Saturday, April 19, 2014

Interview by Daniel Gutierrez

I recently was interviewed by Daniel Gutierrez, who publishes at Conjuncture Magazine and San Diego Free Press, for an article about the UAW 2865 contract negotiations. It was by far the most fun interview/conversation I've ever had and since only a small portion of it will make it into the article I thought it would be fantastic to publish the full interview here.

(DG is Daniel, DW is me.)

DG: What I'd like to know from you is your thoughts on AWDU's [Academic Worker’s for a Democratic Union] strategy. That is, building grassroots support, including what is normally seen as social issues into the labor realm and how this changes the way unions are normally seen.

DW: Well I see my role as challenging that framework that unions have established for years. By focusing on bread and butter issues only and by saying other issues should be dealt with by other groups allows the union to default to fighting for and from a working class straight white cis-man position and ignores the fact that women, people of color, LGBTQIA folks and others are workers too.

It is a weak model of organizing because it hides the connections between class oppression and other oppressions and therefore doesn't put forth a critical enough or correct analysis of the system we live under and if you analysis isn't correct how can you have the right strategy to win?

That’s why the old slogan "An injury to one is an injury to all" to be has to be any union’s starting point.

DG: This seems like a pretty radical departure from what unionism has come to be known for in the United States. It definitely seems like a much more critical, more much adapted analysis of a neoliberal reality, critiquing assumptions of equality, Am I right?

DW: Definitely. As we have seen union membership and power decline its painfully obvious that that model doesn’t work, you can't start from a position of exclusion and expect others to just get on board with the struggle and patiently wait for their turn for their issues to come up.

And I say painfully obvious because of the state of working class people in this country. Inequality is ridiculously high, unemployment, homelessness, the number of people in prison, the number of people deported and the families and communities that are torn apart because of it, and more. That is some pain.

DG: I recently was looking at labor history figures in the United States and the amount of strikes in the United States have declined dramatically since the 1980s. In fact, someone told me yesterday that only three strikes were registered last year. Yet, in less than six months the UAW under the leadership of AWDU has called two strikes. How effective has the strike been in the union's struggle?

DW: I think that strikes serve two purposes. First they put pressure on management to do the right thing, such as stop intimidating AFSCME members, or stop intimidating UAW members and start to negotiate over mandatory subjects of bargaining. That one I think most people will agree with. And we saw that strikes and strike threats work, as AFSCME workers now have a contract.

The second one is one less thought of though. I think that strikes are a learning moment for many people, or at least CAN be.When workers strike they see their collective power, they see which side the police are on - as if that wasn't obvious already at the UC, especially after the police brutality during occupy.A strike can be a consciousness raising experience.

I always refer to "Teamster Rebellion" by Farrell Dobbs - in that he says in just a few years he went from voting Republican to being a leading socialist organizer and all because he went on strike and saw that the legal structures, the police, the media, etc all favored the boss.

As a sociologist and a Freirian educator I think we need to start talking about this other aspect of strikes as a way to engage in libratory pedagogy.

DG: One thing that I found interesting was the existence of a No Strike clause in contracts. My dad, who was a union member at the Tijuana racetrack from the 60s to the early 80s, found this ridiculous to believe, stressing that workers had to have the ability to strike whenever they pleased. Do you think No Strike clauses are damaging to a union’s ability?

DW: Absolutely. I would love to see our’s removed, however strategically I don't think that we are quite in a position - of organization and mobilization - to give the fight that would be needed to get rid of that. But I am going to remain active in the union and maybe we can make a bigger issue of the "No Strikes" clause next time around. But most of our members had never even gone on strike before this round of negotiations, so I don’t think that they quite value that like I do. So that’s a project that myself and other reformers in the union need to engage more in.

DG: I think this is an important point. I think a lot of people that have been born since the Reagan administration have little or no conceptualization of the significance or the power of collective action, much less a strike. Do you believe that the union's use of such measures is reminding people of the power of collective action?

DW: I hope so. And I don't think we can talk about these strikes without historically contextualizing them and giving credit to the 2009-10 UC student movement. The union wasn’t involved with that at all, and so grad students formed a reform slate to challenge the union’s lack of presence in the student movement as well as other issues, and so the strike earlier this month wouldn't have happened in my opinion if it wasn't for the student movement. And with high turnover rates for undergrads who are only here 4-5 years there are virtually no undergrads still here from that time, so now we are inspiring them,

DG: [about my reference to the reform movement] This is AWDU right?

DW: Yes. Academic Workers for a Democratic Union

DG: And the student movement from 2009-2010, was it able to accomplish anything- like a freeze in tuition hikes?

DW: I wasn't around at that time, I came to the UC in 2011, but I believe that's what happened. Just like the 2011-12 Occupy UC movement (which the union WAS involved in because AWDU was in union leadership) stopped the proposed 80-something percent fee hike.

DG: So the Occupy UC movement was able to stop a fee hike?

DW: Correct. With all the pressure on the UC and Sacramento and all the bad press from the police violence there was no fee hike.

DG: Awesome! I had no idea this was the reason it stopped, which I think points to something interestingly terrible in that these narratives are what Foucault would cal "subjective knowledge" or rather, this isn’t really mainstream news and there's a reason to this. At UCSD peeps from the IWW and what not have begun to work with undergraduates and begun to form links with the broader labor community. At a recent meeting for may day planning other unions, upon hearing of the strikes and the barricades, were awe struck. Do you think unions have to begin to fight more aggressively?

DW: Absolutely, we need to stop talking about and thinking of unions as a service -- sign this card to get these rights and benefits - and more of a space and structure that is the foundation for a movement.

DG: What are your thoughts on news coverage? I was reading an article by Lucien van der Walt, a historian out of South Africa and an anarcho-syndicalist, who stressed that the CNT of Spain, by its height in 1936 had something like 36 periodicals and made their own movies — all funded by its 2 million members. He stressed that they did not rely on capitalist news — they made their own. Do you believe that unions should play a more active role in the production of knowledge and a more active role in producing their own news?

DW: Definitely, we had a bunch of teach-outs at the picket line on strike day, about issues ranging from fossil fuel divestment to gender expression and identity to privatization to the BDS movement and we're hoping to start doing teach-outs more regularly at UCD. Printed and electronic media is also a great medium.

No comments:

Post a Comment