Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fall Joint Council: Some Notes

       Although the recent joint council meeting lacked the drama and conflict that has defined a lot of our recent union meetings, I thought I should still write up a brief description of the process, in order to continue to report back on what we have been up to recently.  In many ways, this shift from the drama of the past to the relative boredom of today is a positive transformation, gesturing towards an acceptance of the shifts that were introduced into the local over a year ago.  We still have a long way to go in terms of creating a participatory democratic culture in the local, but our local has at least largely accepted that as a goal.  I suspect that we're going to see some fights in the upcoming contract negotiations, but those fights should primarily be with management, will hopefully avoid becoming internal issues.

      The day of the meeting was extremely busy, consisting of two union meetings, along with an internal AWDU meeting to deal with some internal political issues.  The first meeting focused on the upcoming contract campaign, and was the first time that the larger bargaining committee met together.  It was primarily a conversation about the future plans of bargaining, focusing on the various structural deadlines of the process, along with the directions that we want to take. We decided to set up bargaining training for later in the year, and some other issues that we will be discussing with the membership later in the year.  The committee has largely accepted the need to both expand the contract fight to deal with social justice issues, and the need to produce a more participatory contract negotiation process. The Berkeley campus presented some of the new approaches that they are taking to bargaining, notably the creation of Contract Action Teams.  These teams will be made up of rank and file members who are willing to spend a few hours every months passing on information about bargaining and getting folks to events in support of the contract struggle, while meeting up every other week to talk about the progress.  It's a really exciting idea, and we're planning on stealing it shamelessly on the Irvine campus.

     The larger meeting remained positive, spending a substantial amount of time covering the issues of the upcoming contract negotiations and the process of getting folks into the union over orientations.  We saw an upsurge in membership over the past couple months, which shows that we're beginning to get used to being formal union representatives, and coming up with new ways of getting folks involved.  We also agreed to support the larger framework of bargaining that we came up with.  The threatened longer debate about endorsing the president didn't occur.  I suspect that the Santa Barbara folks realized that it wasn't going to go anywhere, and when Obama is up by double digits in California, there was no real reason to have that conversation.  I would have liked to revisit our conversation about Prop 30, but we wound up avoiding that conversation as well.  Instead, a vaguely defined political committee has been created, which I'm not sure of what its role is going to be.  From there, we moved into discussing bylaws, which allowed us to pass the reforms that we had introduced in the spring, formalizing our earlier decision of allow campuses to have access to the email lists without state interference, insisting that northern and southern vice presidents should come from the regions that they represented, and a couple issues.  Additionally, new bylaws on elections are were introduced as well.  Unfortunately, our attempt to change the presidential succession was blocked due to the international constitution, which means that we will still only have presidential elections every three years, rather than during vacancy elections.  We still have more work to do in limiting the power of the president and the eboard, but I think we're going to get to that with the next JC meetings.

      All in all it was a fairly successful set of meetings.  We have a lot of work to do to get ready for contract negotiations in the spring and summer, but we're beginning to function as a collective body in a much more healthier manner.  We still have some pretty fundamental differences in approach in the body, but at least our every action isn't defined by the hostility of the election.  In many ways, I think the upcoming contract negotiations are going to be the real test of the union reforms.  I think we're going in the right direction. 

     As a last note, I haven't dealt with the AWDU aspect of the day, which dealt with internal issues.  We wound up having a very productive conversation about feminist practices, but it would be far too drawn out and painful to explain the origins of the conversation.  I'm hoping that those conversations will continue, and we will develop more productive ways of working with each other.  The immediate danger of USEJ is largely over, but the kinds of business union practice that they represent still often define the day to day life of our union, and perhaps as significantly, the expectations that our rank and file have for us as a union.  I still believe our caucus is deeply important to transforming the structures of the union to democratic and participatory principles from the top down model of old.  I'm hoping we will finally have the conversations about organizing that we need to have.

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