Tuesday, February 25, 2014

University-Banking Complex

On the University-Banking Complex

(Loosely based on a speech I gave in the bargaining room at UC Davis during UC/UAW contract negotiations)

After listening to all these members talk about how they have had to go into serious debt to make it through grad school, despite our so called “full-funding”, due to our extremely low salary I can’t help but make the connection of our current contract struggle for more competitive pay to the larger student movement against privatization and student debt.

On the other side of this wall used to be a US Bank, but students and workers sat down in front of it, day after day, protesting the fact that capital has literally been welcome and given a space on campus. They were protesting what might be called, the University-Banking Complex, that much like the Military-Industrial complex, has some scary implications for society.

After US Bank was forced to close these students faced trumped up charges that could have led to up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in “damages”. The Davis Dozen, or the Banker’s Dozen, as they have been called eventually got community service, but the threat was very real. If you attempt to interrupt the University-Banking Complex your life can and/or will be ruined.

I find it disturbing how many UC Regents are current or former bankers. Monica Lozano for example was on the board of Bank of America, while at the same time a UC Regent. She would literally vote to increase tuition in the morning and then watch as BofA made more money through student loans.

And its not just tied to tuition, but also as grad students, its about our pay. I personally have taken out a total of $16,000 in my three years to just help me pay the rent, since I am a student-parent. Now UCD wants to tear down the only affordable family housing on campus and replace it with housing that costs twice as much.

We demand better pay. We demand affordable housing. Our contract fight is just one small battle in this war against the University-Banking Complex, and is just one way in which we can push back the tides and reclaim our university, our lives, and our futures.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Invisible Violence of UC Labor Relations

The Invisible Violence of UC Labor Relations

(Based on a speech given during UC/UAW contract negotiations bargaining session at UC Davis.)

I want to talk about violence for a minute - especially because we are here at Davis, just a few hundred feet from the Quad, where the globally infamous pepper spray incident happened on Nov 18th, 2011. UCPD has become the face of UC violence around the world, for both the pepper spraying at Davis as well at the batoning of students and faculty at UC Berkeley 9 days before that. These acts of violence represent the unchecked power and cruelty of the UC system and administration. They are not the root of the problem, as many have been saying, but merely the symptom of a more dangerous disease - privatization and austerity -  meaning the closing of the higher educational commons and selling it off piecemeal to the corporate and banker buddies of the UC Regents.

These highly visible acts of cruelty and authoritarianism are not moments when the system breaks down and must rely on sheer violence for its survival, however. These are just more visible acts of violence because they are public. What we don’t see is the constant and institutional violence of the day to day operations of the university because they tend to be private.

When UC management unilaterally implements pay cuts on unionized service workers, over 90% of whom qualify for public assistance, pushing them further into poverty, when the university refuses to pay Graduate Student Teaching Assistants a living wage and perpetually keep us in or near poverty -especially those of us with children - and when the university raises tuition on students who can barely afford to be here already and force them to take out further student loans, they put us all in a situation where we will keep having to make choices that we shouldn’t have to make: Do I want to visit the doctor or feed my kid? Do I pay the utility bill or my credit card? Do I eat healthy and go further into debt or buy cheap food? Can I visit my family this year or will I go yet another year without seeing them?

When workers have to choose between their long term health and homelessness, between feeding their children and putting the heat on in the winter, they are making impossible decisions. UC workers should not be put in this situation, but they are.

This is the institutional violence of the UC administration. It is an invisible violence, a private violence, and it manifests in our lives differently based on our own personal situations, yet it is a product of the decisions made by UC administration and carried out by UC Employee and Labor Relations (from here on in just referred to as Labor Relations).

When pictures and videos of Pepper Spray cop John Pike went viral many thought that it was a moment of the system stepping out of bounds. Chancellor Katehi and other administrators tried to appease the outrage by saying that this would never happen again, and that new policies regarding free speech and demonstrations would be enacted. However this further invisiblizes the other violence of the UC system, the day to day violence described above.The truth is just that this was a more public moment of the logic of the UC administration being mirrored by the UCPD.

This is why when I look across the bargaining table I don’t see mere administrators, I see a group of John Pikes. Actually I see something worse than John Pike. Pike’s violence was momentary and only affected a dozen or so people. Labor Relations is more sophisticated and doesn’t have to actually look at their brutality, they just pull the trigger and walk away before the pepper spray hits. And they do this to 13,000 Teaching Assistants (UAW 2865) and 22,000 service workers (AFSCME 3299) every day.

So I want to call you out, you specifically members of the UC management bargaining team, for your violence. We will not stand it any longer. We are organized and we will fight back.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

About class size as a working condition

The UC Student-Worker Union UAW 2865 has brought a proposal to UC management that would give Teaching Assistants, who are the front line educators in the university, the right to have a say in setting class size policy. The issue of class size, and specifically our desire for smaller classes, is both about the work that we are doing and the service our students are receiving. As the Chicago Teachers Union has said, “Our working conditions are our students learning conditions.” Yet UC management has refused to negotiate this issue, despite labor law that says that working conditions are a mandatory subject of bargaining. Our response has been to file an Unfair Labor Practice Charge against them. The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) has yet to rule on the charge and management has so far continued to refuse to bargain.

Management’s response so far has been to say that any issues having to do with class size do not need a new article in the contract specifically addressing it, instead it is merely a workload issue. This is my response to that argument:

Lets imagine for a moment that instead of being a university engaging in education and research that we were an organization that builds bridges. Now imagine that I used to build small simple bridges in the 220 hours that I work in a quarter but due to changes in how the organization is run I now have to build a much bigger and more complicated bridge in the same amount of time. Sure I could get the bridge built for you if just having it erected was the main goal, but I would have to do it quickly and cut corners to work within the time constraints. Would you drive over that bridge? Would you drive your children over that bridge? Knowing what you know about the way in which I had to have it built in order to meet time constraints, I bet you wouldn’t. The job I did was lower quality and the bridge is not a quality bridge. It is unsafe.

There is a reason that we have safety standards for bridges, buildings, cars, food, and other goods and services, because some things are too important to do quickly. Quality is important. What we are asking for is essentially quality standards for education. We are the front line educators in this world class university, yet our lack of a say in class size means that we are forced to deal with certain working conditions despite the fact that we care about our work and want to build something that we can be proud of.

And that’s the other aspect of what has been taken away from us. We are professional teachers, many of us come in with teaching expereince and or a Master’s degree, and after 2 years we all have both. But the one thing we have less and less of due to increasing class size is the one thing all professions are defined by: authority over our work and the ability to make decisions about our work.The authority we have lost is a pedagogical authority - the ability to choose HOW to teach.

Research shows that a student-centered and active learning approach to teaching is more effective, yet this style of teaching is made difficult to impossible with larger classes. So as class size balloons what happens is that a certain pedagogical approach is institutionalized, and thus our decision to decide which pedagogical approach to use has been taken away from us. What we are left with is what Brazillian educational theorist Paulo Freire called the “banking model” of education, one in which students are passive objects of a one way transmission of knowledge model of education that is alienating and not as effective.

That is why the issue of class size is not just about workload violations and why we demand to have the right to negotiate over class size in our contract, because we are talking about standards of education and pedagogical authority. Class size is undoubtedly a working condition.