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