On May 16, 2018, members of CUNY Struggle presented the $7K or Strike resolution that passed at the Graduate Center to members of the Hunter College chapter of the PSC. The basic idea of the resolution is that we back up our central demand—that CUNY adjuncts, who teach a majority of courses at the university, be paid a living wage in the form of $7,000 per course—by being willing to go out on strike if it is not met by the university. We believe that adjunctification is at the center of the crises engulfing the university and that addressing it is in the interest of all faculty, even those who have been lucky enough to escape being caught in its grips. Moreover, we believe that past experience has shown that pressure short of direct action has little effect towards achieving our just demands, which are made not only in our own interests, but in those of the students to whom we have devoted our teaching lives. We were inspired by the example of teachers across the country and around the world, who are mounting a wave of strike actions that demonstrate and deploy the power we have as working people to shape education for the better.
In terms of the workforce, Hunter is a somewhat different landscape than the Graduate Center. The Graduate Center boasts a concentration of part time faculty, whether they be graduate assistants or students working as adjuncts trying to fund their degrees. It also has tenure-line faculty who are connected to adjuncts in the sense that many of their students and advisees do this kind of work. The Graduate Center also has a concentration of militants, many of whom are living and studying not only the adjunctification crisis but the history of working-class radicalism and social movements in the US and beyond. Hunter, on the other hand, has significant numbers of tenure-line faculty who can remain aloof to the adjunct struggle as long as the consequences for their individual lives and careers remain diffuse enough for them to fail to connect the dots between adjunctification, or the creation of a huge, highly-exploited and highly-vulnerable workforce, and the precipitous decrease in overall faculty power vis-à-vis administration about which so many of them rightly complain. Their position, like that of PSC leaders who have presided over declining real wages, worsening conditions, and deepened precarity, will become less tenable the longer we permit the adjunct crisis to define our work at the university.
Andy Battle, a Hunter adjunct working in the History Department, presented the resolution to the chapter for discussion. He emphasized that there is both a moral and a political rationale for prioritizing the $7K demand and argued that strategies that eschew direct action (such as lobbying and media campaigns) have persistently fallen short. Battle cited the inspiring struggles mounted by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and the UK as evidence that solidarity, direct action, and disruption remain the only effective vehicles for achieving our short and long-term goals. He explained how the framers of the resolution presented at the Graduate Center had been taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive reaction it received there, and now sought to compel discussions on this issue in other fora of our union.
PSC President Barbara Bowen, invited by Hunter Chapter Chair Jeremy Glick, was present at the meeting and was offered a platform to criticize the resolution. Using the same language Graduate Center Chapter Chair Luke Elliott-Negri deployed in attempting to stall the resolution last month, President Bowen emphasized quibbles with the wording of the resolution, complaining about its tone without identifying any specific portion. At the Graduate Center meeting, this line of argumentation was decisively rejected by members. More substantively, Bowen, like Elliott-Negri, denied vehemently that strategies short of direct action have been exhausted. At the same time, Bowen invoked the overwhelming support for the May 2016 strike authorization vote and claimed she does not rule out the possibility of a strike around the current contract. Bowen also emphasized that it would be undesirable simply to “rearrange a static pie” by accepting a continuation of the state’s meager funding but redistributing it to relieve adjuncts. The motivation for this statement is unclear as the resolution and associated discussions have proposed nothing of the sort; at the same time President Bowen neglected to point out that in other states the pie has been enlarged—but only through disruptive direct action.
While Glick, unilaterally and without backing in any known constitutional procedure, insisted he would not permit a formal vote on the resolution, a straw poll indicated approximately 50% support in the room for the measure. With some notable exceptions, the vote revealed a rough split between part-time and full-time faculty. In debate over the measure, several adjuncts spoke in favor. One, addressing President Bowen directly, warned that many adjuncts have already given up on the union over its failure to effectively address the poverty and humiliating working conditions in which they try to teach. With the Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case looming, these adjuncts will be free to stop paying into the union, a prospect that provokes nightmares among PSC leadership, who have mounted an aggressive “recommitment” campaign while continuing to discourage meaningful rank-and-file input into decision-making.
Those skeptical of the resolution cited the upcoming Janus decision, which could affect the finances of the union. They also cited the Taylor Law, which seeks to prohibit public employee strikes in New York. Several emphasized their consternation over the lack of solidarity—indeed, the disdain, in the eyes of some—that many full-time faculty feel towards their adjunct colleagues. Some insisted the timing is “not right,” perhaps forgetting that in the PSC “wait” has for decades now meant “never.” These comments indicate that an urgent task for militants is to mount an extensive educational campaign regarding the unjust Taylor Law and the ways in which the struggles of all faculty and students—four of whom attended the meeting and pledged to work with PSC militants in building support for direct action—are intrinsically connected. Here it is crucial to maintain a realistic sense of the immense organizing efforts required to mount successful, coordinated direct action, but not to let the risk and uncertainty around it turn our burdens into self-fulfilling prophecies. Proponents of the resolution explained that nothing in it precludes an intelligent, measured escalation, but that without the ultimate threat of disruptive action, that escalation in itself is almost certain to fall short.
The final result of the chapter meeting was to postpone discussion to the first Hunter chapter meeting in the Fall. If you are a member of the Hunter chapter, this is your chance to make your voice heard. With enough support, we can get a resolution on the floor, and we can get it passed.
In all, presenting this resolution was a hugely worthwhile step, even if the obstacles at a college like Hunter are larger than those at the Graduate Center. Several adjuncts approached us afterward asking how they can join the effort, and some testified during the meeting that hearing of the resolution’s success at the Graduate Center has already provoked more enthusiasm for the union among their colleagues than they have witnessed in a long time. The resolution was meant to provoke serious rank-and-file discussion of how we can claim what is rightfully ours by virtue of the enormous work that we do—the right to guide the university in the direction of human need over and above the cold calculations of the governor, his multi-millionaire Board of Trustees, and the wealthy who seek to evade their responsibility to the rest of the city at every opportunity. The time has come for a democratic revolution at CUNY.
$7K OR STRIKE!!