothing to maintain it. There is a lot more at stake for them than just what happens in the schools of New York City.

    Almost sixty years of power have validated that they have the wherewithal to do so and will stop at nothing -- including:

  • buying off so-called oppositions

  • encouraging loose cannons to split the opposition

  • undermining the biggest threat

  • stealing elections at the chapter leader level to maintain as much control of the schools as possible

  • selling out whole areas of membership that might turn against them

  • making deals with enemies of the rank and file

  • Maybe they are going to be happy to let the agency fee payers if they are dissidents grow in size by leaving the union and giving them even tighter control even if smaller.

    What to do about an opposition party like MORE, even if it is the mildest of threats? If you can't buy them, undermine and destroy them.

    More on this in future posts.

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