Thursday, May 2, 2013

Union Elections, May 6th and 7th: Our First Contested Election in Over a Year.

      It's been a while since I've written anything about the union. There are a number of reasons for that. Most notably, I've been caught up in the process of writing my dissertation, but the current issues facing the union haven't been very easily placed into the confines of the five to six paragraph form that makes up the vast majority of my blog entries, notably some of the conflicts and controversies that have occurred within the confines of the AWDU caucus. I'm not sure that I will deal with these issues in the near term, given the amount of work that is currently on my plate, but I hope to produce some sort of self-reflexive essay at some point in the future that will explore the current impasse of the organization. However, we are at a much more familiar conjuncture, at this point with the vacancy elections of May 6th and 7th, a conjuncture that requires a more direct intervention. For the first time in the past couple of years, we are going to be having contested elections. Despite some of the mild consternation and concern that is being felt by AWDU folks, I think we should see this as a good thing, a moment where the members of the union get an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the direction of the local just before the beginning of the bargaining process. Within this context, the membership has the choice to continue the process of reform that was begun by AWDU or to partially return to the leadership that ran the contract negotiations of 2010.

      For those who weren't around or had forgotten the nature of bargaining three years ago, the process for bargaining was much different. The bargaining team made an effort to minimize the amount of information that was made available to the rank and file. The majority faction of the team made every effort to suppress the positions of the radical minority of the bargaining team, going as far as to exclude members from bargaining team meetings and to throw them off the team. Despite that fact, the minority was able to demand that the team push for additional benefits, and pay, although not to the extent that we pushed the university to offer us a pay raise that went above the inflation rate. In the end the majority was able to push through the contract despite the protest of the remaining minority bargaining team members, and got the contract passed under fairly controversial circumstances. (Those who want more information on this time period should take a look at the AWDU blogs of the time, along with these articles.)

     Effectively, the AWDU victories that occurred during the triennial election were a repudiation of the contract process, and the stultified, non-representative, and undemocratic nature of the union leadership that negotiated that contract. Since them, we have seen a number of substantial changes in the union, ranging from increased involvement in the fight for a public university,  to more focused advocacy at the legislative level, and the a greater ability of rank and file folks to get involved in the decision making processes in the union. Unfortunately, we also have not gotten the level of representation we would like to see, a result of our need to rebuild the union from the ground floor up, given the absence of representative structures left by the old leadership, who preferred to organize with small professional staffs, rather than through democratic structures of representation. To be honest, that project is still an ongoing one, one that is going to need to develop at a faster rate if we want to win the next contract fight.

        Both  Rob Ackermann and  John Gust were part of the former leadership of the union, Gust playing a significant role in the majority position of the former bargaining team, and Ackermann as a supporter for the USEJ slate in the triennial election.  They both plan to hold positions on both the bargaining team as well as the executive board, replicating the problematic structures of the past.  Both positions are significant ones that allow for considerable latitude on the part of the activists involved, a latitude that the former leadership used to concentrate power in a very few hands.  In effect, voting in Ackermann and Gust will be a partial return to the old structures of power, albeit one partially mediated by the affects of the past elections.  As we go into the contract bargaining process, we need to have our executive board committed to the processes of democratic reform, rather than the sorts of business unionism that have strongly affected our past practices.  I want to make it clear that I trust both Ackermann and Gust to act in what they believe to be the best interests of the union, and that their experience makes them worth engaging with, but I have yet to see them committed to the forms of democratic transparency that I feel is necessary for such leadership posts.  The AWDU candidates, on the other hand, are connected to the commitments of the reform process through the caucus.

       Within this context, I think that it is important to vote for the two AWDU candidates, Troy Araiza Kokinis from San Diego for southern vice-president, and Mauricio Velasquez for financial secretary. Both have had been involved in the social justice struggles within the university and outside of that context. They represent the continuing incomplete project of AWDU, a project dedicated to creating horizontal, democratic, and rank and file structures within the union. Kokinis has been involved in anti-oppression work on the San Diego campus, while Velasquez has a long history of union work in Colombia, and has been involved in the contract struggle on his campus in Los Angeles. Within this context, it is certainly noteworthy that both Rob Ackermann and John Gust have been active and serious union activists, but neither has shown the commitment to the kind of union reform that has defined AWDU's intervention into the day to day politics of the union. Both were committed to defending the highly problematic contract process and both were complicit in the triennial election debacle. (for more information, look here. and here.)  The only way that we win a strong contract is through the active participation of the rank and file members of the local, a process that will be facilitated through the continuing of the democratic reform of the union, rather than the top down organizing that both Ackermann and Gust implicitly support.

     At the same, time it's worth mentioning some limitations to the entire election process. Unfortunately, over the past two years, we have moved from an e-board that was predominantly women to one that is predominantly made up of men. The bargaining committee is also disproportionately men, as is the Joint Council to a lesser extent. No matter how the vote turns out, that representational structure remains. We need to see this issue as symptomatic of larger problems within the structure of the union, rather than as something that can be solved through simple numbers, but as long as those inequities in representation exist, we can feel fairly safe that the problems still exist. We have been trying to confront some of those issues through the construction of the anti-oppression committee, but we need to take this process up within all levels of the union. My hope is that we will begin to deal with these issues within the context of the contract campaign to fight for a genuinely democratic and representative union.

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