I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about the recent United Federation of Teachers election – for example, here, here and here – and some forms of the words “apathy” and “indifference” appear in each to explain the poor turnout. They’re right, of course, but they have different explanations for why the apathy exists and what can be done about it.
Unions are not unique in claiming to want more participation and involvement when in reality they want more support for their particular way of thinking. You’ll never hear a Republican say, “Turnout was so bad last election. I wish more Democrats would vote!” So it’s usually the defeated who are most worried about apathy. Victors might be embarrassed by low turnouts, but since they won, they get over it pretty quickly.
I feel confident saying that large numbers of teachers will never be interested in who runs their union and what its policies are. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey just discovered 42 percent of respondents didn’t know that ObamaCare is law. In such an environment, it is difficult to get people’s attention about anything, never mind a union election.
What is to be done? Most factions spend their time trying to get the apathetic to be active. This is frustrating and often fruitless. Much better to flip the already activated. Finding the disaffected, persuading them, and making promises to them isn’t easy, but it is probably a better use of time and energy than explaining the issues to the uninterested.
Out-of-power union activists want to follow the model of Karen Lewis and CORE in Chicago, but few remember today that CORE gathered only 31% in the first round of voting in 2010, behind the incumbent UPC. Only by gaining the support of the other opposition caucuses, including PACT, was CORE able to win the runoff.
Lewis and CORE are in a strong position internally after the strike, but they face an election next month, and UPC has joined forces with PACT to oppose them. They may not win, but I’m pretty sure they’ll do better than the opposition in New York City did.
Notice I haven’t mentioned anything about ideology, platforms, professional association vs. industrial union, Common Core, blah, blah, blah. It seems strange to me that people who are so politically involved seem pretty naive about political horse-trading within their own unions.