Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's January of the New Year: ALL HANDS ON DECK

As my old union Local 2110 UAW celebrates its 25th anniversary (before that it was part of the storied--and just as radical--District 65 UAW), we enter another year of budget cuts and potentially precedent-setting worker victories in just about every sector and job category; and yet we need recognize that these cuts, from layoffs to decreased wages, rights and benefits for workers, don't share a simple cause-effect relationship to the recession. The recession, though a very real consequence of two wars and other disastrous neoliberal policies, in my experience as organizer during the current crisis and just after 9-11, is used as an effective excuse to bust unions and deny workers rights, as excuse to cut services in the public sector (education, here in WA, or in CA, for example), and as a corporate pressure point in lobbying for more Wall Street bonuses and fewer (no) controls.

This isn't cynicism--this is the day to day operation of huge law firms like Proskauer Rose LLP, representing NYU administrators in their battle to deny teaching assistants and research assistants there, and at Columbia University (not to mention countless other workers in other fields) the right to form legally recognized unions. This is the day to day operations of in-house counsel working alongside PR firms and upper managements who are wanting to maintain a level of institutional control, and a lifestyle they are used to, on the backs of folks who are not them but who they owe. Increased commodification of workers is coming in wave after wave of proposed legislation. See Mark Wallace's latest post regarding proposed Cal State cuts and its faculty association letter warning against the cuts, which of course come in the wake of huge cuts to the UC system (and in preparation for future cuts at UC). The new proposed budget cuts to education here in Washington represent not only an existing reality for current union contract negotiations such as ours at Evergreen, but will continue to be used at every turn as an excuse for demanding furloughs, hiring freezes, and tuition increases, but also the rejection of proposals for worker safety, curricular freedoms, educational outreach, stronger grievance procedures, financial aid programs, and so forth--since management and state labor lawyers know very well that such rights and services are a tougher sell to voters facing the rhetoric as well as the reality of a worsening economy than they usually are--who are facing similar from counsel at their workplaces. See Labor Notes' (link below) expose' on systematic cuts to public sector labor and services this month--and the Building and Trades predictable complicity here--as an example of an unwillingness to bargain in good faith and come up with collaborative, collective decisions that can ensure all are shouldering responsibilities equally, i.e., in relation to their stake at their workplace, as well as in relation to whether it'd run if these folks weren't working there: that is, policies that ensure both worker benefit increases and long-term "fiscal sustainability."

Impossible? Nah. Been done before--and under worse conditions. It may prima facie sound legitimate that steep cuts in a state's budget, or a downturn in the private sector, should translate into cuts jobs, in worker pay and benefits, but such arguments rely not on logic or even economic soundness (most often this is a modification of trickle-down saving strategies--Reganomics) but on fear: "we don't make cuts here, you'll be the one to carry the burden there." Fear, as in divide and conquer--on site, and between sectors. One look at the general decline of unionism since the 50s, or the widening gap in wage to cost of living, or the drastic decline in production, and one can see the flaws in such corporate rhetoric. Things haven't gotten better for the vast majority of us--the real economy--since at latest the 75 gas shortage, so why should continuing to agree to the same worker cuts, giving in to the same divide and conquer strategy, or otherwise caving on the same free-marketeering rhetoric, produce different results now? The same folks who tell us we have to spend money to make money say we they have to save money to make money. Which is it? And what, pray tell, are the states' priorities? Education? No. Healthcare? No. There will be no long term administration--let alone thriving--of a population sans systematic resistance to policies that afford no distribution of wealth.

As bubbles form quicker and pop quicker too, as commodity gets purer every day, we are asked to form the surplus value of what is otherwise a brokering shell. More money for no service becomes the public motto, shell out becomes the private one. Why'd we tolerate buying nothing, or less, for more? Which in education, eg, amounts to paying more each year for fewer services (cf the rise in for-profit educational enrollments, the increased enrollments at sate institutions despite drastic increases in cost)? Because the phraseaology has a built in ethical demand: help your struggling economy today and you'll go to heaven, or at least feel good about yourself, tomorrow. Whether that means contributing to the sub-prime student loan bubble because you're out of work now or because it's time to go to college, alongside the pressure of such "investment" by the de-regulated marketplace, is a rhetoric that feels quite "natural" but is, in fact, wholeheartedly manufactured: "things are bad everywhere--schools have to raise tuition; they must layoff workers/cut services. What else are they supposed to do?" This is a manufactured rhetoric that says: this temporary moment of buying nothing equals charitable giving.

Below are some places to start, for any of those interested in further resources and news regarding your labor's movement, and yet know not where to begin. Just a few starter links (I focus here on education somewhat because of recent education-related legislative and other developments, but the AFL-CIO link alongside the Labor Notes link--the latter who often, and sometimes quite rightly, criticize the AFL--should get those interested started, with Labor Notes, eg, linking to several radical Marxist-anarchist organizations that aren't, eg, affiliated with the AFL, and conversely):

AFL-CIO BLOG & WEBSITE (see different departments, with links to UC's UAW local, tuition-hike resistance coalition, etc, and links to petitions and ways to help organize)

Education: UAW (United Auto Workers), AFT (American Federation of Teachers), LOCAL 2110 UAW (radical union, one of the leaders in higher ed organizing) - each of these have action campaigns to hook into.

For Writers - The NWU

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