Monday, December 9, 2013

On the "Dialogue with the Chancellor"

On December 8, 2013 Chancellor Katehi and other top administrators held a "Dialog with the Chancellor" about issues of diversity and social justice. These are the remarks I wanted to make, but wasn't able to because we ran out of time.

I find it hard to be optimistic right now. I’m sure many people in this room, student leaders from many different underrepresented groups, see this dialog as progress – that the university is beginning to recognize their concerns and for some even begin to acknowledge that their community exists. However I am much more skeptical. I think that at best this forum is window dressing, and at my most cynical I see it as a demobilization tactic and a divide and conquer strategy.

Why do I feel this way? Because at the same time the university is holding dialogs about diversity and community with one hand, with the other hand the university has just announced new more restrictive free speech policies. The message I see in that is that our own agency is a threat to the university – always has and always will be – and so in order to demobilize an angry and organized student population, administration is brining a small group of leaders into institutional channels – into this suggestion box format. By doing so the university has shown that it is committed do denying our agency, that we are not subjects, that it sees us objects of policy, and that the current problematic power structure will remain.

If it was true that this forum was a sign of a commitment to empowerment then tell me why has the university so strongly opposed collective bargaining rights for Research Assistants. Surely collective bargaining is a way to not just have a voice, but to have a SAY. BECAUSE the university doesn't care if we have a voice, but it certainly doesn’t want us to have a SAY – a say in what our education will look like, what our work will look like, and how the university will run.

If this forum was a sign of a newly found commitment to diversity then tell me why has the UC been repressing the speech and peaceful activities of Students for Justice in Palestine on some campuses? Accusing them of hate speech and threatening them with discipline for engaging in free speech.

If you are really concerned about fostering a welcoming environment and you are opposed to discrimination and micro-aggressions, then why has the university chosen Janet Napolitano – the person who has deported the most people in US history – as its top leader? What I see here is that the university is willing to point the finger at other students and professors who say disgusting hateful things like “go back to your own country” (as many in this room reported hearing in their time here) yet the university is also going to reward the person who HAS ACTUALLY forcibly done so with the most prestigious leadership position. Talk about a mixed message – on one hand you are going to look into workshops about diversity and community and accountability yet on the other the public face of this university is a huge offender of human rights.

Also while we sit in this very room talking about diversity and community the UC is invested in companies that profit off of private prisons. Let me say that again, the university is making money off of private prisons while it talks about diversity and community. You don’t need to be a sociologist or a African American Studies or Latina/o studies major to know that the US prison system is the largest in the world and that men of color are disproportionately imprisoned. Now add to this the perverse incentive to make profit off of that system, that means the incentive to have more POC in prison and to keep them there longer. And that is where the UC’s money is. For every additional victim of the racist injustice system, every family and community torn apart, the UC receives a bigger payback on their dollar. And yet administration sits here talking about diversity and community and respect. As if the students of color on this campus have no history, they have no background in a community of color, they have no family or friends there, as if once you come to UC Davis all ties are cut, history erased, and a new identity is given to you.

I find it very revealing that while this forum is going on the administration is also attacking AFSCME 3299, the campus service workers, who are disproportionately people of color and are among the lowest paid workers on campus.  Over 90% of them are eligible for public assistance. The university has chosen to disrespect the collective bargaining process and to implement a contract on service workers  -a contract is supposed to be about consent, not imposition. The administration is forcing a pay cut on these workers while top administrators are getting HUGE raises. Chancellor Katehi got a 7% raise last year, meanwhile janitors are taking a 1.5% pay cut.

And when these workers use their last resort tactic, i.e. go on strike, you threaten and intimidate them. And when Grad student workers go on strike in sympathy with them, we are also threatened and intimidated.  At UCLA international students had their visas threatened if they went on strike. And when undergrads walk the picket line with them they are also threatened. At UCSD undergrad student leaders are facing disciplinary charges for organizing undergrad support for the strike.

I am the UC Davis Unit Chair of the UC Student Workers Union UAW 2865, the union that represents over 12,000 TAs, Tutors, and Readers across the UC. In our own contract negotiations the university has repeatedly declined our non-discrimination proposals, our demands for more gender neutral bathrooms, and rights for undocumented students for example. Administration went so far as to say that it was “disappointed that the union has chosen to focus on social justice issues” in an email sent out to grad students at many campuses. Yet in THIS room, you somehow want me to believe that it is YOU who has the commitment to social justice.

What I see here then is not a commitment to progressive change, but a calculated political maneuver. It is divide and conquer.

Attack the service workers but welcome in the students.

 Attack the protesters and limit our ability to protest but welcome us in to work in the narrow institutional framework of the bureaucratic maze of committees, all of which of course have no real power and accountability mechanisms.

As Professor Haynes from the sociology department said earlier in this forum, these issues get brought up again and again, and there are always new initiatives and committees, and still the same problems keep arising. 

UCD Pepper Spray: State of the UC Two Years Later

This is a (version of a) speech I gave at the 2nd anniversary of the UC Davis Pepper Spray incident on November 18th 2013 on the UC Davis quad.

I'd like to give a brief background on what happened on Nov 18th and why and then talk about what has changed (or not changed as it happens to be) since then.

In fall of 2011 the UC Regents were considering a tuition hike of over 80%. The occupy movement reinvigorated campus activism and students were organizing to oppose tuition hikes and other forms of inequality. At UCB on Nov 9 UC police beat students and workers with batons for standing peacefully arms linked around tents on their campus lawn. What happened at Davis was a response to both the proposed tuition hike and the police brutality at Berkeley. We occupied Mrak Hall overnight and a couple days later put tents on our own quad to start Occupy UCD. In an effort to remove then tents and discipline protesters the UC Davis police pepper sprayed peacefully sitting students.

Videos and images went around the world and there was a huge political fall out for the UC because of this disgusting police brutality.

Since then the administration has payed a lot of lip service to making our campus a safer space for free speech for students and workers. However things have only gotten worse. This is the direction our university is going:

  • Tuition continues to rise, keeping our university inaccessible to many. The rise in UCSHIP (Student Health Insurance Plan) fees are do to gross mismanagement by UCOP (Office of the President) to the tune of about $57 million in debt over just 3 years. It was their mismanagement but they wanted students to pay for it!
  • From 1993 to 2007 here at UC Davis, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students jumped 318%, while the university actually reduced its full-time instructional, research, and service staff by 4.5%. 
  • Between 2007-2012, the number of UC employees making more than a quarter million dollars a year grew from 1,538 to 3,094.
  • Class size is on the rise. TAs are teaching and grading for more students for less pay. Quality education is declining. Undergrads are paying more for a worse education.
  • Campus workers (AFSCME 3299, UPTE, and CNA) are facing pension and wage cuts. UC has forced these cuts on workers without consent, making a mockery of their right to collective bargaining. most of these workers make very little money and are eligible for some kind of public assistance.
  • We have a brand new "welcome center" on campus. This interactive touch screen wall cost $311,000 and the cost of installation and related work was $125,000. But I have to ask, who are they welcoming? I have read numerous reports in the media lately about who the UC is welcoming and who it isn't. 
    • For instance nearly 60% of African-American students accepted at UCB are choosing to attend other colleges - often because they don't feel welcome.
    • And it was just announced that UCLA has more NCAA championships than black male freshmen
  • The University has a $78 Billion endowment and other funds that it invests. Does it choose to invest in helping students and workers here and off campus? No. the only affordable family housing on campus, Orchard and Solano Park, are facing demolition in the next couple of years, to be replaced by privatized housing with much higher rent.
  • But it does invest in:
    • Private prisons: The UC is financially supporting these corporations by investing in companies that invest in them, such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Lazard, Blackrock Inc, and Morgan Stanley, all of which own over 2/3 of the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.
    • The occupation of Palestine: The UC is financially supporting the occupation and colonization of Palestine by investing in companies that profit off of the occupation, such as Caterpiller, Cement Roadstone Holdings, and Hewlett Packard. These companies have assisted the Israeli military in the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes and the creation of an illegal separation wall.
    • Fossil Fuels: The UC is invested in coal, oil, and natural gas and is effectively subsidizing the destruction of the environment.
  • The new "free speech rules" officially codify our lack of free speech and assembly. the Davis Faculty Association has raised numerous concerns with its focus on restrictions of supposedly free speech then on its commitment to maintaining this right.
  • The Regents chose top cop Janet Napolitano, who set records for overseeing most deportations in US history, as the new UC president. This also signifies the continuing militarization of the campus.

These aren't all just mistakes or bad choices. The university is being run this way because the people running it benefit from selling off pieces of our university to their own companies or their buddies companies. They aren't interested in free public education because they won't get rich off of that.

The University is run by a board of Regents, who are members of the business class - 
Monica Lozano sits on the board of Bank of America, so she benefits from increased student loans when she hikes our tuition.
Richard Blum owns a private education company, and construction companies that are building student housing in Irvine.

We see their vision, and it isn't working for us. Its time to fight for our vision of an accessible and welcoming university that takes care of the community instead of investing in oppression and destruction.

But the only way to do that is to exercise control over both the budget and the daily running of the university. A democratic UC is our only hope for turning this into a place of justice.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Speech - UAW 2865 Contract Negotiations 2013 Opening Remarks

This was originally read at the first UAW/UC bargaining session at UC Berkeley in July 2013.

My name is Duane Wright. I am entering my third year in the PhD program in the Sociology Department at UC Davis. I did my undergraduate work in Sociology at UMass Boston. My research focuses on teachers work and teacher and community movements for more control over schools.

Before coming to Davis I spent 8 years working in the Brockton Public School System in various capacities, as a substitute teacher, a paraprofessional in special education, and in an after school and summer program.
Neither of my parents has a college degree, and the only reason I can even be here right now working on my PhD is because of all the amazing work over many decades by UC TAs to establish our local union. Before the union was established in-state fee-remissions weren't fully covered. Had TAs not realized how central their labor was to the university and the strength had through collective bargaining I would not be here before you today.

As it was it took me until I was 27 to complete my Bachelor’s degree. I took out as much in loans as I could, but still I had to keep withdrawing from school so that I could save up in order to return. One time my family was facing some financial difficulties and my father dropped the family health insurance to decrease the monthly bills. He didn't know that my status as a student was dependent upon having that health care and because I couldn't afford the campus healthcare in such short notice I had to withdraw from the university. However this was 3 weeks into the semester so I was still charged 60% of tuition. This set me back a year and a half, paying this back and saving up once again.

I tell you all this so that you can understand how important accessibility and affordability are to me. According to the Department of Education, California has had the highest rate of growth in tuition in the country for years now. If it was difficult for me to afford UMass Boston, the cheapest state university in my home state, all those years ago; can you imagine how inaccessible this university is to all the potential undergraduate and graduate students now?

You and I will agree that there has been a serious lack of funding, however that is also a convenient argument and justification for the rising cost of attendance. The other important reason for skyrocketing tuition is that there has been a dramatic restructuring of the university - a shift in the budget which reflects a shift in the priorities of the university. Teaching and research are no longer the top priorities of this university. Nationally “From 1993 to 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students . . . increased by 39.3 percent" at the average college while in contrast here at “UC-Davis the number of full-time administrators jumped 318 percent, while the university actually reduced its full-time instructional, research, and service staff by 4.5 percent” in that same time period. We are teaching more students for less money, our pay hasn't kept up with the rate of inflation yet top administrators like Chancellor Katehi and President Yudof received 7% pay increases from 2010-2011. Instead of spending money on those who directly educate, and do the research which makes this the great university it is, money is now being used to line the pockets of already overpaid and out of touch bureaucrats. Graduate students with families are eligible for food stamps while administrators are buying summer homes. And when we say enough is enough you call out the dogs to pepper spray us.

My first year here was 2011, and I was on the UC Davis quad on Nov 18th and saw my friends get pepper sprayed for sitting peacefully in opposition to this restructuring of the university that many call austerity. My son, 8 years old at the time, was also with me that day, and watched as students covered in a thick layer of orange pepper spray cried and threw up. In this moment he was literally confronting his future. He watched the brute force of this restructuring ensure that public higher education- for if it isn't affordable or accessible than it isn't public- will not be there for him when he gets older. My generation is the first in a long time that will not have better life outcomes than the previous generation, and the future looks bleak for his generation, unless we can drastically alter the course of austerity that UCOP and the members of the 1% who are on the Board of Regents have set for public higher education.

I have been too poor to leave the state since I moved here two years ago, but I would like to go back to MASS and visit sometime; and when I do I will undoubtedly go back and visit the schools I used to work in, and when I look upon the faces of all those bright, funny, and amazing children I used to work with I want to let them know that I am doing all I can to fight for their future. I want them to want to learn and go to college, instead of stop caring because they know that they have no future in this world of the neoliberal university.

This contract negotiation isn't just about TAs. It is about the direction and the vision we have for higher education, it is about social justice. That is why you will see some very strong demands, demands we are ready to fight tooth and nail for, because the situation we are facing -for us, for our students, and for our children- is dire.

Why Calculus Won't Bring Social Justice: The false consciousness of the intellectual class

Background on the AFSCME 3299 ULP strike and UAW 2865 sympathy strike
On November 20, 2013 my union, UC Student Worker Union UAW 2865, went on strike for the first time in nearly ten years in sympathy of AFSCME 3299, UC service workers, who were illegally intimidated. AFSCME 3299 represents over 22,000 campus cooks, janitors, and gardeners, and medical center patient care workers. They are among the lowest paid workers in the university and are mainly people of color. They went on a one day ULP strike to protest a pattern of harassment and intimidation that appears to be very systematic in nature - in others words a calculated attempt at shutting down worker self-agency and resistance to pay and pension cuts that was unilaterally imposed on them. AFSCME workers in the UC Med Centers are also fighting for safe staffing levels, which the university has taken a hard line against despite the Med Centers making more than $400 million in yearly profits and patient deaths as a direct result of lack of safe staffing levels.

My union was only able to strike in support of AFSCME (and workers rights more generally) because of a successful bid for leadership by a reform caucus called AWDU, which grew out of the student movement at the UC in 2009. AWDU took control of the local in 2011. We entered contract negotiations in the summer of 2013. The AWDU dominated bargaining team let our contract expire on November 5, 2013, despite protestations from the more conservative members in the union and on the bargaining team who were aligned under the caucus USEJ (pejoratively called "the admin caucus" due to their history of conciliation toward administration and their paternalistic relationship with the UAW international - which is a perfect example of business unionism.) 

Letting the contract expire was a strategic decision. Under the contract the union was subject to a "No Strikes" clause, that had prevented us from going out in sympathy for AFSCME 3299 in their strike in May 2013. As such, the union was hamstrung in its ability to stand by service workers in solidarity. Six months later and the UC hadn't budged on safe staffing, wages, or pension issues. Fighting along, service workers were subject to illegal intimidation and threats. 

It is our hope that standing together we are stronger, and that by going out in sympathy and shutting down some of the academic work that the university relies on to function that the university might think twice about violating basic rights of workers again. AFSCME 3299 has been an ally of the student movement and we want to stand with them. 

The letter
The day before the strike a UC Berkeley lecturer in the Math department sent a letter to his students that has since become very popular in the internet. In this letter the lecturer not only says that he will be crossing the picket line that day, but that he will be teaching the discussion sections that his striking grad student workers canceled. 

The e-mail reads a bit like stream of consciousness at parts, and actually contradicts itself at times. But style and structure aside for now, the piece engages in an oversimplification of the educational process while simultaneously obfuscating the strike and its context. 

He actually says, "the reason for me taking this decision is extremely simple", the decision being to cross the picket and to scab on his grad student workers, and the simple reason: education is the most important thing in life and furthering your education isn't selfish, on the contrary it is a way of "helping people with the age old search for human happiness and meaning."

Politics, and specifically the social context of the strike, is "very big, very complicated." 

By overly complicating and refusing to actually engage with the reasons for the strike (these were never mentioned, UC service workers were never mentioned) while over simplifying and actually misrepresenting education he manages to make an already marginalized group totally invisible in his argument while framing the argument in such a way as to make the next day's class infinitely more important than the cause of the workers who don't even exist in his narrative. It is little surprise then that those unfamiliar with the struggle of the UC service workers and the context of the strike read this e-mail and came to agreement with the lecturer. His framing allows for no other option.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Paycheck First is an Anti-Paycheck Strategy

(Originally posted on Raises and Roses)

There are plenty of reasons to oppose Paycheck First’s narrative, ideology and strategy toward UAW 2865’s bargaining campaign, especially their collaborationist attitude toward management and their marginalization of anti-oppression work. However, I don’t want to reproduce a framework that assumes that AWDU is only about social justice and PF is stronger on economics, because, frankly, that is without a doubt completely untrue. There will be more essays on why anti-oppression work is central to union democracy; the point of this article is to challenge them on their own ground: namely, that they are the ones who stand up for Academic Student Employees’ (ASE) paychecks.

1.Their Record
First, Pay Check First is led by a group of people who are part of the old leadership, (a caucus called USEJ), that lost statewide leadership of the union to AWDU in 2011. So what is the old leadership’s record? Are they and the people that they agree with ideologically and strategically actually able to fight for good wages?

The data says no.

The report put out by the original wage committee early this summer (WAIT! I thought the bargaining team didn’t even discuss wages until September? At least that’s what I read on PF….) includes the following important graphs.
What these two graphs show is the following:
1.ASEs make significantly more than they would have if they hadn’t unionized.
2.However, we are making relatively less than we did in 1999, because
3.Our wages haven’t kept up with inflation since 2001-2002.
AWDU took statewide leadership in 2011, the previous two contracts were agreed to by a majority USEJ union and Bargaining Team in 2010 and 2007. So we are still losing pay thanks to USEJ. In fairness, I have heard them argue that the wage settlement in 2010 was during budget cuts to the UC so we couldn’t expect to have gotten better than what we did. But that is precisely the point! Their leveled expectations and conciliatory attitude has over the last ten years led to the devaluing of our labor and has put student families into poverty. They claim to be standing up for our paychecks by attacking fellow workers with their tabloid-esque blog, but when was the last time you saw them organize a mass protest or work action that confronted management? Never.

I think this history is crucial to really understanding their project, which is about taking the 2014 triennial elections, NOT about fighting for better pay. But there’s much more to my argument. Let’s say you don’t believe that they are these former leaders or have any association with them. Fine. Good point. Union activists know who they are but the general public doesn’t because instead of debating us out in the open they hide behind anonymity. So let’s move on to the other arguments, as to why they aren’t actually looking out for our paycheck.

1.Their strategy this time