I have been a bit busy for the past few months with the process of preparing for bargaining, which has affected my ability to communicate here. We have been in countless meetings together, both in person and online and on the phone. Additionally, we are now in the actual process of bargaining for the past month, beginning July 8th and 9th in Berkeley. However, I thought I would discuss a particular incident from bargaining since it is relevant to some of the conversations on the blog over the past couple of years. Typically, the first topic of conversation in bargaining is the question of ground rules, or the rules that each side accepts when they go to the bargaining table. The union and management will fight over topics ranging from times of bargaining to media access and other issues. My counterpart from Irvine, Jessica Conte, wanted to make the issue of police presence an issue at bargaining, calling for an agreement that neither side would bring in the police.
We wanted this agreement because of an incident that occurred earlier this year around health care caps. A few months ago, the union had kicked off a fairly substantial campaign to get the caps on health care removed, and to get the university to live up to the fairly minimal standards of the Health Care reform act. We got a lot of folks out to make this issue a concern, and formed useful alliances with other student organizations in the process. Within that context, the university agreed to meet officially with the union on the topic in Irvine. In response, we organized a number of rank and file folks to be in the room so they could hear about what was going on, and to let the administration know that this was an important issue to our membership. In response, we got about thirty folks out to make the meeting. In response, the university brought out a pair of police officers who followed us into the negotiation room and began to take photographs. In response, our head steward, Jamie Rogers, asked that our conversation occur without the presence of the police. The police officer stated that he did not work for her. However, when labor relations official Nadine Fischel went over to ask them to leave, they did so, quickly.
It's hard to argue that this difference of responses doesn't indicate a radically different power relation in regards to the police. If the police don't explicitly work for the workers and students of the university, they seem to implicitly work for the administration of the university, for the management and the bosses. In effect, the university has a group of primarily men with guns, who they can put between themselves and the people who they ostensibly work with. Within our conversation, we tried to make this a central point for arguing for this provision of the ground rules. In response, the labor relations folks tried to draw a stark line between bargaining and protests, implying that events such as the one that caused us to call for the rule functionally didn't happen (as if having a labor relations person establishing an implicit role of supervision to the cops was helpful). In response, I noted that the administration called the cops in many cases when students and workers simply went to petition the administration. Fischel's response was to refer to this sort of behavior as 'storming the chancellor's office. Fischel went on to argue that the only legitimate way to enter in to the office was with an appointment.
Within this context, it makes sense that university officials would call the police on small groups of students trying to deliver petitions, parents with children attempting to meet with housing administration to discuss dangers from construction on their housing, and, in one case, a student simply knocking on the door of the office of public information to find out about a public informational request. It also goes along with the harassment of activists for legal activities by university administration and police. However, it doesn't make a lot of sense if you accept the principle that the university is a public institution that is responsible to those individuals. It's within this context that we need to understand the position taken by labor relations, a minion and lackey of the regents who have made it their mission to privatize the university. The discomfort they claim is the discomfort of a class of individuals who refuse to recognize that they are a part of a public and democratic institution, which is probably due to the fact that the majority of them are used to the dictatorial powers they held and hold in their corporate positions. It's approach to the daily life of the university that is created by the regents and the university of california office of the president (UCOP) and is filtered down through the ranks of the UC administration. Within this context, this discomfort seems to indicate that the UCI administration is simply not competent to fulfill the basic roles of their employment, an issue likely not unique to them. It's a sign that we need to get rid of them.