Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On the summer joint council meeting

Since the former leadership caucus, who used to be known as USEJ, but now call themselves SWITCh in a desperate attempt to avoid their own history, have quoted this particular blog.  I would like to remind everyone who reads this blog that AWDU helped lead the fight for refunding public education through the Make Banks Pay coalition campaign, a campaign which got no support from the former leadership.  Dozens of AWDU activists were arrested in this campaign, which made Governor Jerry Brown compromise on the Prop. 30 language, which was substantially less progressive in its taxation structure.  (I slightly edited this to acknowledge that the Make Banks Pay campaign was a coalition event, involving a lot of unions, but we substantially pushed it towards the questions of public education that it took up.)

     It struck me that I forgot to produce a substantial account of the previous Joint Council meeting, a meeting which produced a few small reforms in the bylaws, as well as a couple substantial arguments. all in a hot and miserable union office, frankly unfit for the number of folks that were there.  I thought I would try to make up for that error with a short report on the interesting aspects of the meeting, along with a similar report concerning the latest Joint Council meeting.  After all, these informal modes of communication often translate into more rank and file engagement than the official channels of communication, and I've tried to pass on my perspective on things since our election.

      The first and most notable aspect of the Berkeley meeting is that it was fairly pleasant for the most part, if you ignore the oppressive heat in the room.  For the most part, conversations remained productive with a number of minor reforms to the bylaws being passed, guaranteeing local access to the union listserves, elections committee reform, changes in staff membership requirements, and requirement that Northern and Southern Vice Presidents are members in a campus that they're representing.  Each of those points passed with minor debate, and cordial conversation.  The two exceptions were notable.  The first came around a request for a small amount of money to help with a bail fund for UCLA protestors, which was opposed by the Santa Barbara contingent, who continue to insinuate that these events were not sanctioned by the union despite the fact that the protests in defense of public education have been discussed extensively at Joint Council meetings.  The Santa Barbara contingent was asked why they had taken this position, which translated into a fairly spirited back and forth between AWDU folks and the Santa Barbara crew.  Despite claims on the the part of the Santa Barbara folks otherwise, the response on the part of the UCLA folks was pretty minor, given the absolute lack of solidarity shown by Santa Barbara.

      The second debate was probably the more significant of the two, that being over the compromise millionaire's tax, Prop. 30.  The proposition was initially advocated for by Santa Barbara's Steve Attewell, who did a good job of defending the initiative's positive qualities, emphasizing its level of progressive taxation, and the funding that it would bring in.  However, the proposal was quickly amended for opposition by Jason Ball of UCLA, who brought significant counter-arguments, notably the regressive aspects of the bill around taxation, and our exclusion from the compromise process itself, both by the governor and our fellow allies in other social movement organizations and unions.  Eventually, a middle position was taken by the union as a whole, taking no position on the bill, leaving it to individual members to decide how they should vote, a position which might be revisited in a later online vote.  The thing that really struck me in the debate was that Attewell simply couldn't conceive of a reason why a reasonable person might disagree with the logic he presented to the JC.  This sort of myopia is all too represented of the reasoning of the former leadership, who all too frequently refuse to recognize that there might be an alternative to their version of trade union politics, and a view that's going to leave them a small and irrelevant force until they rethink that position.

       Moving from there, the summer meeting was much smaller than the earlier spring meeting, being made up of 16 members of the AWDU caucus, and about 8 members aligned with the former leadership, and the Riverside leadership did a good job finding us a space to meet in that was both air conditioned and spacious, two qualities that I appreciated after the Berkeley experience.  The initial section of the meeting went quite well.  We passed a number of minor proposals, money for organizing kits, more money to send folks to a conference, we took positions on a number of initiatives (more on that in a later post) and postponed a re-visitation of Prop 30 for a later online conversation (this conversation is necessary after the recent budget passed, a budget that will freeze tuition costs, but only if the proposition passes.  I'm also going to write a more substantial post on this later.)  Additionally, my first official proposition (in conjunction with Charlie Eaton) in support of a change in our letterhead to emphasize our position as "UC Student-Workers Union" passed, which I see as a minor part of our attempt to link our upcoming contract fight with the larger worker and student struggles in the university.  We will have to wait to see if we can live up to the claims made in the title.  I certainly hope we do.

     From there, we took a short break.  However, when we returned, a member of the caucus of the former leadership, Guanyang Zhang, called for quorum, effectively ending the official section of the meeting.  At that point, a fairly lengthy and unproductive conversation broke out over the interpretation of the contract and Robert's Rules broke out, and effectively ended any meaningful conversation.  Without getting into the details of that conversation, we came to the conclusion that the meeting could not continue officially.  In effect, this decision translated into our inability to pass any of the bylaws reforms that we had wanted to pass, nor could any of the more substantial bylaws reforms that we were going introduce get their first hearing.  The decision froze out any meaningful decisions about the contract campaign from happening, and kept us from a number of other necessary decisions.  There is a possibility of holding an emergency meeting early in the fall, but that action is going to create a lot of problems.

     Not surprisingly, a number of folks in AWDU were unhappy about the turn of events, and expressed this over the Joint Council website, which translated into a fairly predictable debate with the former leadership circling the wagons.  My thoughts are a little different than both sides of the debate.  Not surprisingly, I don't agree with the position of the former leadership.  Zhang's position was clearly political, designed to shut out the ability to introduce a number of proposals that I suspect that he opposes.  Zhang avoids the polemics expressed by the other members of his caucus, but he fairly faithfully represents the sort of conservative politics exemplified by that caucus.  To put it simply, he's not as neutral as he thinks he is.  At the same time, it's difficult to argue that his action was in any sense illegitimate.  His action is allowed by both the bylaws and the arcane rules of Robert's Rules of Order.  I don't agree with the action, but that is a matter of political disagreement, rather than some sort of ethical infringement on the part of him.  That distinction is significant.  We might want to make efforts to reform the way we enforce quorum, or perhaps more significantly, make sure that we make that requirement, but it doesn't make sense to condemn someone who uses a legitimate rule for his own political position.

Hopefully, we'll be able to make up for this problematic ending with an emergency meeting in September.

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