On September 26th, one hundred CUNY faculty, students, and comrades from all across the city picketed outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office, and marched to CUNY Central, the headquarters of CUNY management. We wanted to send a clear message to Cuomo and CUNY management there will be no excuses this time: we demand a $7k-per-course minimum wage and meaningful job security for adjuncts in the next PSC-CUNY contract! The entire demonstration was organized by an independent coalition of PSC rank-and-filers and was co-sponsored by CUNY Struggle. Despite having done absolutely zero work to mobilize membership for the coming contract fight, PSC leadership refused to endorse this rally, attend, or even give us access to their communication apparatus to spread the word it was going on. But apparently we still managed to get the word out! And whether the Cuomo, CUNY management, or PSC leadership likes it, we’re just getting started.
We refuse to let this contract be the latest chapter in ‘A Tale of Two CUNYs’!
The contract for PSC-CUNY, the union for CUNY professors and many higher education staff, is set to expire in November. A majority of professors in the CUNY system are adjuncts, working for a mere $3,200 per course with no job security. CUNY contracts consistently distribute the vast majority of raises to the professors who already earn the most money, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the CUNY system. It’s time for CUNY to give its adjunct faculty a $7k-per-course minimum wage and real job security!
CUNY can afford $7k for adjuncts in the next PSC-CUNY contract
CUNY currently spends only 5% of its $5,000,000,000 annual revenue on adjuncts’ wages – the workers who comprise over half the faculty and teach over half the classes. CUNY has the money. Raising the minimum wage for adjuncts to $7k would take only another 5% of CUNY’s revenue. Time to cough it up!
Adjuncts deserve $7k and job security, both long overdue
Adjuncts are college professors and at CUNY teach college classes for sub-minimum wage. Across the country, adjuncts are rising and demanding the wages that they deserve. The contingent faculty unions at Tufts University and Barnard College both won minimum per-course rates of at least $7,000 for the coming academic year. CUNY sets the low watermark for adjunct pay in the entire City of New York. It’s time to reverse this trend.
$7k and job security for adjuncts is moral and practical issue for everyone
Across the country, universities are increasingly relying on adjuncts to lower the wages and job security of everyone, including tenured faculty. Only by taking a stand for the bottom tier of CUNY’s workforce can we begin to buck this trend and turn the tide toward a living wage for all in the university, as well as optimal learning conditions for students.
Join our growing grassroots movement for $7k and job security… and accept no substitute!
3:30: Meet at Cuomo’s Manhattan office, 633 3rd Ave
4:30: Rally outside CUNY Central, 205 E 42nd St
With the contract expiring in November, it’s time to put pressure on our bosses to pay us a fair, living wage: $7000 per course minimum.
$7k is the only foundation on which real structural changes in adjunct working conditions can begin. It is not unrealistic: the contingent faculty unions at Tufts University and Barnard College both won minimum per-course rates of at least $7,000 for the coming academic year. CUNY can afford it too—currently it spends only 5% of its $5 bil annual revenue on adjuncts’ wages, who comprise over half the faculty and teach over half the classes.
Furthermore, we demand genuine job security in the form of a seniority system based on date of original appointment and the number of credits taught over time. Only militant, direct action can achieve both fair wages and job security.
We invite everyone in the CUNY community and NYC labor movement to struggle with us for greater investment in public higher education and for an end to the exploitation of CUNY faculty.
We are heartbroken to learn that our comrade and CUNY movement stalwart Lenny Dick has died at the age of 68. Lenny was a former public school teacher, an adjunct professor of math at Bronx Community College, and an indefatigable champion of the oppressed. He was also a lifelong radical, born into the cause in Brooklyn and never wavering throughout his nearly seven decades. After attending Columbia University, where he excelled in math, chess, poker, and militant takeovers of the school, Lenny went to work teaching the public school students of New York City. In the 1980s the New York City Department of Education stripped him of his teaching license for siding with his students in the Bronx as they walked out to protest grotesque conditions in their school. Lenny was forced to teach in private schools after that but upon retirement excitedly renewed his commitment to the working-class students of New York City, signing on to teach math to students at Bronx Community College, where he became heavily involved in trying to push the Professional Staff Congress in a more militant, activist direction.
As his friend and longtime colleague Glenn Kissack described him:
Lenny was never happier than being in the heat of battle—having rallies on his campus, marching with the PSC against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing anti-war resolutions to the AFT convention, being on the picket line with the strikers at the Stella D’Oro bakery, supporting the parents of Ramarley Graham in their fight to get a measure of justice for their teenage son who had been murdered by the NYPD, going to Hostos College to support events there. Lenny felt deeply about the plight of adjuncts, especially those who were struggling financially.
Lenny’s health became a concern for him in recent years but it didn’t slow him down politically one bit. He was too committed for that. As he told one of us recently, he was “nuts” for politics, for trying concretely to change the world in a more just direction. That was a very Lenny way of putting it and few have walked the walk like he did. Lenny was attending union meetings, organizing rallies, and planning marches and other direct actions literally until the day he died. It was like there was a fire inside of him. All of us who work for a world in which no one is left behind owe something to Lenny and the example he set in terms of unwavering commitment, clear-eyed militancy, and the affability he never failed to bring to the struggles to which he devoted his life. We will remember you, Lenny, and will continue to work for the world you foresaw.
On the morning of Monday, June 26th, MarisaHolmes — CUNY TV Broadcast Associate and NYC movements organizer — received an email from Frances Correa at CUNY Central Office with a letter attached from Sonia S. Pearson, Director of Human Resources, which informed Holmes that her appointment would end on June 30th. Holmes‘ union, District Council (DC) 37, was not notified. She was not given 30 days notice or cause for her termination.
This action by HR is in clear violation of Holmes‘ contract, and retaliation for her organizing efforts (outlined below). If this move is tolerated, it sets a precedent for how CUNY manages those who speak out.
We must not allow this silencing of dissent! We support MarisaHolmes remaining as Broadcast Associate at CUNY TV!
MarisaHolmes began working at CUNY TV as an hourly Broadcast Associate in the Fall of 2013. She works a regular 32 hour a week shift, which falls just below the full-time mark, and is considered part-time. Her work consists of producing, shooting, and editing video content for television and web distribution, with a focus on ethnic and immigrant communities in NYC.
Holmes is represented by DC 37, and has been an active union member and organizer. She helped members to address budget transparency, hour reductions, benefits, and diversity in hiring practices and promotions. Through her organizing efforts, dozens of workers received increases to their base pay, changes of title, expansion of benefits, and support for pay equity. Holmes also built cross-union ties between DC 37 and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) in the process. DC 37 was so impressed by her efforts that they featured her on the cover of the public employee press.
Just over a hundred days after Trump’s inauguration, this year’s May Day is unmistakably different from the last. This is especially true at the Professional Staff Congress, which might be financially debilitated by nationwide “right-to-work” before next May Day and where over half the bargaining unit is part of the growing precariat. And this is especially true at CUNY, where students are predominantly working-class and people of color, and over a third are immigrants—categories that will remain in Trump’s crosshairs for the next four years. Given the union’s purported solidarity with its students, its potential to lead a radical struggle uniting student issues with faculty issues with staff issues, and its own threatened existence, one would expect the PSC to use the revitalization of May Day as an opportunity for militant direct action.
Although the gravity of the times is reason enough for militancy in the PSC, a single day of disruptive direct action could also have benefited our union in the long term. Members of the rank-and-file, old and young, know that adjuncts won’t win $7000 per course in the near future without a strike. A May Day action that brushes up against the Taylor Law, which prohibits public-sector strikes in New York State, would be taking a small risk in exchange for a trial run of a real strike. Trust falls like one-day actions are necessary to train rank-and-file members as organizers and build solidarity within our union, thus preparing us for the greater risk of a future strike. Furthermore, joining other unions in the streets—many of which consist of undocumented immigrants taking even bigger risks than breaking the Taylor Law— would build ties across the city and help shift the balance of class forces against capitalists and their cronies in City Hall and Albany.
Yet the PSC’s May Day plans fell far short of militancy. Although alleging to join the call by academics nationwide for a “moratorium on university operations”, which called for “cancel[ing] classes, clos[ing] offices, and postpon[ing] maintenance”, the PSC leadership instead asked instructors with Monday classes to teach special lessons about Trump’s policies. Furthermore, the leadership did little to materially support this “action”: it sent a few emails, distributed flyers at chapter meetings, and created a shared Google Drive folder in mid-April, where only four PSC members uploaded only nineteen readings that the 20,000 instructors at CUNY could use to “teach Trump”. The PSC leadership also called for a contingent at the Foley Square rally on May Day, where bureaucratic unions have gathered on past May Days to separate themselves from immigrant workers and socialist groups at Union Square.
It is perhaps even more disappointing that, despite the gravity and potential of this year’s May Day, the official PSC (in)action was decided without any input from the rank-and-file, from chapters, or even from the Delegate Assembly (the union’s “principal governing body”), nevermind through democratic channels. Presumably, the decision was made by the Executive Council or an even smaller circle orbiting PSC president Barbara Bowen. When the lack of material solidarity with more vulnerable but braver unions, like those consisting of immigrant workers, was criticized from the floor of the April Delegate Assembly meeting, the leadership responded that a contingent at the Foley Square rally constituted solidarity. Given the stubborn centralization of power in the PSC, one shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of political imagination that went into the PSC’s plans.
Rank-and-file activists in the Graduate Center chapter, including many in CUNY Struggle, realized the PSC’s milquetoast plans would only get soggier, so in late March we started planning a different action at the GC within the chapter’s Solidarity Committee. We advertised and held a people’s assembly to collectively decide what the GC chapter’s May Day action could look like, which brought over a dozen chapter members, including five new faces. Notably missing were any members of the New Caucus—despite the fact that their talk of active, dynamic chapters and their pretenses of solidarity, militancy, and progressivism would lead one to think that May Day would be a top priority. After a few weeks of organizing characterized by a consistent lack of material support from the chapter leadership (even the food at planning meetings was provided with non-union funds), we ultimately resolved to organize a walk-out from the GC to the Immigrant Worker Justice march, to circulate a GC-wide petition endorsing the call for an actual moratorium on university operations, and to present these plans at the GC chapter meeting in late April for a vote of formal support.
Unfortunately, the plans devised and worked on by the Solidarity Committee never received formal support. At the chapter meeting, representatives of the Solidarity Committee presented and wrote on a chalkboard a potential resolution that the chapter endorse the moratorium on university operations, urge chapter members to walk out and join the Immigrant Worker Justice march, and call on the GC president to excuse students and faculty from May Day actions. The resolution was tabled until the end of the meeting, following a de facto filibuster by a long series of presentations that could easily have been printed and read on one’s own time. Ten minutes before the meeting was supposed to end, one member involved in May Day planning interrupted the presentations to return to discussing the proposed resolution and eventually vote. Attendees expressed hesitations about the Taylor Law and noted that the chapter cannot endorse a resolution without quorum, which we didn’t meet, so the resolution was edited accordingly: mentions of the GC chapter were replaced and the walk-out was recast as a student strike, which avoids the Taylor Law. The deliberation turned chaotic, and fifteen minutes after the meeting was supposed to end, the chapter chair refused to call a vote and ultimately walked out of the meeting.
In short, the chapter leadership’s response to its own Solidarity Committee’s request that the chapter meeting vote on plans that rank-and-file members had been working on for a month was simply “no”. The watered down resolution could have helped mobilize GC students and strengthen the GC contingent on May Day, in addition to demonstrating that chapters could outpace the progressivism of the union-wide leadership. Furthermore, holding a vote at a chapter meeting, even if it only represents the workers assembled at the chapter meeting, could have set a precedent for bottom-up democratic decision-making—something that, to my knowledge, never happens in any chapter of the PSC. Instead, the opposite precedent was set: attempts at democratic participation that break from the leadership’s prepared remarks and pre-made decisions will continue to face resistance.
Despite these obstructions to democratic decision-making, over a dozen GC students (notably, none in the New Caucus) walked out on May Day and joined the Immigrant Worker Justice rally, meeting up with several more on the subsequent march. Some of us regrouped later in the afternoon at the Union Square demonstration, which—after an initial collision with the police who arrested a few dozen protesters who tried to take the streets—marched south to Foley Square. When we arrived at 7:30, the official PSC contingent had already dissolved, after dumping their expensive signs in the trash. Judging by photos posted later on social media, several dozen PSC members attended the rally at Foley Square, including members of the GC chapter leadership. Although the official contingent was larger than ours farther north, we question the utility of joining large bureaucratic unions at what amounted to a well-financed, musical rally for the reelection of Bill de Blasio, whose thugs were meanwhile arresting nonviolent protesters at Union Square (possibly including some of our own students from the Hunter Internationalist Club). We can now say that the PSC’s recent undemocratic endorsement of de Blasio ended up setting the precedent for the PSC’s May Day plans a few months later.
Nonetheless, the rank-and-file resistance to the New Caucus’s timid incrementalism is growing, not only at the GC. Contingents from BMCC, Hunter, Lehman, and LaGuardia CC, uniting both students and faculty, converged at Union Square, some in tandem with socialist groups like Socialist Alternative, the Internationalist Group, and Democratic Socialists of America. This year’s May Day revealed ever more clearly the capacity and need for two concomitant strategies: first, horizontal organizing and actions without the permission of the PSC leadership and, second, persistent demands for a democratic union, genuine material solidarity with our students and the working class, and a break from electoralism and incrementalism.
Congratulations to NCFI on their victory in the PSC election at the GC. And congratulations to CUNY Struggle candidate Andy Battle, who was elected alternate delegate at Hunter!
CUNY Struggle ran in this election because we wanted to build horizontal rank-and-file power and promote debate and democracy in our union. We consider taking a third of the votes at the GC a respectable showing, and a signal that our message resonated with a significant number of GC workers who reject the idea that there is no alternative to the failed strategy of neoliberal incrementalism which the New Caucus represents. We note, however, that the turnout was dismal: only 306 people cast ballots out of a potential 1,036 eligible voters. We’ve already detailed the anti-democratic effect of mail-in ballots, and we heard from numerous members who did not receive a ballot to their home address on time, even after requesting one from the PSC.
We consider this a win because our goals are not simply to assume power, but to transform the PSC into a different kind of organization–a militant, democratic body that recognizes the pernicious changes sweeping higher education and possesses the scope and imagination required to confront them. In the course of the campaign, the NCFI slate repeatedly and publicly claimed that it supported many of the demands on our platform, and publicly disavowed loyalty to PSC President Barbara Bowen — something we can be sure wouldn’t have happened without CUNY Struggle challenging them in the election.
Now is the time for NFCI to act on this rhetoric… let the reforms begin! For starters, CUNY Struggle members have begun drafting a series of democratic reforms to the PSC structure, the first of which would institute proportional representation in governance and open bargaining, and will be proposed at the May delegate assembly. We look forward to receiving the support of NCFI members on this initiative, along with our alternative delegate, Andy Battle. The NCFI leadership must also follow through on its commitment to hold democratic chapter meetings and institute procedures to that effect. As it stands there is no process in place for deliberation at chapter meetings, as we witnessed first-hand at last week’s GC chapter meeting, when a motion to vote for adopting a member’s proposal degenerated into chaos.
If you voted CUNY Struggle (or tried to, or believe that a challenge to the status quo is necessary), we thank you and we want to hear from you! We don’t expect the New Caucus’s storied history of talking like a social movement while acting like a business union to end anytime soon. And the New Caucus will happily spackel over the cracks that have emerged in their hegemony these last three months, invoking the same tired language of unity in the face of Trump, or whichever excuse comes next. This means we must not let up in building our own independent power inside and outside the PSC, toward the next contract campaign, and beyond.
Longtime CUNY activist Conor Tomás Reed penned the following endorsement of CUNY Struggle. We are honored to have Conor’s support, but dismayed to hear about disenfranchisement throughout the Graduate Center chapter. If you feel you have been disenfranchised in this election, contact the PSC immediately (firstname.lastname@example.org) and then email email@example.com to tell us the story.
I just found out that I can’t vote in The Graduate Center PSC election because of a technicality. For those of you in CUNY Struggle and the New Caucus and Fusion Independents with whom I’ve had the honor to struggle alongside for several years, I’m saddened about this disenfranchisement, but I also know that it symbolizes the inadequacies of “democracy” without a liberation framework. In lieu of a secret mail-in ballot, I wish to publicly vote my support for the CUNY Struggle slate.
We all fought hard to get a Professional Staff Congress/CUNY chapter on our campus, even as PSC Central set up technicality roadblocks to delay it. We all fought hard to authorize a 97% YES strike vote in Spring 2016, even as PSC Central then urged many of us to ratify a woefully uneven contract (which I am still proud my subsequent vote rejected). Within the past few years, many new and continuing GC organizers — on both slates and beyond — have broadened our reach and transformed what a union could do and feel like. We’ve also convinced PSC Central to take some risks and defend its members who are regularly on the frontlines.
While both CUNY Struggle and New Caucus and Fusion Independents have advocated new vibrant approaches to CUNY/NYC movement work, we are at a crossroads and must become more daring. As we face the precipice of authoritarianism, attacks and deportations of the most marginalized, automatic-dues dissolution for what’s left of U.S. unionism, and violent inequalities from schools to communities, even the most fiery-tongued of orthodox labor strategies is insufficient — especially when fused with top-down undemocratic union methods that have kept most of PSC’s membership uninvolved. CUNY Struggle presents an explicit break with various failed PSC models, and importantly, does so within The Graduate Center PSC chapter that is best poised to influence and turn the entire union into a fighting force CUNY-wide.
CUNY Struggle’s victory would no doubt be a contradictory transition moment. Even as CS members are more keenly attuned to the kinds of resistance that our union and university must create to survive and thrive, NCFI members helped to shape our fledgling chapter into existence and built trust with a broad layer of new union participants. Even as CS would possibly face isolation or derision by PSC Central’s New Caucus, our GC chapter would need to stand by our decision to support this organizing alternative. Even as both slates have highlighted each other’s flaws during the election campaigns, we’d need everyone to build upon NCFI’s foundations while embracing CS’s vision to (actually) center adjuncts in our next contract, prepare now to take militant strike actions, and directly connect to broader social struggles. Crucially, we’d need to make top-tier calcified leadership irrelevant by activating the entire PSC base to create a democratic and liberatory union. Leadership in a union matters, but leaders without a genuine rank-and-file movement are just toy generals, no matter what their politics.
From California to Chicago to Seattle, and from Chile to Mexico to Puerto Rico to Quebec to South Africa, we see how education upheavals can precipitate wider social changes — not through charisma or coercion, but in the words of Paulo Freire, through “education as a practice of freedom.” Our position in CUNY is no less strategically profound. I’m eager to continue practicing freedom with my comrades on both slates. Our longtime CUNY movement is worth all of your continued organizing efforts, no matter the election results.
I welcome CUNY Struggle to aptly seize the moment in leading alongside us all in a new movement direction, and I urge The Graduate Center PSC chapter to also vote for a radical grassroots CUNY Struggle.