The people have spoken! Today the Graduate Center chapter of PSC-CUNY overwhelmingly endorsed a CUNY-wide strike if adjuncts do not win $7k/course in the coming PSC contract. Over one hundred GC chapter members and CUNY workers from across the system packed the room to capacity. It was the largest turnout we’ve seen since the chapter’s founding. We ran out of chairs, and members spilled into the hallway. Many who had never attended a PSC meeting came to deliver a simple message: The time for $7k is now. Not the contract after this one, or the one after that. Not next time. This time!
It’s not just a critical moment for CUNY. Members testified to the powerful example set by striking teachers across the country, part of what GC chapter member Frances Fox Piven called a “movement of educators,” in her remarks endorsing the resolution. In the context of this national movement, equivocating amendments to the resolution proposed by chapter leadership—which “watered it down” with generic wiggle words, as one member put it—seemed hopelessly tone deaf. These amendments were struck down almost unanimously, amid groans and jeers. The message from the rank-and-file was as clear as it was overdue: equivocation and half measures will no longer be tolerated.
Endorsing the resolution, a CUNY adjunct originally from Quebec spoke of the rank-and-file origins of the student strike there, underscoring the need for independent militancy. A veteran of the 2005 New York City Transit Workers, also endorsing the resolution, emphasized the need for a strike to be led by the rank-and-file, not by leadership. Speaker after speaker demanded that the GC chapter state boldly and unequivocally our resolve to strike. Speakers decried the failed strategy of lobbying Albany in place of building rank-and-file militancy. Speakers mocked the folly of entrusting professional politicians, and the naivety of making demands not backed by the threat of action. Speakers insisted that the power to strike not be turned over to the unaccountable bargaining team, but that it reside in the membership from whom it emanates. In sum, speakers made the voices of ordinarily voiceless CUNY workers and students heard loud and clear, even in a room packed well beyond capacity.
In the end, the resolution passed by a landslide. The vote was nearly unanimous. Members hoisted a banner reading “7K or Strike!” and chanted this slogan, an idea whose time has come.
Today’s vote was a resounding victory for the rank-and-file movement at CUNY. We demonstrated our resolve to win $7k by any means necessary. Moreover, this vote occasioned an open, public debate on strategy and tactics, the likes of which are sorely missing in the PSC. Ordinarily PSC members receive their marching orders from on high, instructed by leadership where to send their lobbying postcards, informed when it’s time to travel to Albany, or told when it’s time to demonstrate, where to stand, and what to say. Even when members get arrested they do so under the orders of leadership, and are made to follow a careful script. Seldom, if ever, are members asked what kind of strategy they think it would take to actually win. Today we opened up space for that debate, and the result had leadership and its apologists on their heels.
We admittedly relish any victory, no matter how small, in the age of austerity. But we have no illusions. Today’s vote is a drop in the bucket compared to the fight ahead. The Graduate Center is only one of twenty-four CUNY campuses, and despite its strategic location, as seasoned CUNY activist Conor Tomás Reed observed, the CUNY system is a whole lot larger than the Graduate Center. This means the 7k or Strike! resolution, and the spirit of rank-and-file initiative it represents, must be replicated across the CUNY system if we want a fighting chance at getting a strike off the ground, to say nothing of actually winning.
Such an effort will require widespread education, agitation, building capacities, nourishing trust, cultivating affinity, and planning immense logistical undertakings like community outreach, strike funding, and getting PSC leadership to follow or get out of the way (and you’ll notice we didn’t say lead). Already CUNY Struggle has heard from activists at multiple CUNY campuses interested in passing the 7k or Strike! resolution in their chapters. We humbly place ourselves at the disposal of any group or individual seeking to bring this to their chapter. Get in touch!
We have no interest in downplaying the enormity of the task ahead. But we are driven by the conviction that 7k or Strike! is the only way forward. After the vote, an enthusiastic Frances Fox Piven told us in no uncertain terms:
This is a social movement moment and teachers are in the lead. They are fighting not only for economic justice for themselves but to improve and democratize our schools. We have to evince the same commitment. We are on the cusp of a great movement. Now is the time to strike!
It’s a new era. Join us!