Barbara Bowen and the New Caucus Claim Another Stunning Victory!

BBoct30th07The results are in for the CUNY-wide PSC election, and CUNY Struggle congratulates the New Caucus on another landslide victory, cementing another three-year extension to their 18-year reign! President Bowen in particular earned a whopping 2,484 out of 2,541 cast (98%). Additionally, incoming Vice-President Andrea Vásquez won 2,396 out of 2,464 (97%); incumbent Secretary Nivedita Majumdar won 2,399 out of 2,452 (98%); and the Grad Center’s own hometown hero Luke Elliott-Negri coasted to a spot as university-wide officer with 2,227 votes! Although voter turnout is always low in PSC elections, rarely exceeding 30%, this year was especially low: only 12% of eligible voters made their voices heard!

Now, we at CUNY Struggle have been pretty hard on the New Caucus in the past. We’ve called them, among other things, a hackneyed political machine strangling every last ounce of democracy out of the PSC while masking their authoritarianism in the shopworn jargon of social justice magnetic poetry. But even as tough critics, we must concede that this election was a hard-won model of union democracy in action. Though President Bowen and her comrades didn’t have to work quite as hard as, say, Vladimir Putin, who recently won re-election with only 77%, there was nonetheless some stiff competition! Let’s take a look at the rest of the field.

Second place for president, coming in with 3 votes, was a tie between write-in votes for NC luminary and former Vice-President Michael Fabricant, and write-in votes for… Barbara Bowen! At third place, with 2 votes, was “anyone else”. Still a respectable showing! And after that, the field got even more exciting: coming in tied at 1 vote apiece, Mickey Mouse was locked in a dead heat with “NEVER!!!!!!!!! BOWEN!!!!”, “Please God, not Barbara again”, “NOTA”, “none”, “This election is a sham”, “New Blood”, Bernie Sanders, and CUNY Struggle’s own Wilson Sherwin! Congratulations Wilson!

What explains the NC’s continual electoral success? For starters, the practice of slate voting. PSC ballots list entire electoral slates to be voted on with a single check. This necessitates a high degree of coordination among anyone seeking to seriously challenge NC incumbents, which is of course a tall order for adjuncts especially, as they are routinely shuffled from campus to campus – which blocks them from running in elections for a year after switching campus – and alienated from their co-workers even when they stay long-term. It goes without saying that the NC is rarely contested by an electoral slate year after year, 2018 included.

Thanks to slate voting, most PSC officers are simply selected in advance of the election by their friends in leadership circles, and assured they don’t have to do very much after putting their names on the ballot. NC deliberately fills slates to capacity to make sure that nobody who isn’t pre-approved by central leadership actually finds their way into union office. It doesn’t really matter if you participate once you’ve won. It’s a clever trick that ensures very little happens outside the tiny circle that runs the PSC, besides a lot of ceremony and self-congratulation.

Accordingly, once elected, most PSC officers do very little. The Delegate Assembly practically never makes quorum, and campus chapters meet rarely, mostly spinning their wheels with filibustering show-and-tell presentations of what’s been decided at 61 Broadway. We routinely meet PSC members who have been trying to get in touch with their chapter chair (a salaried position) to find out basic information about the chapter, and never hear back. From the perspective of central leadership, this is less a bug than a feature. They welcome input from the rank-and-file only if it conforms to the strategies they have decided in advance – such as the preference for lobbying Democrats behind closed doors instead of building grassroots power. They prefer working with handpicked activists who swear allegiance to electoral politics, observe hierarchical discipline, and above all don’t rock the boat. Unfortunately, these strategies have done little to stem the growing structural crises at CUNY that are reflected in the desperation-level wages paid to its adjuncts. And when talk arises of a strike, the NC can rightly claim members are demobilized – and they should know! The New Caucus governing strategy is a disaster for the rank-and-file membership, but it preserves the positions, salaries, and course-releases of those at the top, and in the end that’s all it’s designed to do.

Last spring, CUNY Struggle challenged the New Caucus in chapter elections at the Graduate Center. For once, the NC had to acknowledge history and defend its policies – in other words, to perform the basic tasks associated with democratic legitimacy. We didn’t win, but we created a situation foreign to the PSC: an actual debate. They hated it. This time around we couldn’t muster the cross-CUNY interest sufficient for a serious contest. Instead we are running the $7K or Strike! campaign, a member-led initiative aimed at circumventing the inertia of the NC’s failed strategy of currying favor with Democrats behind closed doors. Last summer and fall, the NC spent months opposing an adjunct minimum wage of $7K per three-credit course as a contract demand, dispatching principal officers and paid staff to the campuses and union committees to speak against it and offer watered-down alternatives, before the popularity of our campaign forced them to adopt it as a principal contract demand. Now we’re adding “or Strike!” And they can get on board or get out of the way. $7K will stand or fall on the independent initiative of PSC members, not the decisions of leaders who consistently demobilize us and – given years of low voter turnout – hardly represent us. CUNY Struggle stands with the majority party of non-voters, and those who concluded “this election is a sham.”

Whether or not an insurgent caucus seizes power in the PSC, there is a pressing need for action outside of the status quo, building the autonomous power of CUNY’s rank-and-file toward a membership-led strike of workers and students. This is the last thing the NC wants, and they will do anything in their power to stop it. The stranglehold of the New Caucus over our union has increasingly become a disaster for CUNY, an obstacle to the unfolding of a CUNY-wide movement, and an especial catastrophe for its adjuncts, who have become even more of a key to the multiple problems facing our university than they were 18 years ago, when the New Caucus took the reigns at the PSC. Since then the PSC has degenerated in terms of low wages, humiliating conditions, and subservience to the administrative behemoth that dominates all faculty, both tenure-line and adjunct. If we are to change this course, the rank-and-file have got to wake up and give these people a run for their money.

And why wait for the next election…?

It’s a new era. Join us!

$7K or Strike!

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