On Wednesday, December 5th, PSC chapters representing two CUNY campuses, City College and Lehman, passed resolutions supporting 7K or Strike! At City College, 45 PSC members voted unanimously to support a strike if CUNY doesn’t offer 7K at the bargaining table! The solidarity was palpable. Discussion focused on the need to fight for a fully-funded CUNY that benefits everyone. The fight for 7K is not an adjunct fight, it’s a fight against austerity across CUNY and beyond!
Meanwhile at Lehman College, another 7K or Strike resolution was voted up enthusiastically, while a de-fanged version was roundly rejected by membership. We are honored to run a first-hand account of how it went down, from a comrade who has campaigned hard for for 7K or Strike in the capacity of a full professor (something we are often told should preclude any interest in the adjuncts’ plight). Stuart’s account also provides a clear-eyed assessment of the obstacles facing this campaign, not all of which are external to our union. It’s a must-read for anyone seeking to promote this campaign at their campus, or to understand more broadly how the PSC functions in its present incarnation.
7K or Strike Resolution Passes at Lehman Despite Some Drama
By Stuart Chen-Hayes
As a full professor at CUNY’s Lehman College, I’ve been a member of the PSC-CUNY since being hired as an assistant professor on the tenure track. I believe in the power of activist unions and know that the real power is always with the rank-and-file, or should be, if we take the reins. My dad was a high school teacher in suburban Chicago and I remember walking picket lines with him, and how he was mistreated by administration for being a union activist. So I’m a second-generation unionist.
For years I was more focused on citywide PSC actions and organizing and didn’t participate much in the Lehman chapter. But a couple of years ago a new chapter chair was elected and I sensed a change in style and leadership and wanted to be more involved. I went to two citywide CUNY rallies this year. The first was a show of solidarity and the speaker was Governor Cuomo. I was truly disappointed because I know just how detrimental his policies have been toward workers, unions, and especially K-16 public education. When he spoke, I chose to hang out with other socialists at the socialist table – that was empowering. The second rally I attended with this fall in front of Bill Thompson’s office. That’s where I met up with the CUNY Struggle folks. I’d met a number of the organizers at the Left Forum this summer as well so folks recognized me. I asked for literature and said I wouldn’t have a graduate program without my part-timers, who deserve $7K – and what we’ve been doing in PSC has not been enough. So I got involved for the first time outside the PSC and New Caucus structures.
At our mid-semester Lehman Chapter meeting I passed out flyers from CUNY Struggle on the 7K or Strike movement. I then worked with the current chapter chair to see if we could get a vote on the resolution. Earlier in the semester he’d asked me to write up a paragraph about #RedForEd to share with the chapter. But he never sent it. I asked why and he said that there was a problem because I had included a sentence mentioning the campaign for 7K or Strike. I said that we had academic freedom why would he not send that out? He said he personally agreed with 7K or Strike, so that was great, at least.
I then pushed for a resolution on 7K or Strike at Lehman. After considerable back and forth we got an agreement to discuss the resolution at our chapter meeting on December 5th. I sent the original CUNY Struggle resolution from the Graduate Center, titled “7K or Strike.” When the agenda went, however, it only said “$7K” resolution…“or Strike” was missing. Hmmm… was that a typo or was there mischief afoot? You guessed it! Academics don’t make THAT kind of typo by accident.
I had 40 copies of the resolution for the meeting and handed them out along with the flyer. I had also handed out copies at a meeting about a month earlier so that people could think about it, though we had not discussed it then. The chapter vice-chair led the meeting as the chair was at a conference out of town. The first half of the meeting was taken up by a PSC organizer who spoke on various issues about membership, and the vice-chair, who gave updates on the ongoing contract campaign. We got to the resolution at 4:20, with only 40 minutes to go (and I had to teach back-to-back classes starting at 5!). The vice-chair began by claiming any resolution that wasn’t approved by PSC central leadership would need a quorum of over 78 persons in the room to approve it. That was news to me. I asked if there had ever in the history of the chapter been 78 folks at any meeting. The vice-chair said that he did not believe so.
The vice-chair then asked me to introduce the resolution. I stood and argued that I wouldn’t have a graduate program without part-timers, and that the cost of living in NYC is impossible for those who are living on $3k per course. I said that we must fight public officials who just gave away $2.5B of our tax dollars without public input to the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, when all of that money could instead be paying for 7K for adjuncts and free college! I asked how many folks knew about #RedForEd, and how in right-to-work red states across the country this year we’ve seen K-12 teachers shut their schools down statewide to fight for decent wages and fair working conditions to support their students. Moreover, I added, many of these folks did so as Trump voters, and in states where union leaders ignored them, disagreed with them, or hadn’t organized effectively in years. I also shared that for the first time ever this week Charter School teachers in Chicago are out on strike, having organized with Chicago Teachers Union Local 1, which was also the inspiration for other #RedForEd strikes nationwide.
Members in attendance discussed the issue of striking, job actions, and solidarity, all clearly in sympathy with my general points. Some however were hesitant to do anything that would trigger the Taylor Law. Then, unexpectedly, an executive committee member and the vice-chair shared a different resolution that did not challenge the PSC leadership, and did not call for a strike, though it mentioned potentially building toward actions that could include a strike. Robert’s Rules were quickly invoked to ensure that that particular resolution was voted on first. In discussion, I asked who wrote the second resolution and was told that the current chapter chair had written it two nights before, based on the resolution that passed at BMCC! Well, it went up for a vote first, and it failed.
After this brief interlude we were back to my resolution, written by CUNY Struggle. Several amendments were discussed and voted upon, which preserved the spirit of the resolution and added more specifics about building toward a strike. At 4:59, the amended resolution was approved and passed by a majority of members in the room. The next day, a version of the resolution was sent by the chapter vice chair, with several added paragraphs from the BMCC version, to certain chapter members and the PSC organizer. Gone was the final paragraph stating the pledge to authorize a strike. That wasn’t what we voted on. I am presently working to get this corrected, and hope to have a finalized version of the resolution we voted on as soon as possible.
It certainly looks like there’s a game plan passed down from on high to defang this resolution, where they start with #1 and then move down to #6 as each domino falls:
- Try to avoid ever having this discussion or ever letting it on the agenda.
- Waste time in the meeting before the resolution comes up.
- Focus on procedural issues, emphasizing a lack of official quorum (which our meetings never have).
- Talk about the Taylor law in hopes that people will vote no.
- Argue that strike is the last thing you do and it is therefore too early to discuss it; this line of thinking could lead to tabling the resolution or sending it out to committee.
- Introduce a substitute resolution approved by central leadership.
In the end, the resolution passed. But the lesson learned here? PSC-CUNY needs to become a democratic union. It is simply not that right now. There is no way that one-party rule, currently the New Caucus, represents the rank-and-file. With Janus at hand, we need to build membership and take actions that fight to increase democracy. This type of anti-rank-and-file behavior is not the way to do it.
I’m thrilled to have had my first union resolution passed and look forward to more. I invite others, especially other full-timers, to join in the fight for 7K and for a democratic union. I know I’ve had many Lehman folks reach out as part of this event and that we will be organizing further despite folks attempting to block our attempts. Thanks also to Dr. Lois Weiner who invited me to be part of the international @teachsolidarity collective online, and to her wonderful writing about teacher unionism. I will be teaching her book on the subject this spring in my Leadership and Advocacy in Schools class. Last, I am inspired by many educators, unionists, and privatization foes on Twitter. It’s where I have learned much about organizing for justice. Solidarity!
Follow Stuart Chen-Hayes on Twitter: @schenhayes.