Everyone knows these are turbulent times for academia. Full-time positions are scarce, student debt has ballooned, and per capita funding for public education has shriveled. You could try elbowing past your colleagues to make your way in the world, but by now we all know that there won’t be room at the top for even the most ruthless among us. The other option is to see these issues as related and unite to transform our working conditions, and in the process reimagine what a university could look like when faculty, students and staff come together to reject the austerity of the administration and the state.
Collective bargaining, when backed by broad-based support, can compel such a transformation. Under the current New Caucus leadership, most PSC members have no control over who bargains or what they bargain for, and almost none of us have any idea what happens behind the scenes. The PSC’s bargaining team is mostly made up of full-timers representing full-timer interests, even though adjuncts form the majority of the union. And while the New Caucus leadership likes to performatively solicit suggestions from its membership about contract demands, they are not held accountable for following through on pressing most of these demands. And so they don’t.
As we approach a new contract fight, the New Caucus slate at the Graduate Center wants you to vote them back into power by advertising the contract demand of $7k per course for adjuncts (which many in the CUNY Struggle caucus have been pushing for years!). Yet they are prepared to make the same mistake that sold out the adjuncts last time: giving all their power over to the PSC leadership, while keeping the vast majority of our union out of the loop. Indeed, they do not support making bargaining sessions open, so that everyone in the CUNY community can know what’s going on behind closed doors. They have also refused to support efforts to make the bargaining team proportionally representative of the bargaining unit, which would dramatically increase the number of adjuncts present at the negotiating table. Without these basic democratic reforms to hold the PSC leadership accountable, it is very unlikely that the next contract negotiation will yield anything different than what we’ve gotten already: a contract negotiated in secret that yields below-inflation flat-rate raises, yet again increasing the gulf between adjunct (and graduate assistant), and full-time pay. This is not a reform. This is the status quo, and it has failed us .
When the bargaining for our next contract begins, the CUNY Struggle Caucus demands all contract negotiations be open to all members of the CUNY community. We reject the idea that bargaining requires ‘experts’ that must operate in secret. We think that demands should be made at the bargaining table and backed up in the street. We also want the bargaining team to reflect the bargaining unit, through proportional representation, empowering adjunct and graduate assistant leaders to make their demands in the room, rather than be continually represented by full-timers who claim to know what’s best (and what’s possible) for them.
Further, we demand that key CUNY grievances like diversity in hiring and admissions, the quality of CUNY’s facilities, class size, accessibility issues, tuition remission, and yes – $7k for adjuncts – should be on the table in these negotiations. Indeed, collective bargaining is not just about bread and butter issues: as a union, we can put forward a broad social justice agenda that includes enforcing CUNY as a sanctuary campus, ensuring recourse in cases of sexual harassment, etc. Nothing is off the table until the union takes it off the table. Whereas the New Caucus has understood bargaining in a very narrow way, CUNY Struggle sees bargaining as a vehicle for expressing the demands of members as a collectivity. And that is why if elected, we will mount a campaign to challenge the Taylor Law, which was designed to put our union and others like it in exactly the position we are in — isolated, dependent on elected officials, and stripped of its only real weapon.
In other words, collective bargaining is about more than sending in your most experienced and savvy negotiator and trusting they do their best: it’s about ensuring that that the team of negotiators speak at the behest of “the collective,” not just on their behalf. This can only be achieved by mobilizing our members and forging ties with other unions, with our students and with the working families of New York City.
Transparency, proportional representation, a broad-based social justice bargaining agenda, and a renewed CUNY movement built on the model of horizontalism are not simply abstract principles or slogans to us, they are a practical necessity, and the difference between winning or continuing to lose. These are the ingredients of an invigorated strategy which will enfranchise thousands of members in our union to participate and to contribute their perspectives and power to the contract struggle, and beyond.
We demand a change in how we fight and what we fight for. The CUNY Struggle Caucus is challenging the status quo.