True Confessions of An Unreconstructed Cold Warrior

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Thu Oct 5 13:43:21 PDT 2000

<< Well, I did ask a specific question - where does the UFT stand on

Sweeney? Does it think he's too "left wing"? I also mentioned

Feldman's reluctance to appear at an anti-austerity rally because of

the proximity of "avowed communists." Does that still represent the

UFT's stance on confronting budget cuts?

Doug >>

The UFT is the AFT local in NYC. For the most part, it would let the international take the lead on questions of relations to the AFL-CIO. I would say that, on the whole, the AFT does not have any serious problems with the Sweeney leadership of the AFL-CIO. If there is an area where there has been some criticism, it is around the extent to which the AFL-CIO, especially Trumka, allowed themselves to be swept up into the Teamsters' debacle with the diversion of union funds into the Carey reelection effort -- all of which eventually gave us Hoffa Junior. It is just pretty basic union democracy, not to mention the law, that you don't mess with the members' dues in that way. I could go into this at more length, but I don't think it would be particular revelatory. That is the basic story.

One reason why some folks think that there is something more here are two articles by the same author which appeared in the _Wall Street Journal_ and the _Daily Forward_ a few years back. The basic thesis of these articles was that the Sweeney election was the ascendance of a DSA labor faction, and that a SDUSA labor faction, which had held sway under Kirkland, was seeking to regain power. Sweeney is a nominal DSA member, and Sandy Feldman is a nominal SDUSA member, so the speculation centered on the two of them. In my view, this was the result of overactive sectarian imaginations in a rather small number of DSA and SDUSA members, people who actually thought that those organizations exercised real influence in the labor movement (dream on!). The respective DSA and SDUSA memberships of Sweeney and Feldman, which are in fact nothing more than statements of some vague ideological kinship, made them into standard bearers for their respective organizations in the eyes of these folks. IMHO, Sweeney's election was a result of the sheer political lethargy and organizational sloth of the Kirkland administration, with all of its catastrophic consequences, and did not have the slightest thing to do with DSA/SDUSA differences [which have, of course, a long history]. Moreover, SDUSA barely survives as an organization today, as it becomes more and more geriatric; it would be hard to imagine it mounting anything more grand than an out-of-date web site, much less a serious political effort of any sort.

If there is any contention in upper AFL-CIO circles at this point, it is over jockeying for position to succeed Sweeney. Trumka's continuing legal problems, coming out of the Teamsters' mess, probably eliminates him, leaving the field open for various international presidents. Given that Sweeney has shown no signs of imminent retirement, this is all pretty muted.

It may be worthwhile to know in all of this that I was the first National Field Director of DSA immediately after the merger in 1982, and that I have made no secret of my political past and beliefs in the UFT. Sandy Feldman certainly knew of it, and we had a very good working relationship. That is why, in part, I can speak with some confidence on these matters.

I don't know the specific rally you are talking about, and I don't know why the UFT declined to become involved. It could have been because it was not prepared to enter into a coalition with open communists or one dominated by communists, or that could have been a politic excuse for some other reason. For purposes of this discussion, let us assume that the stated reason was the real reason. I don't see that as a position on fighting austerity cuts, but a position on working with communists. And while I think that such a stance can be overdone, I am not entirely unsympathetic to it.

I imagine a lot of what I have to say about this issue may not be popular in certain sectors of this list, but I do think that a democratic politics is an honest politics, so here goes. A lot of folks who present themselves as communists in and around NYC public education -- be it Progressive Labor, or various Trot splinter-ettes, or the one true CP itself -- are so sectarian in their political approach that I believe a refusal to try to work with them is often defensible on purely pragmatic grounds. Further, I think that coalitions dominated by such groups are inevitably so marginal as to make it a waste of political time and effort to participate. Finally, as a radical democrat and as someone who comes out of the democratic left and the tradition of democratic socialism, I think it is essential to differentiate a democratic politics from Marxist-Leninist and communist politics. There are crucial areas of principled political difference here, and I think it is incumbent upon those of us who hold to a democratic politics to highlight these differences. How you highlight those differences is a matter of political tactics ad strategy, not principle; but I can certainly imagine circumstances under which I would not want my union or my political organization in open collaboration with communists.

I suppose I should sit back and wait for the flames now.

Leo Casey United Federation of Teachers 260 Park Avenue South New York, New York 10010-7272 (212-598-6869)

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. -- Frederick Douglass --

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