Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee founded a club in his youth called “Fascism Forever.” Needless to say, we should not expect much good from Neil Gorsuch. Indeed by mid-2018, we can expect that Janus v. AFSCME will make it’s way to the Court, and the ruling will eliminate agency fees, enabling free riders—people who benefit from collective bargaining but who elect not to contribute to the union. The public sector, in the brilliant parlance of the far right, will become “right to work” (or, more honestly, “right to beg”). The question of the day is: how will the public sector survive this massive structural change? How will the PSC survive – dare we dream, even thrive – under such conditions?
The short answer is: we need every single one of the 25,000 CUNY workers – tenured faculty, adjunct faculty, professional staff, college laboratory technicians, CLIP teachers, graduate assistants – that constitute the PSC to be engaged in the contract fight of our lives in 2017. A powerful and successful contract fight will make us all – both full and part time members – want to contribute financially to the union, when the law no longer requires it. But this begs the question: how can we do better than we’ve done in the past?
Working from a document generated by rank and file PSC members, I propose that there are three core steps that we can take to make possible an inspiring and unprecedented contract campaign.
- The Future of the Tenure System and Justice for Adjuncts
Labor market trends in higher education have followed trends elsewhere – we increasingly see multi-tier systems, with some good jobs and many bad jobs. The labor force at CUNY is no different. Under-paid and under-integrated adjunct faculty teach the majority of courses at CUNY.
The decline of the CUNY tenure system will only accelerate if we fail to organize adjuncts. We need a set of demands that link the interests of tenured faculty in preserving – expanding! – the tenure system, with the interests of adjuncts, who seek better paying and more stable jobs. I propose three demands that link full and part time interests: 1. 7k/course 2. True lecturer conversion lines for all long-serving adjuncts 3. A cap on the proportion of CUNY courses taught by adjunct faculty. These demands combined would restructure the CUNY labor force to create more good jobs, stem the bleeding of tenure lines, and improve the lot of adjuncts, both long serving and new.
Finally, centering adjunct demands has another advantage – adjunct pay is so low that we can make a strong, moral, public case for additional funding from the City and State. Centering adjuncts is one key tool for breaking pattern bargaining.
- CUNY Rising +
CUNY Rising is a vital initiative – the PSC has helped to build a coalition of CUNY students, community and faith organizations, and other labor unions to fight for a free and fully funded CUNY. Our bosses are ultimately the City and the State, so only linking our fights with this kind of movement will get us a free and fully funded CUNY.
However, we need to expand CUNY Rising. The PSC has just received an influx of cash from back pay dues. We should use the bulk of this for member organizing, but we should also invest in CUNY Rising, hiring at least a full time organizer, in addition to the part-time support we get from the AFT.
But most importantly, CUNY Rising needs to have an obvious mechanism for member engagement. In our attempt to make CUNY Rising “authentic” we have severed the effort from the membership. But an engaged membership of 25,000 is far more potent than a single organizer. We need to be recruiting for CUNY Rising in our classrooms and in our neighborhoods, following the community organizing model of the Chicago Teachers Union, as they prepared for strike activity.
- Total PSC-CUNY organization.
Union power comes from one core place – its members. If we are engaged and organized around an inspirational vision of CUNY, our students and communities will support us, and our three bosses – CUNY management, the City and the State –will be afraid of us. How do we get to this point?
A brilliant Executive Committee, even an engaged Delegate Assembly is just not enough. For every 5 – 10 members, we need at least one deeply engaged member-organizer. This means that we need between 2,500 and 5,000 members who are serious organizers and strategists who take agency in this union. If that sounds like a lot, it’s only because we need a lot of power to win, to do better than we’ve done, and to survive and even thrive under a Trump administration. Every single one of us who is engaged needs to help build this structure, and we must use the bulk of the dues cash we just received from back pay to fund this effort.
We need to be able to able to mobilize ourselves – all 25,000 – both consistently and on a moment’s notice. We need to be collectively organized around a vision of a free and fully funded CUNY, constituted by a labor force with only good jobs. We need to know our targets – de Blasio and Cuomo – and we need to aim straight for them. CUNY needs an additional 3.5 billion dollars, and there’s no force other than the PSC that can get it. Let’s do it.
Luke Elliott-Negri, Chapter Chair