Friday, December 3, 2010

On The Results of the Vote (UAW Graduate Student Union 2865)

      The advocates for the recently ratified contract between UAW 2865 and the University of California are claiming the recent vote shows a resounding support for the process.  At an initial look, that may look correct.  After all, the "yes" vote received a rather substantial 62% of the vote.  However, this doesn't take a number of things into account.  I'll begin by taking the numbers at their face value, and then bring up some potential problems with the numbers.  Even if we take the numbers at their face value, the percentage of yes votes is considerably smaller than earlier contracts.  This points to substantial structures of opposition that exist to the current contract.  Additionally, the campuses that had students on the ground, organizing to reject the contract, overwhelmingly rejected the contract.  78% of Berkeley graduates students voted against the contract, 90% of Santa Cruz graduate students voted no, and 57% of Irvine graduate students voted no, which means the campuses that got to hear a genuine debate over the quality of the contract tended to vote against it.
        Additionally, there are a number of suspicious aspects to the voting totals that came out of the election.  The victory for the contract largely came out of massive votes for the contract at the San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara campuses.  Each of these campuses voted for the contract at a rate of over 90%, and more significantly, the voting percentage of members was above 40%, with San Diego at 41%, Los Angeles at 43%, and Santa Barbara at a remarkable 49%.  This means that the schools who voted yes, brought in about 4% to 21% more votes than schools that voted no.  This is particularly striking given the fact that the schools that supported the contract have a reputation for not being active union campuses, contrasting with the strong activist traditions such as Berkeley and Santa Cruz.  The difficulty is that there is very little positive evidence for any accusations for vote rigging.  There have been some problems with the voting process.  In one location, a voting box was clear.  There have been some problems with union officials advocating too close to the voting table, but most of these issues have been relatively minor, probably are tied up with the informalities taken in earlier elections, and don't really translate into any sort of substantial rigging of the ballots in and of themselves.  Perhaps, there are revelations that will appear in the next few days, but without such material, it will be difficult to translate these suspicions into any substantial allegation.  Here is a link with some of the concerns.
       So the question that is put before us at this point is what is to be done at this point?  There has been some muttering on the interstices about a decertification campaign.  I can understand folks frustration about the process, but that is a dangerously bad idea.  It would put the entire history of our bargaining process in jeopardy, in ways that union officialdom could only pretend about the current contract process.  Additionally, for all the problems that have occurred within that process, the problems that we have with our union are relatively minor.  One need only look at the precautions that dissident Teamsters had to take to challenge the official union line at the beginning of the Teamsters for a Democratic, often risking physical violence and death.  I heard of similar circumstances with the custodial workers during my years as a student janitor.  I don't intend to bring up those stores in order to dismiss our current situation, but to point out that organizations such as TDU have been able to make substantial reforms in their unions under much more precarious situations.
       So as you might guess, I think the way forward is through the TDU model.  We need to create and develop a reform organization within the union itself.  We can use this to challenge the leadership in the upcoming elections, through a reform slate.  We can use this structure to produce a new set of activists dedicated to a stronger, more participatory vision of the union.  Most significantly, we can use this as a way to put ourselves in a position where we have activists overlooking the elections for all the campuses, as well as having a more militant voice on all the campuses.  After all, whatever the reason, the absence of such forces on most of the campuses led to the passing of the contract.  We need to capture the remaining energy from the vote no campaign, and use it to create the long term structures needed to work towards a more democratic and participatory union.  There is an interesting example of this structure in Washington.  (Here is their blog.  Additionally, there is a organization in Berkeley.)  We need to recognize that we need structure and resources to transform this small revolt into something that crosses at least the majority, if not all campuses.  Unions are, at their heart, democratic centralist organization.  We need structures to make sure that the leadership is accountable to an active and engaged rank and file membership.
       That being said, I am by no means dismissing the remarkable activism that occurred in this campaign.  Comrades from Berkeley and Santa Cruz came out with excellent material defending a no vote, and Brian Malone was particularly tireless in countering the nonsense from the leadership.  (I'm probably ignoring the labor of a lot of folks who were just as tireless, I apologize, but I probably don't know you as well.)  At Irvine, a small group of activists came out day and night for four days, and probably led to the campus voting no.  My advocacy of organizational formality is no means a dismissal of that substantial labor.  Instead, I see it as a way of creating structures and networks of communication that would allow for that labor to accomplish even more than it did.  Additionally, it would give us a venue to produce a coherent counter-vision to the current business union model of the UAW, a vision that would challenge the logic of privatization that lets the top administration get millions of dollars in bonuses, while workers' salaries are cut and tuition goes up.  When the union accepts the logic of the 'crisis', it legitimates the consolidation of class power that occurs under the name of 'crisis.'

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