Probably most folks know about the recent victory of AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) in the recent triennial elections. The results finally came in after over a week of battles with the opposing slate, who repeatedly attempted to sabotage the vote count. AWDU won the entire executive board, and 45 of 80 joint council seats (although a couple of the seats held by USEJ (the opposing slate, United for Social and Economic Justice are not held by legitimate student workers.) I think that we can see this potential radical shift in the union as a result of the student movement of a year ago. At the most immediate level, we watched as some of the most intense and involved struggles about the nature of the public university occur in a decade without any substantial presence of the union. (particularly on the Irvine campus) But perhaps more substantially, that struggle changed the expectations and the perspective of the students on our campus. Whether students were involved in the protests, occupations, and sit-downs or not, the official narratives of the university and its administrators were viewed with a great deal more skepticism and hostility. In effect, this critical engagement was turned on the leadership of the union when they tried to sell us a bad contract. The leadership was able to force through the contract by getting large amounts of folks at the San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara campuses to vote for the contract. The leadership took the vote as a tremendous success, but as I noted earlier, all the campuses where activists contested the contract either voted against the contract or had a very close vote. AWDU came together very quickly after this campaign. Without getting too intensely involved in the details of the campaign, USEJ showed that it was not ready for a competitive and democratic election.
That being said, I think that it is absolutely crucial that we keep AWDU together as a reform caucus. The example of the mineworkers for democracy shows the danger of closing up the reform caucus after winning the election. We need to recognize that the same pressures that eventually lead to the problems within the last leadership are going to be put on us as the reform slate. The most effective way to accomplish this is to transform AWDU into a membership organization. That way, the organization can act as an effective check and counterpower to potential problems within the union. We need this institutional structure precisely because of the potential impediments that exist within our union, a transient population, high turnover, and a group of folks who have not had much experience being in a union. A strong membership organization can provide that sense of continuity, along with fulfilling those pedagogical functions. Effectively, the union has been operating through the tyranny of structurelessness. Our end goal is to produce a substantial and participatory democracy, but in order to do that we need to strengthen our representative democracy. In part, this means some forms of decentralization, trusting local campuses and their elected leadership to have a better sense of the issues on each individual campus and their ability to make decisions, but it also means making the decision making process less opaque and confusing. We need to recognize that the problems of the union cannot be solved with one fell swoop. They're structural, and only a set of ongoing and structural solutions can solve them.