Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Strike Vs. Campaign

The Washington Square News published an article today that attempts to be a post-mortem on the strike. But the article makes a big mistake: it confuses the lack of success of last year's strike for the failure of the entire campaign.

This makes no sense. The campaign is an ongoing, in fact growing in strength as more and more people become active and involved. We've gotten continual support from the UAW and we've gotten signatures on our Congressional sign-on letter. We're mobilizing for another year, a year in which we will have greater impacts, create more disruption, and hopefully win our second contract.

Furthermore, as any student of social movements or labor history will know, the fact that one campaign ends without acheiving all its goals does not mean the movement has failed. Rather, we have made a difference in the lives of some graduate employees at NYU (like those in languages who saw their teaching loads cut) and elsewhere (at the many campuses which increased benefits or negotiated better contracts to avoid entering into a quagmire like the one we created). We learned lessons for ourselves to make our campaign stronger this year, and we taught lessons to the UAW, UNITE-HERE, and other unions about the strategies and tactics to use (and not to use) when conducting union campaigns for non-traditional union members. We developed solidarity across campus that keeps us strong today.

And the article leaves a big gap in its journalistic objectivity by not taking on Tony Judt's comments. While it may be true that the UAW has sought out workers beyond its historical automaking contingency because of the shrinkage of the auto industry, that can not explain their continued devotion of resources and energies to our campaign. See, when unions are recognized by the employer, members pay dues to the union, and these dues are automatically deducted from their paychecks (yes, that's right, all us GSOCers contributed a few of our meager dollars to the union with every paycheck). The national UAW got a small percentage of those dollars. But when a union is not recognized by the employer, the national UAW no longer receives that money. In other words, at the present time, the UAW is spending money on our campaign rather than making money from us. I don't care how desperate a national union was; it would not spend money on a fight it didn't beleive in. Judt, I suppose, has not kept up on the futre of the labor movement, a future filled with knowledge and service workers like us.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judt, I suppose, has not kept up on the futre of the labor movement, a future filled with knowledge and service workers like us.

This is a very optimistic picture of the future of the labor movement. Current trends seems to suggest that its future is to slowly fade away in the US. What is the current percent unionization in the US -- 12 percent? And the conservative trend in politics in recent years seems unlikely to be quickly reversed, so more labor-friendly legislation seems unlikely.

Example 1: When somebody finally manages to unionize a Wal-Mart store, then I will believe that the future lies in service workers. This seems like a better goal for the UAW than unionizing grad students.

Example 2: I predict that the new regulations to be issued by the NRLB preventing charge nurses from unionizing will be used to prevent faculty and instructors from unionizing (by making them supervisory over undergraduate graders).

What is my point? It is that grossly exaggerated claims made so often by labor advocates only serve to discourage me from identifying with labor. Even when there is some kernel of truth in the argument, the inflammatory style is not going to convince those in academia that we should support unionization. We are accustomed to judging an argument on its evidence rather than its polemics.

9/22/2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger zach said...

"Example 1: When somebody finally manages to unionize a Wal-Mart store, then I will believe that the future lies in service workers. This seems like a better goal for the UAW than unionizing grad students."

Not unless they want to get in territorial disputes with the UFCW and the Teamsters.

If you want evidence of recent successes, look at what's happening in the Hotel industry right now in NYC, DC, Chicago, San Francisco/Monterrey, etc., or the recent organizing victories of thousands of Houston Janitors. Faculty at provatre universities are already prevented from organizing by the Yeshiva decision. The Kentucky River cases, if the NLRB really rules against the nurses, would extend the logic of the Yeshiva ruling into new sectors but i doubt it would be doubled back on "public" academe, though i hope i don't have to eat these words.

9/22/2006 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if the NLRB really rules against the nurses,

The Supreme Court upheld the decision against the union, saying ''The Board’s test for determining supervisory status is inconsistent with the Act.'' (read it here) and so it is only a matter of time until new regulations are issued.

If you read that decision, it seems that the court has interpreted the law to say that any supervisory authority is enough to preclude mandatory recognition. From the same opinion:
The Act deems employees to be “supervisors” if they (1) exercise 1 of 12 listed supervisory functions, including “responsibly direct[ing]” other employees, (2) use “independent judgment” in exercising their authority, and (3) hold their authority in the employer’s interest

That sounds like the role of a GSI directing an undergraduate grader to me, especially given that the court's reading of the word independent judgement is very weak.

9/22/2006 3:05 PM  

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