Monday, May 23, 2011

A note on the recent statewide membership meeting

       I had promised to finally complete my thoughts on transgression and subculture with my posting on Sarah Schulman's People in Trouble, however the results of the last statewide membership meeting returned me to a largely polemical frame of mind.  I thought that I would work through some of those thoughts in order to return to the larger critical issues that I try to cover in this blog.
     The meeting had opened with a fairly triumphant and, to be honest, somewhat vindictive, mood.  There was a large crowd of AWDU supporters and small coterie of USEJ candidates and future office holders, and the former group responded to our new president, Cheryl Deutsch's comments about the future of the union with enthusiasm.  Deutsch offered a succinct and thoughtful explanation of the election, as well as of the victorious AWDU slate.  The latter group immediately challenged the legitimacy of the meeting during the vote on the ground rules of the meeting, and called for quorum.  Remarkably, for the first time in the history of the union, we actually met the requirement of the 100 member attendance at the meeting, which was met by long and extensive applause.  These early actions largely defined the rest of the meeting, between a repetitive attempt on the part of the small USEJ faction to disrupt the meeting on procedural grounds, and the supporters of AWDU moving forward their agenda.  This conflict led to the early section of the meeting getting dragged out considerably.  We had to debate the decision to stream the meeting to the public and to allow reporters in the meeting, both of which were strongly opposed by USEJ candidates who wanted a private meeting.
     This particular obscurantism moved into the process of what became the main feature of the meeting, the two major election complaints, which occurred about an hour into the meeting.  The USEJ complaint, which can be found on their blog page, was presented by Xochitl Lopez and Filiberto Nolasco.  Unfortunately, rather than simply presenting, Lopez claimed the need to go through the process of voting in the election results, despite the fact that there was no reference to this procedure in the union's bylaws for this behavior.  It took about a half hour to get through these ridiculous entanglements, but we eventually got to the complaint.  Lopez presented the complaint, which managed to replicate the eclectic incoherence of the complaint in a very short period of time.  The AWDU response was largely conservative, challenging the basis in which the challenges could have affected the results of the election.  The response also noted the fact that most of the complaints operated on the level of hearsay, and, at times, outright deception.  The ensuing debate was fairly predictable, and the complaint was voted down.  Most likely, we will see this appealed to the UAW's Public Review Board.
     We managed to move fairly quickly into the next complaint, that against the candidacy of Sayil Camacho.  Without replicating it completely, the complaint primarily focused on the fact that Camacho was not a student when she was hired on as a organizer, and isn't currently a student, breaking the bylaws.  There were some other issues around campaign behavior, but to be honest, it was not as significant as this basic fact, although the issue of campaigning on union time is a fairly serious charge.  USEJ used a lot of rhetoric around the term 'witch trials' to avoid this basic fact.  The complaint was eventually approved by a substantial, although smaller margin.  Before I move on, I really want to emphasize the reasoning behind this decision.  The former leadership had a tendency to take jurist Carl Schmitt's position stated in Political Theology quite seriously, "Sovereign is he who creates the state of exception."  The former leadership has effectively used a selective enforcement of the bylaws in order to hold onto power, occasionally bringing in outside friends to strengthen their position, regardless of whether they were graduate students or not.  This same approach occurs in the selective usage of Robert's Rules of Order in the meetings run by the former leadership.  AWDU ran against this approach, and, in particular, against the large number of staff members that were on the USEJ slate.  It was crucial to challenge the Camacho candidacy to refuse to allow for this structure to continue in the local.  Additionally, it is important to change the bylaws to stop the policy of allowing staff to run for office.  They are in a position of financial obligation, and therefore can be pressured into running in support of the current leadership, which I would find equally distasteful in our own slate if it occurred with us.
     To move back to the meeting narrative, the final section of the meeting could have been the most interesting section of the proceedings, but it was largely eclipsed by the earlier conflict.  The purpose of what was supposed to be the second half of the meeting was a set of break out groups, dealing with a variety of questions, from attempts to organize GSRs to budget cuts and workload concerns.  Unfortunately, the sessions were cut short because of how long the earlier sessions ran.  Additionally, the USEJ candidates took up more time by trying to shut down the meeting early, and were able to formally close down the proceedings with another quorum call.  We decided to continue the conversations informally, but we could have had a longer set of conversations if there wasn't a half hour delay to deal with another set of delays around the rules.  Ironically, we probably would have left the meeting earlier if it wasn't for the set of complaints about the length of the meeting.
      Before I conclude this far too lengthy narrative, I want to express something about the affective dimension of the meeting, which has been left out of the discussion thus far.  It's difficult to fully express how unpleasant these meetings really are, at times.  It was only half way through the breakout sessions that I had decompressed from the earlier actions to the point of actually hearing what my fellow union members had to say within our conversation about classroom sizes.  This unpleasantness is really a result of the refusal to set up simple coherent rules to run the meetings, along with the tendency on the part of USEJ to treat the union as their own private property.  I had run into these folks years ago, long before the existence of AWDU, and they showed very little interest in communicating with outsiders, even then.  In my eighteen years of activism inside and outside of the formal workers' movement, I have never come across a set of such mean-spirited, petty, and small minded individuals involved in a social movement.  They have created an environment of systemic demobilization within the local through this behavior, and my many experiences of perfidy and venality within activism are fairly mild compared to the actions of this coterie.  My hope is that we can move towards running meetings that people would like to be involved in.

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