Friday, June 22, 2012

social reproduction and the post-war

“What was the living worker’s activity becomes the activity of the machine. Thus the appropriation of labor by capital confronts the worker in a coarsely sensuous form; capital absorbs labor into itself—‘as though its body were by love possessed.’”
--Karl Marx

I was initially unsure how to begin this project. To be honest, my examination of literature doesn’t follow a path that could be labeled explicitly feminist. However there is a question that I have been following in the guise of cultural studies that could be linked up with a feminist politics, both producing a theoretical framework that is involved in that work and a framework that can think through the politics of feminism. This project is linked up with a certain concept of the popular. It poses the same problem that Gramsci poses in the Prison Notebooks “to establish not why a book is “beautiful” but why it is “read,” “popular,” “sought after.”[1] To begin to pose the problem in these terms is to begin to ask how structures of power are reproduced within moments of the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘everyday’. It also points to their contingency and perhaps the possibility of those circuits.

This, of course, is not the first time for this question to be posed. One can read it in the competing narratives of the cultural criticism of the Frankfurt School, and in the various uptakes of cultural studies, most notably the readings by American critics in the 1990’s. Stuart Hall in his essay “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular’ best describes the binary produced in these debates. He notes that “the study of popular culture has tended to oscillate wildly between the two alternative poles of that dialectic—containment/resistance.”[2] These terms that have some value when constituted dialectically, become problematic when separated. I want to read the popular within that tension. The popular must both draw from the lines of flight from capital and the ways that those lines of flight are captured again and made productive for capital. I will only approach this question at the very end of the paper, and briefly. The primary focus will be on the question of reproduction and the feminist political response to this in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

In order to do this, I want to begin by producing a provisional definition of the concept of reproduction. I will begin with the way that Louis Althusser in his unfinished text, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses defines it. This will be revised by an examination of Rosa Luxemburg’s investigations into the question of reproduction in her most significant work, The Accumulation of Capital. This will challenge some of the conservatism that Althusser reads into the reproduction of structures of domination in capital. I will then move into a discussion of the ways that the structures of reproduction have been challenged and rerouted by new forms of collectivity created by a feminist and queer politics. I will end the piece with a discussion of how these challenges have been taken up in popular forms of media, most notably television.

The question of how capitalism reproduces itself on a day to day level became a focus for Louis Althusser in his well read essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” The essay has become a cheap and short way for many college courses to dismiss a Marxian politic and methodology, but it is worth returning to in order to bring out certain structural elements in the everyday. He begins this effort with a fairly conventional discussion of the ways that reproduction has been discussed within a Marxist context. Most of this has focused on the reproduction of the means of production, where Althusser states that he is going to focus on the reproduction of the relations of production. He states early in the essay.

I shall say that the reproduction of labor power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class ‘in words’.[3]

Althusser is beginning to point to a whole series of institutions that are required for the continuation of capitalism’s existence. It isn’t enough to reproduce the means of production, and the skills needed for that production, but one also needs to reproduce the social order which produces the logic of the former. These institutions are needed in order to reproduce a ‘submission to the ruling ideology for workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology for the agents of exploitation and reproduction.” Althusser finds these institutions primarily outside of the workplace itself. Following the footsteps of Antonio Gramsci, he finds these structures primarily in the institution of the school (which he sees as the replacement of the church as the dominant ISA) and the institution of the family.

One may not be entirely convinced by the narrative that Althusser gives to the transition, but the more significant argument is the way that ideology works in this system of reproduction. Althusser argues against an earlier conception of ideology that makes it into a form of illusion or false consciousness. Instead he argues that ideology is made up of material practices constructed in a nexus of institutions. Althusser expresses this in the following terms, “his ideas are material actions inserted into material practices governed by material rituals which are themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus from which derive the ideas of that subject.”[4]

Althusser marks modern subjectivity as being produced in the nexus of two main institutions the school and the family. Although if we take Foucault seriously, we also have to recognize that these institutions are produced by and propped up by a whole other series of institutions, and by the production of a whole series of knowledges. This places the most important work of reproducing dominant structures of society into what had been constructed as the private sphere. The narrative Foucault creates of this is contiguous with the history of capitalism. It has its most productive moments of creation at the moment of the middle of the 16th century and at the beginning of the 19th century.[5]

The most significant spaces for the reproduction of the logic of capitalism occur in the disciplinary space of the school and the discourses of sexuality in the family. These spaces constitute the locus points for the operations of the “polymorphous techniques of power.”[6] This productive arrangement was initially “elaborated in its more complex and intense forms, by and for the privileged classes, spread through the entire social body.”[7] There is something is dropped out of this account, that needs to be recognized, which is the way that the colonies acted as laboratory for this creation, but I will have to leave that aside for now. The important thing to draw from this is that the household has been made productive for the current structures of modern disciplinary power. It has done this precisely through its neutralization as a space of political contestation, by placing it in the private sphere. This will become an important issue later in the paper, but lets return to the more formal question of reproduction of the relations of power.

The difficulty that I find in Althusser (although not in Foucault’s) notion of the production of ideology, is its conservative quality. The reproduction that Althusser describes doesn’t capture the violent ruptural nature of capitalism, nor does it approach its appropriative nature. In order to capture that, I want to make a move that may seem a little retrograde at initial consideration, but it may be the two steps backwards that we need to make to make one step forwards. Rosa Luxemburg also approached this issue of reproduction in her work, The Accumulation of Capital, only she was approaching the more formal question as it would be asked by the classic critics of political economy, Marx and Engels. She opens up the question of reproduction in the following terms.

The literal meaning of the word ‘reproduction’ is repetition, renewal of the process of production. At first sight it may be difficult to see in what respect the idea of reproduction differs from that of repetition which we all can understand—why such a new and unfamiliar term should be required. But in the sort of repetition that we shall consider, in the continual recurrence of the process of production, there are certain distinctive features.[8]

Rosa Luxemburg opens up her book with the statement that reproduction is not repetition, as it seems to operate in the logic of Althusser’s (admittedly incomplete) understanding of the concept. Instead, the continual process of production must be understood as being a distinct problem. I want to look at two basic notions that she develops in this understanding of the reproduction of social capital in order to bring them into the discussion of the reproduction of capital as it occurs in everyday life. The first main issue is that of the conditions that it takes to ask the question in the first place. The second deals with the expansive nature of capitalism.

Luxemburg argues that in order to ask the question of reproduction, production must reach a certain level of productivity. Or as she puts it, “Reproductions is something more than mere repetition in so far as it presupposes a certain level of society’s supremacy over nature, or in economic terms, a certain standard of labor productivity.”[9] This is not perhaps the language that would be used to explain the phenomenon today, but it gets at the point that in order to ask the question of reproduction, one must pass over a certain level of scarcity. For Luxemburg, this requires placing the ability to supply the basic necessities of life outside of the contingencies of the non-human, into the realm of the social, otherwise one is only dealing with the bare form of repetition. This element becomes especially relevant when one remembers that the question of social reproduction only gets its full hearing within the context of post-scarcity late capitalism, the point when capital subdues a rebellious labor forces by providing it a living standard that is considerably above the subsistence level.

The second important feature that Luxemburg brings into the picture of reproduction is the issue of expansion. This will become the more important of the two features. As Luxemburg notes,

Capitalist methods of production do more than awaken in the capitalist this thirst for surplus value whereby he is impelled to ceaseless expansion of reproduction. Expansion becomes in truth a coercive law, an economic condition of existence for the individual capitalist… A growing tendency towards reproduction at a progressively increasing scale thus ensues, which spreads automatically like a tidal wave over ever larger surfaces of reproduction…. For the individual capitalist, failure to keep abreast of this expansion means quitting the competitive struggle, economic death.[10]

The uniqueness of capitalism is that it must continually expand in order to survive. Luxemburg captures the ruthless nature of this necessity. Capital is the sovereign figure of this system, not the bourgeoisie. But for our purposes, one can never understand the nature of reproduction of capitalism within static terms. There must be a continuous expansion of the system. Unlike other systems of production, capitalism thrives on the crisis produced by its own contradictions. It must continually absorb that which seeks to destroy it. Luxemburg shows how this produces the logic for the colonial venture, capital needing to continually incorporate its other, the non-capitalist in order to survive. I want to argue that this same ruthless expansive nature must be understood in order to understand how the reproduction of a social order works, it must both incorporate non-capitalistic relations into its structure, and more importantly for us, it must make its resistances productive as well.

This brings us to the question of the feminist and queer politics of the 1970’s and the way they act as a form of countersystemic politics. My understanding of this has been driven by both Negri and Wallerstein’s understanding of the revolution of 1968 as something that both opposed the U.S. hegemony, but also opposed the older models of countersystemic movements that failed to destroy it. The first thing that we must understand is that these modes of politics developed in a certain context. Before we discuss the nature of these movements, the ways that they tried to reroute the circuits of capitalist reproduction, not at the level of grand narratives, but at its more intimate spaces, the spaces that had been so assiduously neutralized, I thought it would be best to draw out the basic political preconditions for these movements. And I should note that we are discussing movements primarily in the U.S. and Europe.

The period that we are discussing is the post war era. I am not going to go into all of the details of the structures and changes that defined that era, but rather I am going to discuss the sections that directly impact the movements that I am discussing. The first thing that should be noted is that the era is defined by a backlash against the radical workers’ movements that were in effect in the 1930’s. This backlash is most strongly defined by McCarthyism, the attempt to drive women out of the workplace, and the continued enforcement of structures of white supremacy. In effect, the political movements had been placated by the offer of a decent wage and the creation of a family structure that had only been enjoyed by the upper echelons of society. By in large what I am driving at is there was a shift in living conditions in a large section of the working class, that was allowed through the destruction of a radical political project. So that while I take socialist feminism as a serious political project, I reject its self-narration of creation. The politics of the period were not created so much by the inadequacy of a marxian politic so much as its destruction.

What followed from there was a new terrain for a politic, one that was less defined by necessity of reproducing everyday life, as reshaping what that would constitute. We can return to the comment that Luxemburg made in The Accumulation of Capital. One can only think about the question of reproduction as such at the point of a certain level of security. That security had been obtained, but only at the cost of generations of radical politics and experience. Many of the substantial problems of New Left politics came out of that amnesia. At the same time, the situation created new possibilities for new forms of social relations and taking advantage of that accumulation. It is notable that the radical politics of the New Left were the first not to be defined by necessity.

As I stated in the general overview of the period, the post war period was defined by a return to a certain structure of household economy. This household economy is defined by women fulfilling the reproductive role of caretaker in the household, a neutralized position that allowed for the continuance of production while not being acknowledged as being a part of that productive process. This restructuring occurred through a great deal of state planning and action. One can find its creation in both official state institutions, and in the influence put on women’s publications. Obviously, this was not a universal condition for women in the United States, but it did act an ideal blueprint for the production of the household, in the same way that Foucault proposes that we read the panopticon for disciplinary society.

To push this into a discussion of the feminist movement, it should be noted that Betty Friedan was involved in writing for the women’s magazines that aided in drawing up some of the blueprints for this structure. She was able to produce her work due to a somewhat privileged position concerning the enforcement of the new household economy. She was able to then put a name onto the system of labor and drudgery that was being effaced under the term, the domestic. At the same time, the political movements of the time, whether we are talking about the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, or the New Left in its broader structures, tended to replicate this division of labor unthinkingly. Women filled the positions in these organizations that were crucial to the day to day operations, but positions that were devalorized as meaningful labor. So, in effect, the problem that Frieden identified was considerably more contemporary than many writers at the time would recognize.

The first initial response to this structure was the consciousness raising session. This took form in both liberal feminist circles and in response to the deficiencies of New Left politics. The model drew from practices used both in black power circles and in the Chinese Revolution. To get a sense of the power that was found in this structure, I point to the words in the Socialist Feminist Reader. “They proved to be a supportive forum for discussing the liberation of women, personal and political experiences, frustrations with movements for social change that were supposed to be different from the rest of the world, and insights about domination and oppression that had fallen on deaf ears in the new left.”[11] The consciousness raising session became a powerful vehicle for organizing and rerouting the political desires of a new collectivity.

However, we should probably recognize that there is another model that could be drawn as a precedent for the consciousness raising session, and that is the confessional. This structure as Foucault points out is based on a certain “will to knowledge.” This structure, far from being absent from the post-war family, was animating feature of it. This family structure can be properly called post-psychoanalytical. The structure had been successfully transformed from a structure of alliance into “a whole series of tactics that combined the body and that of regulating populations.”[12] The structure of consciousness raising was successful, not because it was in revolt against the modern family, but precisely because it used its libidinal structures to its advantage.

This is not to say that the movement was tricked into using these methods or that it was trapped into a mode of false consciousness, but that it could only engage in a process of subjectivization based on the modes of subjection that had created its members as subjects. The interesting element of the feminist movement was ultimately not its narrative of liberation, but the way that it brought out a whole series of power relations outside of the neutralizing element of the private and pointed out that those relations were crucial to the constitution of capital. The field of the reproduction of the household became a site of contestation. The intensity of this politic is best captured by a comment about the relationships developed in the Bread and Roses collective.

From the perspective that the personal is political, almost everything in women’s lives was a potential target of struggle. Women were changing in many contexts: in friendships, in self-image, in sexual relations and the experience of sexuality, in work and new forms of competence, in the imagining and creating new alternatives.[13]

We find a radical politic here that is defined not by the mystified destruction of the structures of reproduction, but by rerouting them to create other forms of collectivity, other forms of subjectivity. This in turn lead to a whole series of political projects that ranged from attempting to recognize the labor of the household as crucial to the production of labor power, to child care collectives, and a whole range of other activities. It would be curious to try to write another History of Sexuality from the perspective of this resistance. I don’t think that it would radically change Foucault’s work, but it would be interesting to see what the differences are.

Ironically, I end on the note that initially made me think about this question in the first place, the question of the popular. As we have seen feminist politics and the queer movement (which I haven’t dealt with) have created new ways of thinking of family structures, de-emphasizing the nuclear family and presenting the possibility of other forms of kinship then previously available. One can go as far as to say that Gayle Rubin’s project in regards to this has been a success. Obviously the goal of destroying capitalism hasn’t been successful, but one cannot say the same for the structure of the family.

The way that I turn to the question of the popular is in a whole series of television series that define themselves precisely through these alternative sets of kinship. These television programs are defined by, in their most banal form, series such as Friends and Seinfeld, but they take more interesting political forms such as the series Queer as Folk and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These various programs, which may constitute a new genre, provincialize the nuclear family in order to emphasize a variety of other networks of kinship and care. This is obviously yet another appropriation, but I am curious to what its effects will be. It would be wrong to read this as an inherently depoliticizing gesture. After all, the latter two shows are to some extent defined by a political project. The question that I want to ask is to what extent does this new form carry the political energies of the former project? And perhaps more significantly, how will this effect the ways that new forms of subjectivization will come out of the new forms of subjection as defined by late capitalism?

[1] Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks: Volume II, Ed. and Trans., Joseph A Buttigieg (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 123.
[2] Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular’, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, ed. John Storey (London: Prentice Hall, 1998), 443.
[3] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation)” in Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 132-133.
[4] Ibid., 169
[5] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction, trans., Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1978),119.
[6] Ibid., 11.
[7] Ibid., 122.
[8] Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, trans. Agnes Schwarzchild (New York: Routledge, 1951), 3-4.
[9] Ibid., 4.
[10] Ibid., 12-13.
[11]Ilene J. Philipson and Karen V. Hansen, “Women, Class, and the Feminist Imagination: An Introduction”, in Women, Class, and the Feminist Imagination: A Socialist-Feminist Reader, Ed. Ilene J. Philipson and Karen V. Hansen (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1990), 6.
[12] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction, trans., Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1978),146
[13] Annie Popkin, “Social Experience of Bread and Roses”, in Women, Class, and the Feminist Imagination: A Socialist-Feminist Reader, Ed. Ilene J. Philipson and Karen V. Hansen (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1990), 185.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On the recent housing fights in Verano

     The local branch of our union has been involved in the fight to defend affordable housing for graduate students for the past quarter.  For those who aren't aware of the situation, the cost of housing is far out of the range of our wages as graduate students.  In fact, housing costs are so high that the university not only has to provide subsidized housing for students,  but for faculty, staff, and administrators.  Over the past few years, the university has expanded that housing, but that expanded housing is largely privatized and often costs as much as our entire salary.  Affordable housing is typically considered to be 30%, and only a small percentage of the university's housing fits that category, all of that within Verano Housing.  However, that housing is increasingly disappearing.  The university has been increasing the price of the cheapest housing after minimal upgrades, and its beginning to demolish some of the cheapest housing despite no plans to build alternative housing.  In effect, housing prices are going up.  These decisions have translated into a lot of anger amongst graduate students, who have gotten involved in our fight to end the demolitions and to make our housing  genuinely affordable.

    Most of the work involved in the campaign has been very traditional organizing.  Organizers and rank and file activists have been going door to door in the Verano units, talking to folks in the affected units.  We have been making phone calls, passing out petitions, and holding meetings to discuss the problem.  It's been remarkable to see the transition of our local unit moving from an existence as a rotten borough into a real social force on our campus.  A lot of credit needs to go to our paid organizers, Alfredo Carlos and Tetsuro Namba, but they've hardly been alone in the fight.  We've seen impressive work from the majority of our elected leadership, along with a lot of rank and file folks.  If I were to be honest in representing the folks involved, this posting would look more like a phone book.  The rank and file has been energized through this work, and our meetings have been well attended and energetic. The Verano administration has not responded well to this campaign, harassing organizers, setting up meetings stacked with administrators to intimidate residents, and selectively enforcing regulations for leaving information on people's doors.

     The most recent incident in the administration backlash against this movement came in the form of an attack on families in the area.  Verano housing not only has the cheapest student housing, but it has the vast majority of family housing.  Within that context, the various porches of the ground level housing are frequently littered with the various toys, cooking equipment, and jungle gyms of those families.  The truth is that this level of mild disorder contributes to the quality of living in Verano, and makes the space feel like a place where people live, rather than sterility that defines the majority of the planned community of Irvine.  Up until the present, the administration has let this chaos of life pass, but for reasons only explicable to the current folks running Verano, this has changed.  One family was told by the administration through written communication that they had to move their swing set or the administration would demolish it.  This set up had been in place for at least two years without comment from the housing administration.  We we brought in to support the family by Bron Tamulis, a longtime activist and friend of the family.  With that, we decided to play the role of an ally in this struggle.  Before I move on to the events of the day, I want to emphasize the fact the administration made no effort to have a conversation with the family, to treat them with the respect that they deserve.

    A group of us met at the house of the family in order to support them in a non-confrontational manner.  The family decided to move their playground equipment off the grass onto the cement porch in order to cooperate with the admin.  It's important to note that the common space that they were using was not accessible to residents and was largely unusable, but the family wanted to make a good faith gesture to their landlords.  Unfortunately, this gesture was not reciprocated by the administration.  Instead of appearing to have a direct conversation with the family, they only appeared when we left for the Verano office in order to find out what was going on.  When we reached the office, we were met with a lot of defensiveness on the part of the staff.  They wanted us to move out of the waiting room into the common area in order to take us out of the public eye.  We were not told when the director would come back and when we sent a small delegation to find out more details the administrators threatened to call the police on us, which they later did.  When the director of Verano, Beverly Chaney, did eventually show up, she was immediately hostile, refused to talk while students were taping her remarks, and fled from the room almost immediately.  When we attempted to return to the waiting area to read our statement.  At that point a group of three police officers appeared, and we read the letter to a silent staff, and went outside to have a conversation with the police.

    It's important to note that our group remained calm throughout this process.  We consisted of graduate students and a number of children, requesting answers from the staff.  Some folks brought cameras precisely because of the nonsense that started the situation itself, the refusal to directly engage with the family, and to indirectly send orders that contradicted the informal practices of the space.  Rather than dealing with this situation, Chaney brought in three men with guns to act as a barricade between herself and the residents she ostensibly works for.  I want to linger on the point for a while, because it represents the dominant response of the administration.  Whenever students or workers petition their grievances with the university, we are met with a phalanx of men with guns, irrespective of actual behavior.  We are always  a potential threat, and are undeserving of the respect that comes from any sort of actual engagement, because that phalanx was inevitably brought in to allow the administrators to escape out the back door.  When on the few occasions that we do see these individuals for limited amounts of time, they lie, prevaricate, and dissemble.  In my eight years of being on camps, I've come to the point when I hear from a representative of the university that their inevitably punitive decision has a long precedent, I know that the decision is probably without precedent.  We need to see this combination of deception, force, and lack of engagement precisely as a de facto system of collective and disempowerment, and an effect of the privatization of the university.

    I want to make a point before I continue on.  We as graduate students are far from the most poorly treated group on campus.  After all, we haven't had to face the sorts of threats posed to the groundskeepers and janitors as they went through their years long campaigns to become insourced university workers, but despite that relative privilege, we are treated like shit by this university.  As a final point, there was a curious interaction between us and the police officers at the end of our event.  One of the administrators came out to imply that we were intimidating them by attempting to enter their offices.  Our criminal behavior evidently consisted of attempting to use the same hallway to get to the waiting area that the staff had initially sent us through.  Upon hearing this, the officer told us that we should respect the privacy of the admin, and asked us if we would like it if they (the admin, I presume) came into our kitchen.  It's difficult to see how a workplace for a public university is the equivalent to the space of a private house, but perhaps more significantly, these folks send people into our kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms all the time.  Our houses are constantly under inspection, often without meaningful warning, and early in the morning.  The same individuals who feel free to enter into every aspect of our lives to the point of threatening to demolish children's play things, react with indignation when their public workplace is treated in that manner.  If there is an argument for the category of privilege, it might be found in this hypocritical contradiction.

     Our fight for a public education is tied into the fee hikes of privatization, but we need to recognize that those fights are the same fights as the fights for our ability to have a say in our living and working conditions.  Economic fights are immediately fights over the structures of social relations, and the structures of domination implicit within capitalist structures of exploitation.  To put this a little less abstractly, our fight for a public education is not only a fight for access to free education for all, but for the ability for us to have a voice in the direction of that university, and the freedom to express ourselves without threat of discipline or violence.  We also expect to be treated with a respect that the administration of UCI shows no inclination to show us.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On the Contract Campaign

     This posting might only have a limited audience, but I want to make a few remarks about the upcoming contract campaign.  The limitations of the last contract negotiations, and the vote on the contract were the central events that brought us together as an opposition caucus.  The former leadership of the union showed no substantial interest in bringing the rank and file into the bargaining process, either through sustained agitation on the campus level or through participation or observation at the bargaining table.  Additionally, the rank and file was given very little information about the process of bargaining.  Updates were infrequent and uninformative.  The contract that we accepted in the end was substantially the same as the contract that we as the rank and file were told was absolutely unacceptable a week earlier.  When the vote on the contract occurred, a remarkable amount of anomalies occurred, and the former leadership voted down any investigation into the process of the election.

      My purpose in bringing up that history has less to do with a desire to open old wounds than to remind us why we got into this process in the first place.  The next contract comes up in a year, and I want us to approach the process in a substantially different manner than before.  We're going to come across complications and are going to need to improvise, but the present is the time to begin to think of a different approach to the process.  The point of this post isn't so much an attempt to draw up a cohesive plan, but to throw out some ideas of how we can shift our approach to the process.  Our initial concerns with the process focused on the participation of members and their access to information, but I also want to begin to think about ways that we can incorporate the goals of the public education movement into the bargaining process as well.  To put it differently, our ability to win a good contract is dependent on the general health of public education in the state.  There certainly has been some real conversations on the reform list, and I'm going to try to incorporate some of that work into my comments as well.

     The question of access is a significant one.  We've kept out the rank and file from the bargaining process of the most part.  The former leadership used to defend this practice as necessary to the process, as something that allowed for the free exchange of ideas, but, in practice, this has translated into the ability to make concessions without the input of the rank and file.  It also translates into the inability for the rank and file to play an active role in bargaining.  They're only ability to act occurs with the instructions of the leadership, which follows the dominate model of the UAW.  When I previously brought up these issues, I was told that we were a grass roots organization, and members should show some initiative if they want to act on the campus level, but how could the rank and file act without any meaningful knowledge about the contract process?  How could they act without resources or meaningful ways to communicate with one another?  Within that context, the need for information is crucial, along with more avenues of communication.  Katy Fox Hodess is absolutely correct to note the need for both open access to bargaining for rank and file members, and for greater communication about the process itself.  But Jason Ball is also correct in his assessment that we need a greater level of education to go along with that access, a process that needs to take multiple forms from emails to meetings to one on one conversations.  These two views need to be seen as complementary, as two aspects of the same process.

     To turn to the question of the defense of public education, our caucus has done a lot of work over the past year in the movement for the defense of public education.  We've challenged the administration of our university system to the point where they have been unable to discuss fee hikes, let alone pass fee hikes.  We've contributed to the fights not only at our own universities, but the struggles at the CSU system as well.  Furthermore, the reform caucus has done a lot of good work in forming alliance with other progressive forces such as ACCE and some of the other public employee unions around the ReFund California movement, and have made ourselves a significant voice in those conversations.  (Not significant enough to be included in conversations around the millionaire's tax compromise, though.)  However, I haven't seen us incorporate these issues into our everyday organizing, which has operated in isolation from a lot of this work.  The contract could be a place to bring this important work into the conversation.  We could bring quality of education issues into our demands, focusing on issues of classroom size, access to resources, etc. along with the normal membership issues.  I don't think that this approach is alien to the concerns of our members, who are continually discussing these issues within the context of their everyday lives in ways that more typical union issues such as arbitration or grievances, aren't.  Some folks have within the caucus have brought up the idea of a corporate campaign, which would both involve inside rank and file actions along with getting allied support as outside support around pressure points such as the regents.  I strongly support this.

       One of the initial ways we might be able to communicate this idea to the rank and file is through the survey that we are currently developing.  Surveys are a very typical way for unions to bring rank and file members into the process of bargaining.  The truth is that the primary purpose of surveys isn't really gathering information.  Most experienced organizers will tell you that they can already guess the answers they receive long before the evidence comes in.  So why do this?  Surveys allow for a couple things to happen.  1.  It brings up the possible issues that might be brought up during the contract campaign, and 2. Let's folks recognize the multiplicity of interest that exist in the workplace, even ours.  As Charlie Eaton puts it, the survey allows us to begin creating a narrative around the contract process, to create spaces for participation, and to agitate for more informed rank and file involvement and psychic investment in the contract process.  Within that context, I think that its crucial to move away from the traditional approach of the survey, which focuses on the rank and file as an interest group, and begin to bring in issues of social justice, which are in the day to day conversations of our members, issues such as access to education, quality of education, classroom sizes, etc.  We need to frame this battle in terms that transform our fight from a group of special interest concerns to one that defends the rights and access to one of the most important institutions in the state.  Our caucus understands this at a meta level, but they seem to miss out on the ways that the survey can be used to move in this direction, slipping into a set of representative questions that operate within the servicing model of unionism, rather than a participatory model.  This is something where I think we can even get some of the more thoughtful elements of the former leadership on board, particularly Rob Ackerman from Santa Barbara, who seems to understand the pedagogical and agitational aspects of the survey form, amongst others.

      As a final note, the contract campaign also would strongly benefit from a strong organizing theme.  Jason Ball has suggested, "Enough is enough" but I also could see us adopting a theme such as "A Contract for a Public University."  (I'm a big fan of the rhetoric of the public university, but I can understand why some think that this rhetoric has been overused.)  This thematic unity could be used to link together a broad set of tactics and strategies together into a united fight.  It could also be used to inspire actions, rather than to inhibit them.   This is however bringing us into a set of topics, tactics and strategies, that I would like to leave for a later conversation.  I'll leave things as they are for now....   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Insourced Workers Fired at Irvine

     I had thought I had written my last blog posting concerning the insourcing campaign with the successful integration of the janitors as UCI employees, but I once again underestimated the venality and mendacity of the administration of our school.  The administration is using the probationary status of the newly insourced workers to legitimate layoffs of a workforce already devastated by earlier cuts.  At this point, 30 workers have received warnings, and Sylvia Diaz, a leader and committee member of the insourcing campaign has been fired.  These folks are already considerably understaffed, and this action only continues to make the work of those remaining harder, in addition to the obvious hardship of the fired workers, who have worked on the campus for over 15 years.  Please contact the UCI administration to stop these unfair practices.

     If you want more information about the long running attacks on these workers, attacks obviously influenced by the racist environment of Orange County, follow the links above.  This nonsense needs to stop.

Chancellor Michael Drake
(949) 824-5111

Human Resources

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

works in progress

     As I mentioned yesterday, I'm writing a brief post before I go to bed today.  I got caught up in grading over the weekend, so I couldn't put up anything at that point.  Not that I'm complaining.  After all, it pays the bills, and some of the work that my students managed to put together in their interpretation of a series of clips I picked out was frankly pretty impressive.  (You can find the selections I chose here.)  There were a few responses that I would have been pretty happy with if I had produced them as blog posts.  At the same time, that probably took about twelve to thirteen hours to complete.  It didn't give me a lot of time to write for the blog or to deal with my own dissertation work, which is getting pushed increasingly to the summer.  I'm not all that thrilled about that.

      I had suggested that I might take up the series of blog postings on reinterpretations of the Babel story that I had left by the wayside a while ago, but my copy of James Baldwin's essays has seemed to have disappeared.  I either need to find that object again, or I need to find another interpretation of the story to go on with that.  I'm hoping I find the Baldwin essays at some point because his take on the story is considerably different than the narratives about transgression and loss that have been at the center of the previous stories.  Instead, Baldwin goes back to a more literal biblical interpretation of the story, but in such a way as to challenge the foundational structures of white supremacy that constitute the United States.  Not that any of that should be remarkably surprising for anyone who has made any attempt to engage with Baldwin's work.  (If you haven't read any of Baldwin's essays, I'd recommend dropping what you're doing, and going to the local library to check out a collection of his work.... right now.)

      On the other hand, I feel like I have a better sense of what my overall project is in regards to the dissertation.  I realized that I'm in some sense trying to challenge some of the stories around the laboring practices set up by some of the recent work by post-autonomist writers.  Largely drawing on the argument written by Toni Negri in the early 1980's on the transition from the 'mass worker' to the 'social worker', these writers have tried to argue that current regime of production is increasingly dominated by forms of affective labor.  This shifts the workplace considerably, moving towards a more flexible approach to production, dependent on the worker's creativity and ability to adapt to a multiplicity of situations, and to act as a sort of jack of all trades.  It is also tied to the worker's focus on producing affect, rather than a physical product.  I don't disagree with this at all, but these qualities become a lot less novel if you focus on the household, rather than the formal workplace.  As Ruth Schwarz Cowan notes, these very qualities were introduced into the household at the turn of the twentieth century, as the household increasingly industrialized.  In addition, Stuart Ewen notes the linkage between advertising and the production of affect in his work on public relations, advertising, and other forms of expertise.  It's significant that both workers' struggles for the social wage, and the attempt on the part of employers to stabilize mass production was centered on the space of the household.  In effect, the household was a significant space of overlapping contestation within the class struggle.  Borrowing from Cowan's structure of argument, I want to ask what happens if we center our focus on these struggles, rather than on the workplace.

       I have an answer for why science fiction, which links into Edelman's concept of 'reproductive futurism' and complicates it, but I don't have the energy to take Edelman's Lacanian framework right now, and translate it into the materialist framework that I am working from.  Needless to say, Edelman's focus on the concept of the symbolic is both very provocative, but also extraordinarily reductive.  Edelman manages to reduce the complexities of mass social life to the individualized structures of the psyche, something that Freud managed to avoid in his analysis of the social in Mass Psychology and Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious, but I've always preferred Freud's actual work to the Lacanian framework.  I ultimately think by reducing all forms of social order to the symbolic as such, one loses out on the capacity of those social orders to operate in very different ways.  I suppose this shouldn't be terribly surprising out of a man who mistakes the Democratic Party for the left.  It's obvious that Edelman is working in some of the same terrain as thinkers such as Laurent Berlant, but I like that work.  Edelman just irritates me.  At the same time, I think there's something in Edelman's critique that is significant for science fiction studies, an argument that might make us focus on the conservative and preservative elements of the modes of estrangement in science fiction, as well as its radical qualities.  In any case, I suspect that this isn't the last time that I will write on the subject.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Jubilee that I want to remember....

      Still, the only Jubilee that really matters.  I'll have something of greater substance up tomorrow, perhaps following up on the Babel theme that I haven't worked on for a while.