Friday, September 5, 2014

End of an era

       I haven't posted much on this blog in the past year or so, and haven't posted any material since mid-May.  With that in mind, I've decided to close this particular project down.  I have finished with two significant parts of my life, graduate school and my participation in the attempt to reform the student worker union, which constitute a considerable portion of the material discussed on the blog.  While I could provide a laundry list of moments that I wished I approached differently in both cases, I'm glad I was a participant in both the institution, and the formation of AWDU.  I feel similarly about my involvement in the student movement, which managed to play a substantial role in challenging the privatization of the university despite its many flaws and explosive conflicts.  I plan to keep the present blog up as a memory of that activity.  However, unless I finally decide to finally write the systemic critique of the local that I've considered producing for a while, there will be no new activity on this blog.

         However, I plan on starting two new blog projects in the near future, one focused on the critical study of science fiction as a genre and a subculture, which I plan on calling future ruins, and a second project that will deal with other areas of interest, which I most likely will call notes on damaged life or the children of marx and coca-cola.  I'll post links for those projects when I get them set up.  Producing these new venues will allow me to break away from the concerns of my past, while preserving a record of those interests.  I'm always interested in working with collaborators.  Please get a hold of me if you are interested in either project.  I should also note that I am also happy to contribute my thoughts to anyone who would be interested in challenging the reactionary individuals who have largely taken over the union at UCI.  One of my greatest disappointments was the inability to continue the legacy of reform unionism, and I hope folks take over that mantle, and make less, or at least more interesting mistakes.

Here is the new blog: The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

notes from a suburban coffee shop

      Despite my recent blog posting, I haven't been involved in the union since our strike on the first week of the quarter.  To be honest, I wish I had gotten another week to work for the union, because I didn't have the chance to clean up the office, which wasn't in the best of shape due to a month or so of strike organization.  I'm not too fond of a number of my successors, but they certainly deserve the opportunity to start with an orderly office.  I would have also liked to finally get the orientations grievance settled, a process that I ironically started at the beginning of my tenure as Irvine's campus unit chair.  My hope is that process will get resolved without me, but despite some genuine bureaucratic experience amongst some of that grouping, I'm not terribly optimistic that the grievance will be made a priority.  I'm also fairly concerned that there isn't much effort to mobilize the Irvine membership for the upcoming strike in June, which is crucial for challenging the various unfair labor practices of the management of the University of California system.  I hope I'm wrong, and I'm even willing to put in a little labor into the process if it was necessary.

      Despite unemployment, I'm glad to be out, to be honest.  I've been done with the university since late December, and while I thought it made sense to stick around a bit longer to provide some transition, it doesn't make sense to have someone representing grad students who was finished with their studies.  Still, my final months were spent doing a lot more of the on the ground activities that I wanted to focus on.  I got to talk to folks across the campus about the strike, from the physical and natural sciences to the humanities and social sciences.  It was work I liked, but, to be honest, I was a bit burnt out by the institutional politics of the union, and even by the reform process that brought me into electoral office.  At the most immediate level, that frustration was created by the intransigence of the former leadership, who never accepted the election of the reform group in any meaningful sense, but it also expanded to the divisions and contradictions within the reform group, which has been defined by a number of explosive fights along with long running tensions.  In each case, the problems often stem back to the relationship has with our International union, who has left the local with very little ability to meaningfully act in its own interests.  I'll discuss these issues at a further date, but I'd like to give myself some time to discuss those issues with a cooler analytical framework.

      Other than that, I'm spending a lot of time looking for work.  At this point, I'm largely stuck looking for employment in the precarious spaces of academic employment, ranging from lecturer position to post-doctoral fellowships, and even positions as tutors for the summer months.  The process is fairly dreary and depressing.  There aren't a lot of jobs available, those jobs available aren't terribly high paying or stable.  However, this is a topic that has been covered by a lot of folks already, and no doubt their analysis offers more than I can currently offer.  Beyond that, I haven't been doing a lot.  I've been reading, and I attended the historical materialism conference in Toronto.  I have to confess that the conference left me feeling disconnected and alienated, an experience that I suspect has more to do with my current state of mind, rather than anything to do with the conference at all.  I just haven't felt any particular urgency to write at all over the past few months.  This isn't because I don't have anything to say.  I have some ideas about a essay on Robert Heinlein and Samuel Delany and about Butler and Jameson's readings of Louis Althusser to name two random ideas, but it just feels kind of pointless.

      I want to make it clear that it's not an emotional, but a kind of analytical malaise this is at the heart of this issue.  It just seems kind of pointless to make any  sort of intervention right now.   At one level, that sense of futility can be linked to a sense that anything I write won't get much attention, but more significantly,  there just doesn't seem like there is much potential for substantial transformation within the current political conjunction.  It seems fairly reasonable to assume that my field of vision is affected by my withdrawal from union activism, and lack of political projects, but it also reaches farther to my failed interventions into the reform process itself, that left me isolated from both the dominant northern group, and the discontented largely southern group as well.  More than anything else, I miss a sense of being a part of an intellectual and political collectivity that I both contribute to and learn from.  Which is not to say I'm lacking in friendship, but in a kind of collective engagement that has transformative potential, either on political or epistemological grounds.  At the same time, it doesn't seem like our current political terrain is particularly hospital to such interventions, as well.  I suspect that this will change with time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Election Results for UAW 2865

       I thought I would write a brief posting about the results of the recent triennial elections for my former local, UAW 2865.  At the statewide level, it was an immense success for the AWDU ticket.  AWDU and their allies won all of the executive board seats, along with 80% of the Joint Council.  I have to admit that I was very skeptical of their chances, but we saw some impressive organizing, and new reform slates arise in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside that were previously doubtful.  A lot of credit should go to the activists involved who had to both negotiate a contract and win an election.  In terms of the bargaining team, they won in San Diego, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Davis.  Despite losing in Santa Barbara, we saw the first substantial reform ticket run for election there, and they had a fairly respectable showing, bringing in about 30% of the vote.  Merced saw a split vote between reformers and admin caucus activists, despite a lack of reform candidates running for local positions.  Riverside and Irvine were much more lopsided, giving landslide victories for the former leadership, who are often referred to as the administration caucus, despite their frequent re-namings.  Riverside had a small core of reformers, who have a good chance to impact the local despite their small numbers.  

     Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Irvine, which had no substantial reform effort on the ground during the election.  Part of that was due to the admittedly very successful efforts on the part of Coral Wheeler and Moshe Lichman to put together a decent full slate of candidates, and to construct an electoral machine.  I might not like the kind of union infrastructure that they create.  It's hierarchical and not directed to creating an active membership, but it is good at getting votes out at specific times.  My hope is that we see some of the reform tradition taken up by the new officers of the local, but I have to admit, I hadn't seen much activity out of them during the contract campaign.  The other part was due to the decision of reform activists to put their energy into other organizing endeavors, and move away from union organizing.  It wouldn't have been my choice, but I'm also no longer involved.  (edit: I'm also not sure that my feelings on the matter are terribly relevant.)  I also can't blame those individuals for wanting to find forms of organizing that are less frustrating and more meaningful to them.  Having been through the last triennial, I can't blame folks for wanting to avoid that ordeal.  I really hope they find those collective efforts.  (additional note: I should note that there were Irvine reform folks involved in the successful election  efforts at UCLA.)

     As a last note, I genuinely hope that we see a continued effort on the part of the new elected officials to actively contribute to the fight  for a new contract.  I suspect a number of them could be very good union representatives.  But if that effort doesn't happen, I would recommend that folks take up those tasks themselves.  Get a hold of me if that is the case, and I will get you in touch with people who can help you. (I also strongly suspect that despite not running for office; we'll see Irvine reform folks at the front of the contract fight.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Do You Call A Caucus That Refuses To Call Itself A Caucus? A Critique

       In the final months of my involvement in the union, I saw the revival of an interesting phenomenon, the former leadership who formed the USEJ (United For Social and Economic Justice) caucus during the last triennial election denying that they were members of that caucus, or that they were even members of a caucus at all.  It is a strange claim to make.  After all, that group continues to vote in a lock step fashion that puts the reform AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) caucus to shame, and their secret caucus list serve was accidentally leaked to the full union joint council list serve.*  It was pretty apparent that the group was still operating as a caucus, and that it was made up primarily of the remaining members of USEJ.  (Ironically, the group has existed in previous formations before USEJ as Adam Hefty noted, but USEJ was the first time that they opened acknowledged that they were in fact a separate and independent caucus.)  It was only a matter of a week or two that they finally acknowledged their existence for the triennial elections,** renaming themselves SWITCh, and erasing their past history.   Which brings us to the question, what are the implications of this refusal to acknowledge caucus behavior?

      I'd like to start off by saying that there is nothing wrong with being engaged in, or forming a caucus, in an of itself.  After all, forming a caucus is basic aspect of self-organization.  Caucuses allow for people to form groups to affect the direction of an organization or institution.  Often this involves a lot of communication, frequently in private, about the ways that they can affect the direction of the organization, what is possible and what is not possible, and how the group wants to orient itself within those possibilities.  Sociologist and labor studies scholar Judith Stepan-Norris, along with other labors studies scholars in fact have noted that the existence of multiple competing caucuses contributes to the health of unions, because the caucuses have to be more responsible to the needs of the membership.  After all, if a caucus doesn't fulfill those needs, the membership can simply vote in another caucus.  Historically, the decline of the labor movement can be linked to the expulsion of the communists from the AFL-CIO, which left the conservative leadership without competition.  In many ways, we formed the AWDU caucus four years ago to return to this democratic tradition of unionism.

      However, that system is dependent on an open and fair process.  The right to self-organize also needs to be linked with the responsibility for your collective actions within that caucus.  We can see this in play with the AWDU ticket, who has connected itself to a three year legacy, that has its flaws and contradictions despite some impressive successes.  But the former leadership is trying to short circuit this process with their rebranding campaign.  As I already noted, until recently, the former leadership group denied that they were even a caucus, and their current website refuses to acknowledge that a large percentage of their eboard candidates were involved in the last triennial under the USEJ banner.  A number of them had bargained on previous contracts, and had created the shell of a union that existed before the AWDU take over.  Two of them ran while not even being students in the previous triennial election.  Whatever you think about these facts, they seem fairly significant within the context of an electoral campaign, and the rebranding campaign is a pretty egregious effort to subvert that basic aspect of democratic governance.  At a basic level, you need to take responsibility for your own actions if you are a responsible member of a caucus, otherwise you are taking the democratic right to choose a political direction for the union from the membership.

       The problem goes further than that, when you start bringing in the context of the debates where the denials were initially made.  In each of the cases, the person denying the existence of the caucus would follow up with the statement that they were 'simply interested in the good of the union.'   The implications of the statement were fairly obvious, implying that the individuals who were involved in the AWDU caucus were not.  At a basic level, this sort of analysis is fundamentally flawed.  Workers' organizations are simply too complex to declare that one is 'simply interested in the good of the union.'  Unions have been defined by internal as well as external antagonism, debating over who should be a part of such organizations, how they should organize new workers, as well as what should be the goals of such organizations.  We've seen conservative unions and revolutionary unions, deeply democratic unions and cults of personality.  To claim you are 'simply interested in the good of the union' is an attempt to erase this rich history, and to place your conception of the means and ends of the union movement as the exclusive means and ends to that movement.  For more context on this tradition within the UAW as a whole, I recommend reading this essay by Barry Eidlin.

      It's difficult to avoid the authoritarian implications within the claim to 'simply act in the good of the union', however I'd like to spell that aspect of the claim out with a bit more clarity.  We can look at the relationship between election claims and on the ground behavior to do that.  In previous elections, many of the candidates linked to the former leadership group, such as Coral Wheeler and Moshe Lichman, have produced propaganda that claimed that they were opposed to caucuses per se, and wanted to abolish the caucus system.  It's a claim that generally indicates a position of moderation within U.S. politics, a desire to compromise and bring people together.  However, the behavior of those members has not contained those practices.  Instead, we have seen a lack of any interest to compromise on any issues, whether at the Joint Council or within the bargaining table.  Members of the former leadership caucus have even gone as far as to claim that AWDU activists don't support the demand for the rights for undocumented graduate students, giving management the impression we are divided on the issue, when this is an issue that both caucuses strongly support.  In effect, rather than creating a strong unity on this issue to win it at the bargaining table, which is still a strong possibility at this point, they have muddled the issue for partisan purposes.  We effectively find a situation in which the attempt to end caucuses is really the effort to end the reform caucus and return to the one party situation we previously saw.

      To make this point a bit more concrete, it makes sense to return to a rather contentious debate that occurred last summer during a the quarterly Joint Council Meeting.  That meeting had a surprise presentation by Coral Wheeler and Jason Struna about the implications about not focusing the bargaining process the summer.  The presentation argued two things, that we had succeeded more than other unions, and that taking a long time to bargain would have catastrophic results.  At least, that's what I got through the shoddy analogies to unions who had single digit membership numbers and scare tactics.  We saw the same threat of catastrophe on the former leadership's proxy blog, Paycheck First, who also promised catastrophe if we took the route we eventually took for bargaining, and the similar dire predictions being made regularly on the email list of the Joint Council.  At this point, it's pretty obvious that we're not facing catastrophe.  Instead, we're looking at a potential contract that contains no take backs, has unprecedented language in support of all-gender bathrooms and lactation facilities, and continues to fight for a voice on class sizes, rights for undocumented students, and a competitive wage increase.  The university is currently offering a pay increase, that while inadequate, is substantially larger than most of our previous contracts.

       Rather than admit their error, the former leadership have simply moved the goal posts, and are now insisting we could have achieved the same things.  Obviously, there's no way of knowing what would have happened in such a counter-history, but it's hard to imagine that we would have gotten so far on the issue of all gender bathrooms without the participation of hundreds of activists at and outside the bargaining table.  It's also hard to imagine that we would have the university genuinely discussing a competitive wage gap, and even make a pretense of discussing class size and the rights of undocumented students without such input.  It basically is an effort to erase the importance of rank and file activism from the contract process.  But more substantially, it's a moment where the individuals who made those claims have taken no responsibility for them, either to acknowledge their falsity, or the potential damage that they could have had on the bargaining process.  It subverts the possibility of having an honest debate over the contract campaign, or critically evaluating the goals and processes of the bargaining team, all of which are important to a successful contract campaign.  Instead, we are offered a debate in which one side continually makes outrageous claims and simultaneously denies its previous claims as they are debunked.

     More than anything else, this relentless campaign against the reform process has shown the strength and perseverance of the reform effort, which has dramatically shifted the conversation in the UC system from a system that offered only fee increases and shrinking class selection, to a system where we haven't seen a fee increase for two years, along with other reforms.  It would be a lie to say that this process has been drama and error free, but it's difficult not to be impressed.  We ended the perpetual cycle of fee hikes.  We accomplished that through demonstrations where our members were pepper sprayed and arrested, petition drives, and even lobbying efforts.  We've also seen a level of activity that has not been previously seen in our formerly moribund union, with most of elected position being filled. We've seen a bargaining process that successfully brought out student-workers in solidarity with AFSCME, and a successful strike in response to university intimidation.  Above all, we've seen a level of member participation in the bargaining that is unprecedented in union history thanks to the introduction of open bargaining, and the recognition that our ability to win a great contract cannot be simply won by nine clever individuals at the bargaining table. All of that has occurred in a setting where we have received  at best no support from a third of the union who still aligns themselves with the former leadership, and often opposition.  It makes you wonder where we could be if they had even offered a small amount of critical support on some of the issues.  (One added note: We reached none of these achievements alone.  It has involved a lot of cooperation with other unions, graduate and undergraduate groups, and other groups.)

    I hope everyone goes out to support their statewide and local AWDU chapters, rather switching back to the deeply authoritarian structure of business unionism we saw from our local in the past.  In Irvine, you should support Michelle Glowa for President, Mar Velez for Northern Vice-President, Ren-yo Hwang for Southern Vice-President, Erik Green for Financial Secretary, Leslie Quintanella for Recording Secretary, Henry Maar, Susan Richardson, and Beezer de Martelly for Trustees, and Katy Fox-Hodess.  At the Irvine level you should support Ana Baginski for Campus Unit Chair, Jordan Brocious for Recording Secretary, and Jordan Brocious and Jessica Conte for Irvine Unit Delegates (who will go to the International Union conference, where a potential dues hike will be decided on.)

*The Joint Council is the governing body of the union.  It is made up of the Head Stewards, Campus Unit Chairs, and Recording Secretaries of each branch of the union, along with the statewide executive board.  They meet quarterly to make decisions about the union, although they now also vote online for issues after AWDU took over.

**The triennial elections bring all union positions up for election.  We're about to have another triennial election April 29th and April 30th.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Thoughts after receiving a Ph.D.

       It's close to the end of 2013, and I thought I would try to put up at least one more blog posting before the end of the year.  I've been busy with contract negotiations and finishing my dissertation project, which was accepted at the beginning of December.  So I now have my Ph.D., which technically makes me a doctor.  I'm now beginning the process of looking for academic work, which is an incredibly dreary and depressing activity, if only because of the lack of work on the job market.  I'm going to give it a couple years, but I will probably be moving on if that doesn't work.  But anyways, the blog.  I'm going to hold onto this project through March, which is when I will be done with my stint at the union.  I'll probably have some more thoughts on that as we go into the triennial election.  I'd like to see the person replacing me to remain committed to the reform project, but right now, that doesn't seem like it's guaranteed.  The last two elections have been controlled by the old leadership faction of Coral and Moshe, who certainly have put in a lot of work on the ground.  If their platform moved anywhere beyond stating that they're from the sciences and the mention of Google parties, I'd be a little more impressed.  (I also have some issues with their campaign claim that they oppose caucuses, which would hold weight if they weren't obviously a part of a caucus.)  I have more to say on the subject, but it will have to wait until the next year, hopefully after a couple posts on other subjects.

       Rather than simply abandoning blogging, my thought was that I should start a new blog that had a greater sense of focus, perhaps on science fictional matters, and other cultural engagement.  The truth is that Work Resumed on the Tower was never a terribly successful blog in terms of readership.  It got a few posts that were read broadly, but often my posts received under 40 views.  I'm not terribly upset about this.  The blog was primarily meant to be a place to push myself to write more, and to express thoughts about a variety of topics.  It also became a place to discuss issues within the student movement and my engagement with the union.  Those two issues are coming to an end with my completion of my degree, which seems to also point to a need for another project.  I've always been interested in the idea of putting together a more focused blog, which while not being commercial, might have an audience in mind, something that this project never had.  On the other hand, I'm not terribly thrilled at the prospect of coming up with another name.  I still like the name of the current blog, but I also don't want it to disappear as a historical record of my work over the period of time that it ran.  I'm tempted towards something Futurian related, but am currently feeling a bit lazy as to doing the research.  Maybe, I'll take a day to go to the Eaton archive in Riverside soon, to take a look at their fanzine collection.

      Beyond that, I've been contemplating a number of directions I might want to go in once I'm finished with turning the present dissertation into something larger.  I know it's a bit off in the future, but I like to have more than one thing going on.  I'm interested in trying to put together a project on Brecht's work in the early 1930's, particularly his Learning Pieces, and their relevance to activism and organizing.  I'd like to look at the emphasis that Brecht puts on experimentation and the necessity for error in the process of creating new political forms.  You can see some early thoughts here.  It also ties into my interest in aleatory aesthetics, as discussed here.  I don't see this is primarily existing as an academic project.  Instead, I could see it looking similar to the sorts of projects that zero books has put out.  Additionally, I'd like to look at the work of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke in relationship to the post war period.  This idea is a lot less developed, but I feel that there is something interesting to be said about the pair in relationship to the cold war, decolonization, a particular modernization project of the time.  Also, I've really enjoyed both the novels by Clarke that I have read, and liked the Foundation novels, as well.  Finally, I'd like to make a more theoretical intervention into the return of the concept of patriarchy.  Using Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, I'd like to argue that patriarchy is an increasingly tertiary matrix of domination within contemporary.  Instead, it's been supplanted by other forms of domination, that are no less serious.  I would probably start with a critique of the Federici's reading of Foucault, and move from there.  We'll see what happens in the next couple of years.

(On reflection, the comment on Moshe and Coral was a little one sided and unfair.  I'll make a slightly lengthier comment on their role in the union in the future, but its worth noting that despite the fact that the two did extensively draw upon the three issues I discussed above for campaigning, they have also occasionally contributed to the union.  More on this in the future.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ranciere and Contract Bargaining

        The past few bargaining sessions have provided a fairly good argument for the value of Jacque Ranciere's definition of politics, one that also retroactively links up with the reactions to the defensive of public education movement that began in 2009.  For those who haven't read Ranciere's Disagreement, and I suspect a fair amount of you haven't read the book, Ranciere sets up a distinction between the police and politics in his book.  He argues that the vast amount of activity placed under the category of the police.  Drawing off the work of Michel Foucault, he defines the role of the police as one that creates and enforces complex and hierarchical structures of order, whether in the form of forms of factory discipline, penality, or the forms of domination within the heteronormative and patriarchal family.  Politics only occurs in those moments where excluded and dominated parties, people he refers to as 'the part with no part' reject and try to undermine those orders.  We can see politics in the sense that Ranciere means it when workers fight for democratic control of their factories or when women reject their proscribed domestic roles.  We can see some potential limitations in Ranciere's definition.  After all, most counter-systematic movements contain a mixture of both a rejection of old orders, and the call for a new order, an intermixture of what Ranciere would consider politics and the police.

     Despite these issues, the value of the notion of the political as that which destroys conventional structures of order is of some value in watching the reactions of the labor relations officials when we bargain.  It has been precisely at the moments when we challenge the monopoly of power of the UC administration that those individuals become most nasty, when we bring up issues of class size, social justice issues such as all gender bathrooms, issues of discrimination, along with economic issues not traditionally within the purview of our contract.  It's precisely at these moments when we can recognize that the process of contract negotiation contains the potential for challenging the structures of order that those administrators have spent so much time policing the borders of, and their response gestures precisely to the sort of fear that can occur when those borders are challenged.  A more notable occasion happened in one of the late UCLA sessions, when we brought up potential discrepancies between the management rights clause of our contract and the stipulations demanded by the rules that regulate the collective bargaining process as set up by HEERA (Higher Education Employee Relations Act.)  The middle managers of labor relations went on a tirade, refusing to even answer our questions about the differences between the act and our contract.  In effect, even the implication of challenging the myopic domination of management must be stamped out, a response we saw in the conversation around classroom size and housing, both of which would create different expectations and relations within the university.

      Ironically enough, Ranciere's framework offers a pretty good explanation of why the conservative forces at Paycheck First have the same response to the new framework of demands as presented by the union.  They have dismissed many of the contract campaign, and have offered virtual no commentary on the activities that have gone on outside of the bargaining table as hundreds, if not thousands of rank and file members have acted to fight for a new contract.  Implicitly, they accept many of the same principles of policing set up by the administration of university, accepting the premise that was initially set up by the labor peace of the 1950's, where labor gave up its more radical aspirations of workers' control of the workplace for higher wages, job security, and some workplace regulations.  However, those demands were only gained by the properly political actions of radical unionists, who created the conditions for the labor peace, and were simultaneously crushed as the precondition of that very peace to go into effect.  (I want to emphasize that this peace destroyed thousands if not tens of thousands of workers' livelihoods, and occasion, lives.)  As we have moved away from the high points of radical activity within the labor movement, the ability of that movement to hold onto the gains it bargained at the cost of those radical activists.  From the impressive gains provided by business unionism in the 1950's at tragic costs, we see a comic repetition in the demands of Paycheck First, who cannot even imagine bargaining our way out of poverty wages, let alone contributing to the fight for a just and genuinely public university, as the majority of the bargaining team has attempted to accomplish.

     I should also note that Ranciere's analysis offers an interesting alternative view into the melodramatic interpretation of the conflicts within the union as offered by both Paycheck First and the former members of the USEJ caucus.  When we look at their descriptions of these conflicts, we find a very consistent narrative, built upon the concept of what Nietzsche calls wounded identity.  The narratives generally erase the political dimension of the conflict, what rules and traditions were being challenged within the conflict, and instead focus on the singular vision of wounded individual who defended these traditions.  Reform forces are generally presented as a malevolent collectivity exemplified by representative figures, who are often interchangeable.  This narrative is properly melodramatic in its Manichean vision of the good and the evil, the good being represented by the old traditions and leadership of the union and the evil by the inevitably incompetent and hypocritical collectivity of AWDU.  It is a narrative that erases the forms of implicit and explicit hierarchical domination that previously defined the union, the intimidation of union activists through yelling, and private one on one meetings (these would often occur in the middle of activities, with individuals being pulled behind closed doors, to be intimidated into voting the 'right way.')  The narrative also erases the lack of activity and participation within the union in those years. 

       The conflicts that have occurred in the past three years have inevitably occurred at moments when forms of policing have been reduced or eliminated from the union structure, from opening up structures of communication, to reducing the ability of single individuals to hold multiple offices.  The conflicts within the bargaining process, additionally, have generally occurred at moments when old assumed activities were not repeated in rote fashion.  (I will have more details on this question, later, when the process of bargaining is over.)  They have also occurred at moments when the new leadership has committed itself to the student movement, and has refused the automatic support of Democratic Party initiatives.  These conflicts have often been ugly, and I'm not going to fully endorse the actions that we have taken individually or as a caucus in all of these situations, but they have pointed towards a revitalized, more democratic, and stronger union structure.  We have moved the union from a massive political backwater to a relevant party in challenging the austerity measures of the state.  I think we have had distinct limitations in this reform process, which I hope change as I leave the union.  I would like us to give much more thought to our structures of organizing.  The reduction in membership is a process common to both the later years of the old leadership and our time in office, but we have not been able to reverse this process.  The ability to do so cannot, however, be accomplished by the simple acts of exhortation used by the old leadership, or their organizing techniques.  Instead, we need to develop new forms of organizing that engage with and challenge the new structures of the university.  They must be, within the framework laid out by Jacques Ranciere, political forms of organizing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An additional comment on the Paycheck First situation

        I have noticed that I have received a number of visits from individuals from the Paycheck First blog.  I'm normally curious about how folks discovered the blog, and am appreciative of links.  However, I can't say that I feel the same way about these referrals.  I took a glance at the referring document, and found that my blog had been referred with the usual lack of accountability that I have come to expect from that blog, in an anonymous note at the end of a posting.  In addition, in typical fashion, the unnamed individual had offered a fairly inaccurate description of my posting, stating an assertion that I did not make, and ignoring the substantial issues that I had brought up with the blog.

        To briefly return to my initial comments, I had suspected that this might be something produced by former leadership supporters.  It contained a lot of the elements that have defined their output, including a lot of inaccuracies, statements made out of context, and a general absence of a political analysis, issues I would love to engage with once the individual involved publicly identified themselves.  However, I noted that there was no way to either confirm or deny this guess, given that the individual involved did not attach their names to their own blog.  It is difficult to take a call for accountability terribly seriously when the individuals involved couldn't even bother to take the time to attach their names to their own statements.  I suspect that they realize that their own credibility as activists and as members would be seriously damaged if they were associated with their own work.

     I'm quite interested in dispelling many of the substantial misunderstandings that the unnamed individuals have presented about the bargaining process, and in dispelling and correcting the many rumors that they have spread about the process, but for me to engage in that process here would involve them actually identifying themselves.  As I have noted in the past, I have never made a statement about the union anonymously.  I was public in my views when I was a rank and file activist, when I was in the minority caucus in the union as an officer, and now that I am a part of the majority coalition in the union.  I take union democracy seriously, and taking responsibility for your own positions is a crucial aspect of that democratic process.  I will be blunt, the Paycheck First blog both sabotages that democratic process, and potentially aids management in the process of bargaining.

      However, it is worth noting that the union's postings on the contract process already substantially undermine the claims of the blog's anonymous contributors.  I'd strongly recommend looking at those releases for a better sense of what is going on.  We are also discussing whether or not we should put out some material about these topics on the Irvine AWDU blog, as a way of dispelling the fear and superstition perpetrated on that blog.  I have mixed feelings about that though.  On one hand, we need more information out about the process of bargaining, and more places to discuss that information.  At the same time, I'm tired of being called out by people who have neither the willingness to put their names to their claims nor to do the basic research required to understand the most basic aspects of the bargaining process.