Tuesday, May 20, 2014

notes from a suburban coffee shop

      Despite my recent blog posting, I haven't been involved in the union since our strike on the first week of the quarter.  To be honest, I wish I had gotten another week to work for the union, because I didn't have the chance to clean up the office, which wasn't in the best of shape due to a month or so of strike organization.  I'm not too fond of a number of my successors, but they certainly deserve the opportunity to start with an orderly office.  I would have also liked to finally get the orientations grievance settled, a process that I ironically started at the beginning of my tenure as Irvine's campus unit chair.  My hope is that process will get resolved without me, but despite some genuine bureaucratic experience amongst some of that grouping, I'm not terribly optimistic that the grievance will be made a priority.  I'm also fairly concerned that there isn't much effort to mobilize the Irvine membership for the upcoming strike in June, which is crucial for challenging the various unfair labor practices of the management of the University of California system.  I hope I'm wrong, and I'm even willing to put in a little labor into the process if it was necessary.

      Despite unemployment, I'm glad to be out, to be honest.  I've been done with the university since late December, and while I thought it made sense to stick around a bit longer to provide some transition, it doesn't make sense to have someone representing grad students who was finished with their studies.  Still, my final months were spent doing a lot more of the on the ground activities that I wanted to focus on.  I got to talk to folks across the campus about the strike, from the physical and natural sciences to the humanities and social sciences.  It was work I liked, but, to be honest, I was a bit burnt out by the institutional politics of the union, and even by the reform process that brought me into electoral office.  At the most immediate level, that frustration was created by the intransigence of the former leadership, who never accepted the election of the reform group in any meaningful sense, but it also expanded to the divisions and contradictions within the reform group, which has been defined by a number of explosive fights along with long running tensions.  In each case, the problems often stem back to the relationship has with our International union, who has left the local with very little ability to meaningfully act in its own interests.  I'll discuss these issues at a further date, but I'd like to give myself some time to discuss those issues with a cooler analytical framework.

      Other than that, I'm spending a lot of time looking for work.  At this point, I'm largely stuck looking for employment in the precarious spaces of academic employment, ranging from lecturer position to post-doctoral fellowships, and even positions as tutors for the summer months.  The process is fairly dreary and depressing.  There aren't a lot of jobs available, those jobs available aren't terribly high paying or stable.  However, this is a topic that has been covered by a lot of folks already, and no doubt their analysis offers more than I can currently offer.  Beyond that, I haven't been doing a lot.  I've been reading, and I attended the historical materialism conference in Toronto.  I have to confess that the conference left me feeling disconnected and alienated, an experience that I suspect has more to do with my current state of mind, rather than anything to do with the conference at all.  I just haven't felt any particular urgency to write at all over the past few months.  This isn't because I don't have anything to say.  I have some ideas about a essay on Robert Heinlein and Samuel Delany and about Butler and Jameson's readings of Louis Althusser to name two random ideas, but it just feels kind of pointless.

      I want to make it clear that it's not an emotional, but a kind of analytical malaise this is at the heart of this issue.  It just seems kind of pointless to make any  sort of intervention right now.   At one level, that sense of futility can be linked to a sense that anything I write won't get much attention, but more significantly,  there just doesn't seem like there is much potential for substantial transformation within the current political conjunction.  It seems fairly reasonable to assume that my field of vision is affected by my withdrawal from union activism, and lack of political projects, but it also reaches farther to my failed interventions into the reform process itself, that left me isolated from both the dominant northern group, and the discontented largely southern group as well.  More than anything else, I miss a sense of being a part of an intellectual and political collectivity that I both contribute to and learn from.  Which is not to say I'm lacking in friendship, but in a kind of collective engagement that has transformative potential, either on political or epistemological grounds.  At the same time, it doesn't seem like our current political terrain is particularly hospital to such interventions, as well.  I suspect that this will change with time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Election Results for UAW 2865

       I thought I would write a brief posting about the results of the recent triennial elections for my former local, UAW 2865.  At the statewide level, it was an immense success for the AWDU ticket.  AWDU and their allies won all of the executive board seats, along with 80% of the Joint Council.  I have to admit that I was very skeptical of their chances, but we saw some impressive organizing, and new reform slates arise in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside that were previously doubtful.  A lot of credit should go to the activists involved who had to both negotiate a contract and win an election.  In terms of the bargaining team, they won in San Diego, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Davis.  Despite losing in Santa Barbara, we saw the first substantial reform ticket run for election there, and they had a fairly respectable showing, bringing in about 30% of the vote.  Merced saw a split vote between reformers and admin caucus activists, despite a lack of reform candidates running for local positions.  Riverside and Irvine were much more lopsided, giving landslide victories for the former leadership, who are often referred to as the administration caucus, despite their frequent re-namings.  Riverside had a small core of reformers, who have a good chance to impact the local despite their small numbers.  

     Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Irvine, which had no substantial reform effort on the ground during the election.  Part of that was due to the admittedly very successful efforts on the part of Coral Wheeler and Moshe Lichman to put together a decent full slate of candidates, and to construct an electoral machine.  I might not like the kind of union infrastructure that they create.  It's hierarchical and not directed to creating an active membership, but it is good at getting votes out at specific times.  My hope is that we see some of the reform tradition taken up by the new officers of the local, but I have to admit, I hadn't seen much activity out of them during the contract campaign.  The other part was due to the decision of reform activists to put their energy into other organizing endeavors, and move away from union organizing.  It wouldn't have been my choice, but I'm also no longer involved.  (edit: I'm also not sure that my feelings on the matter are terribly relevant.)  I also can't blame those individuals for wanting to find forms of organizing that are less frustrating and more meaningful to them.  Having been through the last triennial, I can't blame folks for wanting to avoid that ordeal.  I really hope they find those collective efforts.  (additional note: I should note that there were Irvine reform folks involved in the successful election  efforts at UCLA.)

     As a last note, I genuinely hope that we see a continued effort on the part of the new elected officials to actively contribute to the fight  for a new contract.  I suspect a number of them could be very good union representatives.  But if that effort doesn't happen, I would recommend that folks take up those tasks themselves.  Get a hold of me if that is the case, and I will get you in touch with people who can help you. (I also strongly suspect that despite not running for office; we'll see Irvine reform folks at the front of the contract fight.)