Kamran Moshef is a PhD student in Political Science.
The election of Donald Trump is not what it seems. There have been a multitude of reactions to Trump’s victory, and most of them heavily feature words like disaster, emergency, defense, reaction, and so on. But the meaning of an event becomes clear only in retrospect, when we look back on it from the future. Our job is to build that future into the one we want, so that we can look back at the election and see it as the beginning of our path to victory.
CUNY, the PSC, and our chapter should not be misled into taking either of the following two roads. The first would be to think that organized labor and academic unions could possibly collaborate with the Trump regime because of Trump’s economic populist stance on investing in infrastructure. We cannot assume these promises will actually be fulfilled. But even more fundamentally, any collaboration, no matter how cautious, would fail to really challenge the reactionary nature of Trump’s appeal to economic populism.
The second dangerous road would be to hunker down, to act on fear and prepare only for defense. The wider labor movement has been in defensive mode for decades now, which reflects our structural weakness but also perpetuates it. At the same time, we don’t want to obscure the enormity of the tasks we face. Make no mistake: Trump and his Wall Street friends are coming for us as workers, as academics, and as activists and organizers. We do need to prepare ourselves for defense, but we can’t stop there.
Instead of either of these two roads, we need to take an approach that they won’t see coming, one that will seem unlikely, and maybe even impossible, until we do it. They already know what the standard approach will be. They know our playbook; they practically wrote it for us. We need to surprise them. People in this country are angry and ready for change. The labor movement and academic workers can be part of offering a real positive vision of how to re-knit the social fabric that has been torn apart by decades of brutal neoliberal capitalism into something better than it was before. And the only way to do this is to refuse any attempt to divide the working class: because the working class is multiracial, it is undocumented, urban and rural, LGBTQ, disabled and differently-abled, Muslim, indigenous.
If we decide that we already know that the election of Trump is a disaster for us, then we fail to notice that this is exactly the time for us to push forward.
Workers recently won an impressive and inspiring victory at Harvard. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of graduate student unionization at private universities. The Movement for Black Lives Platform coming out Black Lives Matter included a call for a constitutional right to a fully funded education. Surveys show that Millennials have a more favorable opinion of socialism than capitalism. Media coverage of the crisis in the university and the struggles of adjuncts is becoming more sympathetic. The neoliberal order is coming apart at the seams, and now, we have an opportunity to put forward an alternative; with an ecological crisis of unprecedented proportions, our ability to do so could quite literally determine the fate of the planet.
Academic workers have a unique role to play in these struggles, as we move in and out of conversation with activists, movements and intellectuals, and between our students and the wider society. Universities increasingly play a key role in the political economy of the city. University enrollment is at an all-time high and academic workers are at the center the fight for quality and affordable higher education. We are already important. We need to grasp subjectively, in our perceptions, feelings, and actions, what is already objectively the truth: that we hold a lot of power.
At minimum, we should:
- Make CUNY and the Graduate Center a sanctuary campus;
- Deepen links between struggles of academic workers at CUNY and the GC with the wider labor movement in New York City;
- Center the needs and perspectives of adjuncts in all PSC activity.
The election of Donald Trump is not what it seems. The real meaning of this election won’t be known until we chose how we’re going to react to it. It’s up to us to define its meaning and its historical significance. And that is why we can win: why we have to win.