Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Joint Council Meeting That Wasn't Like Being Tortured By Monkeys

     Remarkably enough, there was very little strife at the last Joint Council meeting.  We managed to meet for over six hours, engage in a number of brainstorming exercises about the future of the union, and collaborate in decision making processes.  We even managed to discuss possible bylaws changes, and pass a tentative budget.  If we manage to make this meeting a precedent, the Joint Council might actually become a functioning decision making body.  Most of the work that we accomplished yesterday constituted a set of beginning conversations, and will require a lot of continued effort to put into effect.  We discussed the initial conversations from a set of committees created during the statewide meeting, and solidified their membership.  These committees ranged from issues around internal organizing, the creation of alliances with other social movements and unions, communications, and the need to rebuild the public education movement.  Additionally, we're going to work on producing a statement of vision for the next three years that should be discussed and revised by the various units of the union.  We also committed money and energy for the upcoming orientation meetings, as well as for activist trainings.  In effect, we have created a set of potentialities, which may lead to something remarkable, but those potentialities are dependent on both the focused energies of the JC and our ability to convince the rank and file of the union that they should move from their current disengagement to an active and participatory collective engagement.  It's easy to be skeptical of the ability of grad students to make this great shift in collective political behavior, but the Berkeley unit has managed to construct a strong and cohesive presence on campus only after a few years of work, and moved from a campus with almost no union presence to a strong and thriving participatory union culture.  We should learn from them and work to translate their success on to our own campuses.
      Perhaps, some of my optimism comes from the behavior of the USEJ members of the council.  As some might remember, my last comments about that particular formation were not exactly positive.  However, aside from a few mean spirited off hand comments from one member, their activists contributed in a largely positive manner to the proceedings.  In all fairness, the opposition was outnumbered in the proceedings by almost two to one throughout the meeting, which meant that they didn't have a great deal of power in voting terms, even within the context of Robert's Rules of Order, but a similar situation in the Statewide meeting didn't stop their attempt to disrupt the meeting.  The difference in the group's approach at the meetings was startling, moving from wildly oppositional and monolithic approach to a more constructive, if detached approach.  Perhaps more significantly, the group didn't vote as a block, and there were a number of moments when a number of USEJ folks supported our motions and contributed to their revision.  Although their caucus began the meeting in the back of the room, a number of individuals began to move up to participate more fully in decisions, breaking away from the older leadership sitting in back.  One could still see differences in approach in the meeting, as the opposition was happy with some of the open ended conversations that were held in the meeting and were unhappy with a couple financial decisions, but it would be wildly unfair to criticize any of that opposition.  My hope is that as we go through the year the USEJ folks will get used to some of the messiness involved in deliberative democracy, and they will continue to provide the type of opposition at this meeting. 
       Before a Labor Notes discussion earlier in the year, I had commented to a colleague that the title of the panel, Fighting Unions, had applied to our ability to fight each other, but that we had not shown much ability to actually fight the boss.  Perhaps, the last meeting gestures to the possibility that we will learn that skill as well.  I hope so.

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