Today’s blog post is guest authored by Tom McMahon. McMahon has been a member of the Mahopac Teachers’ Association’s Executive Board since 2004. He is a graduate of the NYSUT Leadership Institute and the AFL-CIO Leadership Institute. His career in unionism began as a member of the Lay Faculty Association, with whom he went on strike in 2001.
Who’s the Big Fish?
If you attended NYSUT’s Committee of 100 this past week, chances are you saw this picture on a pin (photo on right). This image is familiar to union members; it’s based on the book Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. In the book, a lone fish finds the waters of the sea safer to travel by organizing his sisters and brothers into a school. The story has long served as a metaphor for unionism, member mobilization, and strength in numbers.
These pins began appearing shortly after NYSUT President, Dick Iannuzzi, was critical of a large NYSUT local that has not supported his re-election bid in the upcoming officer elections at this year’s Representative Assembly in New York City. At fist glance, one would think the incumbent slate was making a general statement, albeit an unoriginal one, about unions and organizing (the image has been around for some time and the name Stronger Together was plucked from an AFL-CIO membership campaign).
Context, in this case especially, is very important. In the context of the upcoming election, Iannuzzi and his Stronger Together team have characterized the contested elections as dividing the union and they developed a campaign name and symbol that reinforced the importance of NYSUT members joining together to fight any number of enemies we currently face. Look closely – the small fish are emblazoned with the Stronger Together logo. That begs the question, “Who’s the big fish?”
A president of a Long Island local, and supporter of the Iannuzzi slate, took the time last week to explain the pins to anyone that would listen. The pin, as it was described, shows the small locals throughout New York coming together to eat NYSUT’s largest local, the United Federation of Teachers. So, in this case, the pin (inspired by a union themed book) isn’t really a symbol of solidarity and unionism. Instead it’s a propaganda tool, a weapon of mass division and an attack on our very own members. I’m sad to report that this pin can only be described as anti-union.
How many NYSUT members wearing these pins realize that this is its true meaning? How many of them were, yet again, sold a bill of false goods by Iannuzzi and his supporters? Why would anyone that knows the true intent of the pin ever wear it?
This past Wednesday, Iannuzzi spoke to leaders of the UFT with a message of small and large locals working together (sources could not confirm whether he was wearing the Swimmy pin). His gesture was just another hypocritical attempt to garner support from NYSUT’s largest local; the latest in a series of desperate measures. Ironically, one of the reasons the UFT leadership chose to support his challengers was because of attacks like these made by Iannuzzi and NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer, Lee Cutler, toward other locals. It is proof that Iannuzzi’s team is willing to attack NYSUT’s own members to ensure their place at the top of the organization. Is this the type of president and officers our members want to lead them during the next three years? If they are willing to attack the UFT, what will prevent them from attacking other locals as well? Sadly, your local could be under attack if you or your members have ever expressed healthy skepticism of Iannuzzi’s leadership.
As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, the supporters of Iannuzzi’s slate chose to politicize this week’s Committee of 100. Rather than actually joining together (remember their “stronger together” message) and meeting with legislators as a united group, they were wearing these pins throughout the two day event. For some, wearing the pin was, in essence, an attempt to bully locals who have yet to make a decision about next month’s election into supporting Stronger Together – “Join the team or be the next in line to be “eaten” by our movement.” In reality, the pin symbolizes the lack of vision the incumbent officers have demonstrated and the lack of voice they have allowed rank and file members to have.
When you see this pin, remember what it stands for. Remember that it is the incumbent NYSUT slate portraying an attack on our own members because they are unhappy with their decision to back the challengers in the upcoming NYSUT election. Remember that Dick Iannuzzi and Stronger Together are willing to do anything and attack anyone in order to retain the status quo.
Their challengers, Revive NYSUT, have never attacked a local and they never will.
If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly interested in the future of NYSUT. Please take a moment to visit ReviveNYSUT.org to learn more about the candidates who want to serve the members of our great union. Together, we can help prove that both small and large locals, working together, can continue to make our union the powerhouse that it can be. Solidarity isn’t about pledging your support to one group or another, it’s about pledging your commitment to the work that unites us.