You likely know that Rank & File Action is pushing for open bargaining in the upcoming contract struggle. A year ago we partnered with the PSC Graduate Center to hold an event on open bargaining featuring speakers from various unions who have practiced it, and two weeks ago the Bronx Action Committee hosted another event and discussion on what open bargaining would mean for the PSC. We have definitions and information on what open bargaining is on our website and have flyered for it at the PSC 50th Anniversary Picnic. We believe open bargaining would signal a seachange in how the PSC conducts its negotiations and how members perceive their own role in the union!

But what does the PSC leadership think? We have some answers, but we hope things will change. One of the four Principal Officers visited a recent chapter meeting and fielded a question about open bargaining; RAFA members took notes. Here are some of the points the officer in question made, and our initial response:

  1. “We have come up with a workable process that isn’t quite open bargaining but a form of open bargaining.” By this they mean that members will be invited into key sessions for particular viewpoints, a model that has been used by the PSC in the past. But these invitations have in the past come with a gag agreement which prevents members from reporting openly on the sessions afterwards. Since the bargaining team decides who gets to be there and how much they can disclose, this is not open bargaining. 
  2. “We have formed a Demand Development Committee that is pivoting to work with Campus Action Teams (CATs) on demands.” As far as we can tell, the Demand Development Committee is comprised solely of Executive Council members, and CAT teams are similarly limited in scope. At at least one major CUNY campus, the CAT hasn’t even met yet this year. There need to be clear paths for member involvement in formulating demands, rather than the “death by committee” approach. 
  3. “Open bargaining would be too unwieldy for a union of 30,000 members.” Yes, a bargaining session with thousands of members might be chaotic. But open bargaining is not a free-for-all and is premised on the notion that there is power in numbers. You can choose a maximum number of participants and have people sign up beforehand, rotating through different attendees for each session. The caucus structure means that members know to remain quiet during negotiations and debrief with the bargaining committee during breaks. There can be structure and limits to open bargaining. 
  4. “We would look weak if only five people showed up.” So, which is it? Are the POs worried about too many or too few people attending bargaining sessions? It is true that some unions practicing open bargaining have struggled to activate members as participants in the sessions. But this is all the more reason why we need to start building our member power now, and spread as much political education as possible. Members can help each other understand that they can have a meaningful role to play in their own contract negotiations, rather than believing their voices don’t matter or expecting others to fight on their behalf in a top-down structure. Who better to advocate for part-time CLTs than someone currently holding that role? This union is our union, not the leadership’s union, and open bargaining is a process that can begin today. 
  5. “We sometimes worry that the focus on open bargaining distracts from building power among the members.” (Yes, this is a direct quote). We at RAFA know that the whole point of open bargaining is building member power. If you are accustomed to showing up at pointless publicity events or filling out surveys whose results are never released, you’re not going to believe turning out to negotiations is worth your time. On the other hand, if we build a union culture that values and amplifies all voices and encourages active and horizontally balanced participation, open bargaining will become a natural outgrowth of the kind of vibrant union we’ve cultivated.  

Open bargaining does not happen in a vacuum, curtailing other approaches to building power. On the contrary, it is an umbrella term that encompasses many other actions and mobilizations as members see fit, while becoming increasingly activated and enraged by the betrayals and hypocrisy of CUNY executives. It is also not an all-or-nothing feature of negotiations, but rather a process (like strike readiness), a muscle we must flex and strengthen over time. Rather than shutting down dialogue by claiming that “the PSC already practices a form of open bargaining” (which we have heard asserted in various contexts) the Principal Offers should practice openness to more transparency and new forms of member engagement as we approach the upcoming round of contract negotiations. After all, more members involved would ultimately make these leaders’ taxing jobs easier!

See the recent RAFA Dispatch for more info about the many exciting initiatives RAFA has been engaged in, and contact rafa.cuny@gmail.com if you would like to get involved!

Scabbing: A Very Short Introduction

By Olivia Wood (@bi_rhetorics), Graduate Worker, PSC-CUNY Delegate from the Graduate Center

The Student Workers of Columbia (SWC-UAW) have been on strike for seven weeks, and since they are an academic union in NYC, their struggle for a good contract is deeply connected with ours at CUNY. It’s important to support them regardless, but supporting SWC means supporting ourselves too.

Our comrades at NYU-GSOC, their graduate workers union, have given us a heads up that Columbia is already trying to recruit new adjuncts to replace the striking student workers, and a petition is circulating to block this. We must not apply for these jobs. This is called being a scab, and being a scab is one of the worst things a worker can do. 

What does “don’t cross a picket line” mean?

When workers are on strike, the most important thing other workers can do is respect their picket line. This means refusing to do anything that would undermine the power of the strike.

“Don’t cross” can be literal — don’t walk past the picketers to enter the building. Members of the Teamsters union, for example, frequently refuse to deliver packages to anywhere there is a picket. UPS drivers even have an option in their computer system to select “there is a strike” as a reason why a package couldn’t be delivered. For us with Columbia, crossing the picket line could mean attending class, attending campus events, or teaching our own classes. 

“Don’t cross” can also be digital. For instance, if you are teaching at Columbia, holding your class on Zoom instead of on campus is still crossing the picket line. SWC is asking everyone to refuse to use any Columbia-owned Zoom accounts and to hold all events in alternate locations – physical or digital. 

What is a “scab”? 

A scab is any worker who undermines a strike using their labor. There are two types.

The first type is someone in the bargaining unit (in this case, a Columbia student worker) who refuses to go on strike and continues to work. 

The second type is an outside worker who agrees to replace the labor of the strikers. Scabs are sometimes hired through normal hiring processes, and they are sometimes hired via outside consulting firms that specialize in breaking strikes. If we accept an adjunct position, or even a full time position, to teach classes normally taught by graduate workers at Columbia, we are scabs. If undergrads accept positions to work as graders or TAs, they are scabs. 

Why is scabbing so horrible?

The reason strikes work is that withholding our labor hurts our employer. They can’t continue running business as usual — running classes at Columbia, or making cereal at Kellogg’s — without us. They want us to get back to work as soon as possible, so they are more likely to meet our demands. Employers hire scabs to mitigate the damage of a strike — that is, to scab over the wound. 

Scabs are often paid much higher than regular workers, because employers think it’s worth it to spend a lot of money for a short period of time in order to keep labor costs low — that is, pay people less and provide fewer benefits — in the long run. Because of this, it can be tempting to accept scab work! BUT YOU MUST NOT DO IT.

When someone agrees to be a scab, they are betraying the workers on strike by deliberately weakening their bargaining power. We all want the strongest, best contract possible, with the highest wages, best benefits, and most protections. Scabbing makes it more likely that strikers will be forced into a shittier contract. And for every union that accepts a bad contract, it makes it harder for other unions to win good ones.

For example:

Right now, most Columbia PhD students in the School of Arts and Sciences are on 9-month appointments and make about $35,000 per year. This is already a lot more than what Graduate Center Fellows make! ($8,000 more compared to first-year GC students.) In bargaining, CUNY argues this is okay because they are a private school and we are a public school, so it’s natural for them to make more money than us. 

However, if SWC wins their demand of about $42,000 in base compensation for 9-month employees (workers who just teach during the fall and spring semesters, for example), then they will make $15,000 more than us. Almost twice as big of a gap! 

It will be much harder for CUNY to argue that that is fair for us. But beyond that, CUNY will be incentivized to pay us more in an effort to attract students who might otherwise choose to attend Columbia. The bigger the pay difference, the more likely it is that money, and not the program itself, will be the deciding factor. Because NYU’s grad student union already won higher pay for their student workers, the pressure on CUNY is even higher.

So, would it be nice for a CUNY adjunct to make Columbia-level adjunct pay for a semester? Sure! But it’s better for all of us in the long run to stand in solidarity with SWC. Apply somewhere else for the spring. 

Don’t Columbia grad students have it pretty good, though?

No! Even though they make more money than we do at CUNY, their pay still falls far short of a living wage for Manhattan. And they don’t get dental or vision insurance like we do. 

Furthermore, most Columbia grad students live in Columbia-owned housing, which is extremely expensive. Based on average rent data, Columbia student workers pay more than half of their paychecks directly back to the university. Because Columbia owns so many buildings in the area, their high rents drive up the prices for the whole neighborhood, making even non-Columbia apartments more expensive. This hurts not just graduate students, but the whole community. 

Just like most CUNY students, most Columbia grad students work at least one extra job to pay the bills. It’s also common for them to sublet their apartments and move somewhere cheaper in the summers, since they can’t afford to pay Columbia rent year-round. You can read more on the SWC Testimonials page.

What does a “living wage” mean? Don’t lots of people in Manhattan make less than $45,000 a year?

Yes! A living wage doesn’t mean “the amount of money you need to not literally die.” It means the amount of money you need to consistently afford necessities plus basic comforts, enough to have a little leftover for fun activities and for savings, enough that you don’t need to worry how you’re going to pay the bills. 

Lots of people in Manhattan make less than a living wage, but that’s because wages should be higher for all of them too. Most likely, many who make less than a living wage augment their income with under-the-table work or rely on community support, such as free childcare from relatives. But most graduate students, especially at private schools, aren’t from New York! They came here specifically to study, and likely don’t have local networks of friends and/or family. 

More than 10% (12.9%) of all New Yorkers are food-insecure, which means they don’t have consistent and reliable access to enough nutritious food to live an active and healthy life. Even during the eviction moratorium, nearly 10% of all NYC public school children experienced housing instability — that is, they may not be living on the street, but they don’t have a permanent place to call home. Living is not the same as living safely or living well. A living wage means everyone makes enough to be safe and comfortable, and everyone deserves that.

In sum:

Sign the petition if you haven’t already, and share the message with your friends: don’t scab. Refuse to collaborate with scabbers. Support Columbia strikers. In doing so, you will be building toward a better future, not just for Columbia, not just for CUNY, but for all of us together.

Why the PSC Must Support Palestine: An “Alt-Clarion” Forum

As many of you know, our union passed a Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People at the June Delegate Assembly (84 yeses, 34 nos). A previous resolution was co-sponsored by the PSC’s International Committee, the Academic Freedom Committee, and the Anti-Racism Committee. The resolution that was passed uses the terms “apartheid” and “settler colonialism” to describe Israeli policies and draws connections between Palestinian resistance and struggles for self-determination and liberation by Black, Indigenous and other People of Color in the United States. In recalling the important role played by international solidarity in defeating the “injustice and oppression” of South African apartheid the resolution requires the union to “facilitate” discussions at the chapter level about the possibility of adopting the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) at CUNY. 

Subsequent to this vote, dozens of outraged union members have threatened to stop paying union dues, and the PSC held a letter forum in the August Clarion newsletter that promised to present “both sides” of the issue. While the forum claims to present an open dialogue, in reality it is heavily biased towards the Zionist position: 8 of 13 pieces present a negative view of the resolution (in the print edition, only one perspective in favor is presented on the first page) and the first article presented in the special issue is one opposed to the resolution, signed by multiple parties. The opening statement from the PSC Principal Officers implies that the resolution and its fallout have been a disunifying distraction from “bread and butter” issues, undermining the union’s own claims to social justice unionism. The statement also overlooks the important role of union committees in contributing to rank-and-file engagement, insinuating that the vocal disruptors who have chosen to address their differences through exploiting the anti-union Janus decision are more representative of CUNY workers than those who have contributed to writing and defending this resolution. The Cross-CUNY Working Group Against Racism and Colonialism suspects that this publication, rather than upholding the integrity of a democratic vote and standing behind the union’s anti-racist principles, represents PSC leaders’ attempts to appease the other side. 

Several solicited pieces in favor of the resolution were ousted in the final hour. Here, we print two letters in favor of the resolution that were initially solicited, but later rejected from the Clarion forum, followed by two accepted letters that were drastically cut to meet the word count requirements for publication. In presenting this alternative forum here, we hope to further educate PSC members on why Palestinian liberation is both a union and a CUNY issue. We hope that this extended conversation inspires more people to take a stand on the side of justice. Now is not the time to back down. We owe it to the people of Palestine, who are being killed and dispossessed with weapons purchased by our tax dollars and with the institutional complicity of our employer, to continue this struggle.


Jonathan Buchsbaum, Delegate and Professor of Media Studies, Queens College 

For many years, avoidance and silence have characterized the PSC posture on Palestine and  Israel. On those occasions when the issue did arise at CUNY, some members and students  loudly protested alleged discrimination against Jews. Though a PSC resolution quite properly condemned surveillance of Muslim student groups at CUNY, the loudest protests over speech  at CUNY came from those wanting to silence any discussion of Israeli policies toward the  Palestinians. At Queens College, full professors shouted down guest speakers at a panel  organized to explain the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).  

In more recent years, many new members have joined the union and new PSC leaders have  emerged. That the resolution passed overwhelmingly reflected deep changes in attitudes, most  especially everyone’s experiences with Black Lives Matter, together with the express linkage  made by members of the Anti-Racism Committee over liberation and anti-colonization. “The  Vision for Black Lives” released by the Movement for Black Lives in 2016 already called for  “direct actions of solidarity” with Palestine and defended the constitutional right to advocate  for BDS.1 That fresh intellectual energy has inspired renewed calls for solidarity with the  Palestine resistance. As progressive academics, we should welcome these grass roots  initiatives. 

The questions and objections are recurrent: why single out Israel? What about Hamas? Why  such incendiary language? anti-Semitism? But many members, including Jewish members with  whom I have spoken, readily acknowledge the injustice of Israeli policies: ceaseless seizures of  Palestinian land, in defiance of all international law; the confinement of the indigenous population in smaller and smaller Bantustans; the very occupation itself entailing the  permanent control of Palestinian movement in the occupied territories through checkpoints, the separation wall, etc. Chapter discussions offer an opportunity for the membership at large  to speak publicly of those injustices. 

Israel has succeeded in resisting international calls for justice in Palestine for over 50 years,  trumpeting instead its commitment to peace, or more precisely to the ludicrously labelled  “peace process.” Whatever its already questionable meaning years ago, today “peace process” refers to a charade of negotiations, as Israel takes endless, ever more militarized, and heartless  security measures, each justified by its all-purpose “right to defend itself.” The world has  grown too accustomed to the horror of Israeli snipers killing or purposefully maiming unarmed  civilians in the name of Israel “defending itself.” 

At Queens College, some faculty and staff have organized events to inform the campus  community of Israeli perspectives on Israel/Palestine. On one occasion, Israeli military pilots  who refused to fly missions in the occupied territories spoke at a panel. For the first and only  time, hard-line Zionists in the audience were speechless. Why were those soldiers of 

conscience not anti-Semitic? Anyone following domestic Israeli discussion knows that criticism  of Israeli policies and of the settlers has been constant, loud, and part of normal political  discourse. Why should Israelis be the only ones able to question publicly Israeli policies?  

A colleague at Queens asked me “Why Israel?” While a simple answer may be difficult to give  here, everyone knows that our tax dollars fund the annual aid package of $3.8 billion to Israel,  largely for military support. The resolution includes that also as a topic for conversation, for no  other country receives that kind of aid.  

Finally, BDS. Why does that acronym cause such anxiety for some members? It is a non-violent movement proposed by Palestinian civil society to register disapproval of Israeli policies.  People object that it is unfair to Israelis! Maybe so, but what about the daily, often violent injustice to Palestinians? As UCLA historian Robin Kelley asked almost ten years ago, “what we want to do with the academic boycott is to force our colleagues to recognize, if you remain  silent, you are complicit. So what are you going to do?”2 

1 “A Vision for Black Lives. Power Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice.” August 2016.  https://m4bl.org/policy-platforms/ 

2 Alex Kane. “’A level of racist violence I have never seen’: UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley on Palestine  and the BDS movement.” Mondoweiss. Feb. 16, 2012.


Renate Bridenthal, Professor of History (Retired), Brooklyn College; former Chair, PSC-CUNY International Committee

As a child refugee from Nazism, I am of course sensitive to anti-semitism. However, that experience also has made me sensitive to others who are brutalized by ethno-nationalism, as are the Palestinians. The solution to anti-semitism is not, I think. a garrisoned and expanding ghetto state as some Israelis and their supporters seem to want. There are many Jewish citizens of Israel both in Israel and abroad, not to mention non-Israeli Jews, who agree that Israel should be a democratic non-apartheid polity and who deplore its illegal seizure of ever more Palestinian land.

The humanistic strain of Judaism seeks fairness. To quote the Hebrew sage Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

So indeed, why now? Because it is time to break the silence. For too long, an atmosphere of intimidation has suffused CUNY when the issue of Palestinian rights has been raised, notably by students. But the escalation of violence by Israeli forces has become intolerable: forceful evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, the assault on worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, the massacre by bombardment of Gaza. 

Some ask: what has this to do with the PSC, with unions?  First of all, as an academic union, we have a responsibility to freedom of speech, which is why the Academic Freedom Committee co-sponsored this resolution. Furthermore, as the union of a public university, we are dedicated to the idea of equal opportunity, which is why the Anti-Racism Committee co-sponsored – and originally drafted – this resolution. Finally, we stand in solidarity with unions abroad, in this case Palestinian unionists who have called for it, which is why the International Committee has co-sponsored this resolution.

The resolution calls for campus discussions, which we feel are way overdue, having long been smothered by forces external to the university. Before I retired, I personally witnessed that at Brooklyn College. And, speaking of memory, I also remember the heavy silence enforced by McCarthyism, having been a teenager at the time.

Fellow unionists, we need to talk.


Corinna Mullin, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Political Science, John Jay College  

Saadia Toor, Associate Professor, Sociology, College of Staten Island

[NOTE: This is the full version of an abbreviated letter published by the Clarion]

In the aftermath of the Delegate Assembly’s May vote overwhelmingly backing the Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People, several PSC members have questioned the relevance of the resolution to our union and to CUNY more generally. The answer is relatively simple. Our obligation to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people derives from our shared positionality- as US taxpayers, as New Yorkers, as CUNY workers and as PSC members. This positionality makes us complicit in Palestinian oppression, giving us a special responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

To begin with, as individuals we pay taxes to the US government, a government which underwrites Israeli human rights violations and war crimes to the tune of $3.8 billion a year in military aid in addition to copious amounts of political and diplomatic support. As US tax payers, we have a particular responsibility to stand up for Palestinian rights. 

Secondly, CUNY is a New York institution and we, as CUNY workers, are part of the most diverse city in the world in terms of the number of languages spoken and countries represented. The community that CUNY serves – that is, NYC (and particularly working-class New Yorkers) – is therefore extremely international both in terms of demographics as well as outlook. The international community of solidarity within NYC goes beyond Muslim and Arab New Yorkers. However, it is important to note that 9% of all New Yorkers are Muslim and NYC Muslims represent 22% of the US Muslim population, and the metro area has the largest concentration of people of Arab/Middle Eastern origin.  It is specifically home to the largest Palestinian population in the US, which is reflected in our student body. Palestine is thus a CUNY issue simply because many of our students are Palestinian refugees.

Thirdly, as workers in a public institution within a racial capitalist state we have a special responsibility to navigate the inherent contradictions of our place of employment. On the one hand, CUNY provides life affirming services to a largely working class, BIPOC student body and diverse workforce; on the other, it is deeply imbricated in institutions of organized violence (including various levels of collaboration with the NYPD, Department of Homeland Security, ICE, US military as well as the Israeli military) that underpin white supremacy and US empire. This includes CUNY’s investments in Palestinian oppression (as of 2014, CUNY was investing at least $1,093,900 in companies that aid in Israeli colonization, occupation, and war crimes). For years, the CUNY administration has also tolerated and facilitated the surveillance and harassment by pro-Israel individuals and organizations of anyone (and particularly Palestinian, Muslim, Arab and other people of color) teaching about, speaking out on, or organizing around Palestinian rights and liberation. The case of Nerdeen Kiswani, a CUNY alum and current CUNY Law student is instructive but only the most egregious and well-known of these cases. It is worth noting that, while the spectre of anti-semitism is immediately raised by Zionists when talking about Palestine advocacy, an independent commission formed by CUNY in response to allegations made by the Zionist Organization of America found no evidence of antisemitism at CUNY. What they did uncover, instead, was the incredible level of hostility experienced by CUNY’s Muslim students. 

Finally, our position as members of a union that that has a proud history of anti-racist and internationalist activism. For most of the world, Palestine represents the resilience of a colonized people in the face of continuing injustice, oppression and humiliation. Not for nothing has the Palestinian struggle been revered globally (and particularly in the Global South) by people’s movements from its very inception as an iconic movement for self-determination.  The Palestine cause is supported by domestic social justice movements such as BLM and the Red Nation as an Indigenous rights movement against settler colonialism. This, too, is part of a longer history of Palestine solidarity that stretches back to the radical freedom struggles of the 60s and 70s. The PSC has a duty not only to speak out about Palestine within CUNY, our place of employment, but also to raise the cause of Palestinian rights and liberation within the historically pro-Israel oriented labor federations with which we are affiliated, including the AFT and the AFL-CIO, which owns Israeli bonds totaling $ 5 billion dollars. 

This resolution along with further action to adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement at CUNY, presents an opportunity for the PSC and unions across the country, to support justice and freedom and, as with the boycott of apartheid South Africa, be on the right side of history.


Thayer Hastings, Graduate Student Worker, Anthropology, Graduate Center

[NOTE: This is the full version of an abbreviated letter published by the Clarion]

The PSC Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People is a small but important step for Palestinians like myself who work in the CUNY system. It demonstrates that the union hears our calls for justice and takes them seriously, something that US universities themselves have a track record of avoiding, if not obstructing outright. The PSC has committed to facilitating a chapter-based discussion of BDS in the coming months. I urge fellow members to join these discussions and to adhere to the BDS picket line. BDS is an global movement led by Palestinians to divest from the Israeli government and corporations. Aside from the moral responsibility of progressive institutions in the US to divest from violent profiteering, the PSC is accountable to its members, including Palestinian members with family and loved ones living under Israeli rule.

About 14 million people live in the territory under the control of the Israeli government and military, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights. 7 million are Jewish-Israeli citizens of Israel. Nearly all the other 7 million people are Palestinian, 2 million of whom are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. I am one of the 21% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian. Israeli citizenship was conferred on the descendants of those who escaped, either through ingenuity or circumstance, the mass forcible expulsion of Palestinians between 1947-1949.

The Palestinian side of my family is from Nazareth, one of the few major urban centers not militarily targeted by Zionist militias in the Nakba of 1948. Because it was not attacked, Nazareth became a refuge for nearby towns and villages that were forcibly depopulated. In many ways, Nazareth continues to be a city of refugees to this day. My great grandfather, Amin, was on a business trip in Beirut, Lebanon when the British declared the end of their colonial rule over Palestine. My grandfather Bishara, then 19 years old, was tasked with travelling to Beirut to retrieve his father and return to Nazareth where the family anxiously witnessed widespread dispossession of Palestinians. In the process, the family lost much of their farmland, largely olive and fruit orchards in the Tiberias region, but retained their home in Nazareth. Travelling largely on foot, my grandfather and great grandfather made their way across new borders that interrupted a fluidity of movement that characterized the mid-century Levant. Stories of retrieval and return from this period are common amongst Palestinians, but more common are stories of refugeehood and denied return.

By 1952, nascent Israeli institutions—like the military government, which applied only to Palestinian locales, including Nazareth—were producing the key practices and documents that would shape material and political relations for the decades to come. The Israeli Citizenship Law granted citizenship to Palestinians who remained, but not nationality. Israeli citizenship and nationality are bifurcated. I am an Israeli citizen, but not a national because there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. Instead, Israel defines nationality through ethnic descriptors, such as ‘Jewish’, ‘Arab’, and ‘Druze.’ Aside from rights like voting in national elections and a passport, many of the most substantial rights are conferred through nationality (see the Jewish nation-state law for how this translates into legally codified material exclusions). Complementing our exclusion from national rights in Israel, more than 65 laws exclude Palestinian citizens from equal access in myriad ways. While Palestinians with Israeli citizenship like myself hold the most freedom of movement and rights along the spectrum of Palestinian subjects under Israeli rule, these rights are categorically inferior to the rights automatically conferred on Jewish Israeli citizens. This is why Palestinians welcomed the late arrival of leading international and Israeli human rights organizations now describing Israeli rule over Palestinians as apartheid, an analysis pioneered by Palestinians.

The hierarchy of rights under Israeli rule is enshrined in law but is furthered by state and communal violence. Culminating in May during the most recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip and during the emergence of a new phase of Palestinian struggle called the ‘Unity Intifada,’ Jewish Israeli mobs and vigilantes targeted Palestinians, as was reported, shared on social media, and confirmed by loved ones from Nazareth to Haifa to Jerusalem. Friends described a frightening coordination of racially-motivated violence against Palestinians. This scale of structural and everyday inequality cannot be maintained without a tremendous amount of state violence. The US is the primary supporter and financier of that oppression.

The PSC Resolution cannot change that on its own. However, the laudable statement of commitment to justice for Palestinians should be reinforced with a material one. The US grants Israel $3.8 billion a year, almost completely in the form of military and defense funding. Following Israel’s shelling of Gaza, the Biden administration immediately moved to resupply its weapons stockpile.

By divesting from investments in the Israeli state and economy which derive their profits through the violent exclusion of Palestinians from equal rights, progressive institutions can demonstrate their commitment to curbing US support for violence around the world and at home. I urge the PSC membership to take this opportunity to stand with Palestinian social movements who continue to affirm the political appropriateness of boycotting Israel as a form of international solidarity.

Several contributors to this special issue are members of the Cross-CUNY Working Group Against Racism and Colonialism. For more information or to join the organizing efforts in solidarity with Palestine at CUNY, email NoRacismCUNY@protonmail.com

Abolition vs. the Myth of “Public Safety”: Past and Present Struggles for a Liberated CUNY

By Sofya Aptekar, Corinna Mullin, and Karanja Keita Carroll

André Brown and ‘Public Safety’ at CUNY 

The police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the uprisings that followed this summer reminded us of the need to prioritize demilitarization and the removal of all institutions of ‘organized violence’ from our college campuses. Despite platitudes from the CUNY administration, the university has yet to take seriously the kinds of structural transformations advocated by a diverse group of CUNY student and worker organizers as vital to creating a truly anti-racist and decolonized university. The recent hiring of a new chief of public safety at CUNY is an example of how the administration sidesteps the demands for a structural and materialist rather than cosmetic and individualized approach to fighting racism. 

In December of 2020, Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez announced the hiring of a new University Executive Director of Public Safety, André Brown. Matos-Rodriguez lauded Brown’s decades of experience in the Air Force, the Pentagon, and State Department, which apparently prepared him to oversee security at a public university. Moreover, Brown’s most immediate experience came from serving as the head of Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) own large security force. Using this new hire as a departure point allows us to critically reflect on some of the central contradictions and tensions underpinning the public university. CUNY is a site where the logics, mechanisms and power of the carceral state and racial capitalism more broadly are reproduced; but it is also, indisputably, a place of fierce resistance. 

Brown’s hire comes at a time of intense scrutiny of campus policing across the US and at CUNY, resonating with the broader movement to abolish the police. This appointment of a military leader and head of security for a deeply racist and abusive system of child protective services is no coincidence. Rather, Brown’s background with the US Air Force and ACS flouts CUNY organizing and demands for abolition and  buttresses the growing militarization of the neoliberal university, clear in the past decades but in hyperdrive during the pandemic. Put simply, the CUNY administration requires a militarized campus in order to surveil and dismantle the multiple forms of organizing and resistance on campus that are increasingly converging around a concesus of a decolonized, anti-racist, free and fully funded CUNY that can participate in broader liberatory projects across New York, the country and globe. 

Brown’s experience in the US Air Force is clearly troubling, since it is an integral part of US empire whose acts of brute violence and dispossession impact a large part of the world, including many CUNY students. It may be less clear how experience in managing New York’s child protective services contributes to the militarization of CUNY. In fact, child protective services are part and parcel of the racist and settler colonial carceral system in the US. ACS routinely and systemically criminalizes poor parents of color, stripping them of access to their children and disrupts extended family units that best serve these children. By far the most ACS cases concern poverty-related neglect, such as lack of sufficient food in the refrigerator or stable housing. Black and Brown New York families are disproportionately funnelled into the ACS system, irrevocably destroying relationships and communities. André Brown led ACS’s own force of security personnel and private contractors, who carry out the surveillance and enforcement of what critics have called the ‘family regulation system’.

Brown’s appointment highlights the need to go beyond the representational politics of the neoliberal university, in which superficial changes are deployed to mask the lack of substantive transformation, often reinforcing rather than challenging the structural inequalities of racial capitalism. As with the hiring and appointment of other BIPOC to executive positions across CUNY, the appointment of a Black man as the Executive of Public Safety gives the impression that the administration is taking up an anti-racist agenda, concerned with issues of diversity. Yet, similar to the recent appointment of Lloyd Austin, an African American army general, as Biden’s Secretary of Defense, this appointment does nothing to structurally challenge white supremacy and US empire. 

As with past attempts to reinforce CUNY’s relationship with the institutions of organized violence, including the police, military, ICE and Homeland Security, this latest development has and will be resisted by campus organizers. Opposition to CUNY’s relationship with the racist carceral state has long roots, going back to an earlier era of Black and Latinx led struggle to radically transform and decolonize the university. 

CUNY Militarization: A History of Power and Resistance 

Although CUNY’s relationship with the military is one obvious example of militarization, it is by no means the only one, as will be demonstrated below. Nevertheless, Brown’s hiring reminds us it is necessary to confront this form of militarization head on if we hope to tackle the more subtle ways militarization impacts our CUNY community.

Central to this has been CUNY’s collaboration with the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which dates back to the institution’s origins, when the National Defense Act of 1916 established campus-based ROTC offices in order to prepare reserve army and National Guard officers as the US was preparing to enter World War I. Resistance against ROTC also existed from the beginning, reflecting the vibrancy of early anti-war movements on US campuses. A growing student peace movement led to the discontinuation of the ROTC on over sixty campuses nationwide. City College, in particular, became one of the “most highly publicized centers of anti-ROTC sentiment.” 

Protests picked up again in the context of the Black and Puerto Rican liberation struggles and growing anti-war movements of the 1960s. Connections between campaigns on campus- for example the struggle for open admissions and to establish Black and Puerto Rican Studies programs- with those “off campus”, for social and economic justice and against US imperialism- led to campaigns to shut down the Air Force ROTC unit at Brooklyn college. Protests were successful and the program was closed in 1966.  Students also led protests against military recruiters. A confrontation at Brooklyn College in 1967 between students and two Navy recruiters bloomed into a school uprising, causing the CUNY administration to “indefinitely postpone” Air Force recruitment visits to avoid “confrontation with antiwar student groups.”

Despite years of resistance, ROTC returned to CUNY in 2012 “without consulting most faculty and student governance bodies.” Today, ROTC is housed at York and City Colleges, although students from any of CUNY’s 25 campuses can participate in its programs. ROTC subsidizes college tuition for students who join the military after graduation, and offers military science courses taught on campus. CUNY’s program is one of almost two thousand ROTC programs in the US and even more JROTC programs, which target working class, largely BIPOC high school students to recruit them into the military. As well as formal ROTC programs, the US military is present on CUNY campuses in the form of military recruiters. Colleges risk losing federal funding if they ban the military from recruiting at events like job fairs, unless they also ban all other job recruiters. Recruiters are also given access to student directory information unless an individual student actively opts out. 

An important recent node of complicity with and resistance against the militarization of CUNY took place in 2013, when CUNY hired war criminal General David Petraeus to teach at Macaulay Honors College. A grassroots resistance mounted vivid and well-publicized protests against Petraeus’s hire and underscored the reality that the CUNY Board of Trustees works on behalf of the ruling class rather than the Black, Brown and other working class communities of color that overwhelmingly comprise the CUNY student body and communities in which CUNY is rooted. “It is these unaccountable bureaucrats,” as Gluck, Maharawal, Nastasia and Reed argued in their piece on Struggles over the Militarization of CUNY, that “helped facilitate the project to reintroduce ROTC, hire David Petraeus, and invite neoconservative donors to open research centers at CUNY.” The hiring of Petraeus, they pointed out, was a strategy to generate revenue by making the university more attractive to neoconservative donors at a time of cuts to the budget from the state.  With chants of “CUNY Must Not Be a War College” and “Petraeus Out of CUNY”, peaceful protests against the CUNY administration’s decision were met with violence from the police and several activists were arrested. 

And so it was that at the apex of the endless “War on Terror”, as US organized violence was being used to terrorize and dispossess BIPOC communities both at home and abroad, the CUNY administration deepened its relationship with the US military. 2013 also saw City College’s political science department renamed after another war criminal, becoming the Colin L. Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership, as well as the sudden top-down closing of the Morales/Shakur Center, a student-controlled campus community space that centered BIPOC, decolonial, and working class struggles. The Center had been part of the City College building that students took over in a successful 1989 protest against tuition hikes. 

As one of the principal institutions of organized violence, the US military oppresses and extracts value from people of color in multiple ways. In addition to exploiting and dispossessing the people, lands and resources of the global South, it exploits the labor and lives of disproportionately Black and Brown recruits. In neoliberal post-racial discourse, this form of exploitation is represented as “diversity” in the service of “force multiplier”. The Northeast has some of the lowest recruitment numbers in the US, and the military has long focused on remedying that. A 2011 report by the neocon American Enterprise Institute (AEI), entitled “Underserved: A Case Study of ROTC in New York City” provided an insight into its predatory agenda, explaining how tapping into CUNY’s diverse student body would benefit US imperialism. The paper argued “that CUNY’s diverse population might offer the military strategic advantages as it recruits educated immigrant students from countries where the United States is currently undertaking operations.”

Campus Cops: A Node for Militarization, Policing and Surveillance

Beyond deepening imbrications of the university with the military, militarization at CUNY is evident in the securitization and surveillance of students, workers, and campus spaces in a way that further entrenches race, class and gender hierarchies on campus. This includes not only CUNY’s collaboration with and presence of the NYPD, ICE, and Homeland Security in order to spy on and repress students and workers in the name of providing “security” or “fighting terrorism”. It shows up, as Gluck, Maharawal, Nastasia and Reed have powerfully demonstrated, in the “integration of campus security with police departments,” and the ramping up and weaponizing of campus security personnel. As displayed throughout this series of ‘zines produced by the Brooklyn College Against Trump student group, CUNY students are harassed for not having identification and subjected to violence and arrest when protesting the CUNY administration on issues like tuition hikes and fees. The NYPD has systematically spied on Muslim students

It is not only the state that targets CUNY students and workers with surveillance but also organizations like CAMERA and Canary Mission that do the bidding of US Empire by harassing and defaming especially Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students and faculty.  They attempt to limit academic freedom on campus by targeting anyone who challenges dominant narratives legitimizing Israeli Apartheid and settler colonial rule in Palestine in our classrooms and other university spaces. Most recently, a Zionist smear campaign fueled vicious cyberbullying against Nerdeen Kiswani, a Palestinian organizer, community leader, and CUNY law student. The initial response of CUNY Law was to post and then delete multiple messages lending credibility to the racist attack on Nerdeen. The university administration eventually changed tack after students and organizations worked together to expose the role of Act.IL app, which assigns users “missions” to target non-compliant educators and students, including prewritten notes to send to university administration. The app was developed by former Israeli intelligence officers and partly financed by the recently deceased casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. As decolonial and abolitionist student and worker organizers we need to be aware of these tactics and figure out ways to be on the offensive rather than just defensive.

Campus police–the School Resource Officers–gained power in the 1960s and actively repressed the Black and Puerto Rican liberation, anti-war and anti-capitalist student organizing that was gaining prominence on campuses across the country. Following a wave of student anti-austerity protests in the early 1990s, the campus police were augmented by NY state “peace officers”, who are “authorized to make warrantless arrests and use physical and deadly force.” Headed by a former counterterrorism expert in Port Authority, CUNY campus police built up a massive cache of ammunition

Established in 1964, John Jay College of Criminal Justice–originally named The College of Police Science–leads the way when it comes to  cultivating close relations to the various institutions of organized violence. Its NYPD Leadership program is a tuition-free program that helps active NYPD officers and supervisors earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  The new Academic Preparation Program for Law Enforcement (APPLE) program provides “generous stipends” and prepares students for employment with the police, while the Cadet Education, Empowerment & Development for Success (CEEDS) program channels CUNY students into jobs with the Department of Corrections.

The university is also one of the few nationwide to offer a Homeland Security minor. At a time when students are anxious about unemployment and the economic crisis, the program seeks to appeal by highlighting the “exponentia[l] expan[sion]” of the homeland security job market since September 11th, 2001. John Jay participates in  more material forms of collaboration, including a recently launched project on cyber-terrorism, which was one of 13 selected by the Department of Homeland Security as part of the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education (NCITE) Center. 

Similar to the ROTC program, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Corrections and the NYPD see in the largely working class Black and Brown student body at John Jay an opportunity to “diversify” and expand their forces. A long time strategy of the US Empire, these programs seek to reproduce the status quo by attempting to co-opt BIPOC and other oppressed and colonized populations into the very norms and systems of exploitation, oppression and extraction that underpin white supremacy, US empire and heteropatriarchy. 

Instead of superficial diversity, we need an anti-racist CUNY which will only be achieved once we are able  to abolish the police on CUNY campuses and all forms of policing that impact the life chances of all our students, workers and community members. This also depends upon the redistribution of resources to life supporting and affirming institutions and programs including free healthcare, food, housing and transportation for our CUNY community as well as a major recruitment and hiring program to ensure the CUNY has a faculty that is representative of the diversity of New York and the CUNY student body. Finally, it requires that CUNY seriously engages in an ongoing decolonization process, which includes a decolonized curriculum and pedagogy across campuses and departments, as well as serious work to dismantle and redress the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism and to ensure that CUNY does not contribute to further colonial displacement of racialized and oppressed communities through real estate speculation, gentrification, and barriers to access. 

Anti-Militarization and Abolition Struggles

The institutions of organized violence are designed to protect private property and maintain the relations of unequal power underpinning racial capitalism and US empire. It is not by accident that they are so imbricated in university spaces. But, as we have discussed above, CUNY also has a long history of struggle and resistance is only gaining in strength. 

One way CUNY faculty and staff have organized against militarization is through their labor organizations. In the 2010s, an anti-militarization committee within the union representing CUNY workers, Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), participated in anti-militarization efforts by building networks across CUNY, helping coordinate town halls, and investigating CUNY administration’s relationships with the US military and the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In 2014, the union’s executive council and delegate assembly passed a resolution to oppose ROTC on CUNY campuses. 

More recently and in light of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor uprising, Rank and File Action, a group of CUNY workers and union activists, followed the lead of the MLK Labor Council in Seattle by drafting a resolution that was eventually adopted by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) to not only kick the cops off campus but also eject cop unions out of the AFL-CIO, the national labor federation with which our parent union is affiliated (unfortunately, the PSC has yet to act on the requirements of this resolution). 

Campus organizers have also been actively involved in political education and protest action around the police/carceral state. RAFA organized a teach-in on Police Terror last spring as well as participated in several protests over the summer and fall, including a coalitional Mass March to Defund the NYPD. The PSC’s International Committee organized a webinar in December bringing together anti-racist, decolonial and abolitionist scholars and organizers from across CUNY and the globe to reflect on the lessons learned from the 1951 Civil Rights Congress’ We Charge Genocide campaign, connecting the dots between the violence of racial capitalim and US imperialism.  Free CUNY and CUNY for Abolition and Safety and worker-student orgs like the Anti-Racist Coalition (CAS) at Brooklyn College have participated in protests and webinars on the themes of racist police violence and abolition. One of CAS’ campaigns includes a petition demanding CUNY divest from the prison industry and eliminate its contract with Corcraft, which utlizes prison slavery to produce its products. It also has called for the abolition of the University Public Safety office as part of a radical transformation of how we understand safety on CUNY campuses.

As our resistance to neoliberal restructuring of the university under the pretext of “austerity” grows and our demands to decolonize the university become louder and clearer, we should expect the administration’s efforts to police us to increase as well. Pagan, Vazques, Bazile, Lam and Kennedy warn that  just as in the 1970s, today “CUNY students kn[ow] that under the guise of fiscal responsibility, our campuses w[ill] become more and more hostile not only to Black and Brown working class students, but to our persistent demands for radical education.” It is clear to all those students and workers engaged in the struggle to achieve a decolonized CUNY that abolition and anti-militarization must be central to our efforts. 

This is some of the history that brings us to the end of 2020 and the praises sung to the new CUNY security chief’s military career. The insidious pervasiveness of militarism underpinning our settler colonial, racial capitalist state as well as the current collective trauma brought about by the capitalist induced health crisis  make it easy to skip over this relatively minor institutional news. But the framing of Brown’s military career as the appropriate background for someone responsible for supervising public safety at CUNY is reflective of how normalized CUNY’s longstanding and deepening imbrications in the institutions of organized violence  has become. Our response must not only highlight the undoubtedly inflated salary and benefits Brown is receiving at a time of claimed “austerity”, but it should also bring attention to the deeper significance of his professional background, and what this tells us about the intentions of CUNY administrators when it comes to future campus struggles for a radically transformed CUNY. We must fight back.

Sofya Aptekar is associate professor at CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

Corinna Mullin is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Political Science at John Jay College

Karanja Keita Carroll is a lecturer in the Department of Black & Latino Studies at Baruch College (CUNY)

Strike Readiness Vote at the PSC DA: Part II

Last Thursday a strike readiness resolution composed and endorsed by a broad cross section of rank and file organizers and antiracist groups narrowly failed at the Professional Staff Congress Delegate Assembly. On Monday a new resolution, brought forward by the PSC Executive Council, passed with important amendments from the SAV Coalition. While this resolution is weaker, it still marks a significant shift from ‘mobilization’ toward ‘organization’ for CUNY staff and faculty.*

Last week we wrote about the exciting and grueling collective steps leading up to the initial strike readiness resolution vote. Even as late as Monday morning, we didn’t know what to expect from the Special DA focused on the question of striking that Barbara Bowen called on Thursday morning, seemingly in an attempt to get us to postpone our resolution. The 2300-word resolution that the EC eventually produced contains powerful language defending the urgency for moving toward striking, asserting that “a strike authorization vote and, if needed, a strike, could create the political leverage needed to prevail against the challenges PSC members may face this spring and after.” It also reflects on the success of this year’s strike authorization vote (SAV) with 85% approval at Hunter College Campus Schools, and the 2016 PSC strike authorization vote that was voted through at 92% yays.

The thing is, as our members observed, the most strike-friendly language appears in the “whereas” section, not the “resolveds.” That means it mostly furthers a regime of paying lip service to striking without the commitment and resources to back it up. The “resolveds” section commits to “systematically assess and seek to build support among the members for strike-readiness” but mostly advances business-as-usual unionism. Additionally, Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) demands were largely absent, and the phrase “racial austerity” only appears one time, while our previous resolution placed questions of racial justice, systemic bullying and harassment as well as cross-title equity and solidarity with HEOs, CLTs, CETs, and librarians at the very center. The two resolutions could hardly be more different.

A Fever Pitch of Activity

Members of our SAV Coalition met with the PSC EC on Monday afternoon to discuss our concerns with this new resolution, even though we had only received it that morning and many of us were frantically skimming in between teaching and other work responsibilities. This meeting produced no substantial changes to the final document presented at the Special DA that evening (this organizer can only identify one lightly edited phrase in the entire thing!). The final draft was sent out at 5:58 PM, 30 minutes before the beginning of the DA. For SAV organizers, this triggered a flurry of backchannel discussions, amendments, and slightly panicked strategy conversations, which all coalesced within the span of a few hours while the meeting itself commenced and we split into breakout rooms to discuss strike readiness.

Ultimately our group was able to pass three substantive amendments strengthening the EC’s new resolution, and the reason we were able to do this is because we wielded the collaborative membership power that the leaders keep claiming they want to see more of. The first amendment resolves to activate members from across job titles and celebrate differences of race, sexuality, class, disability, and other historically marginalized identities as part of our collective analysis; the second amendment resolves to build “member-led strike readiness committees” to assess membership input and encourage solidarity; and the third amendment demands the EC “prioritize the necessary funding within the budget to support the activation of strike readiness committees on every campus.” We had hoped it would also contain language around a militancy fund but this was successfully amended out by noted scholar of labor and social movements Immanuel Ness. In the months leading up to a moment that felt deeply climactic, we built up the trust and ability to work as a team that allowed us to do the work itself. And of course, we had allies in the members and delegates on the call who spoke passionately in favor of our mission, drawing from the power of the members rather than elected officials.

From Mobilizing to Organizing

Our original resolution, centering Bargaining for the Common Good issues and systemic racism within the context of strike readiness, did not get passed, but the ongoing struggle is helping radicalize a new wave of unionists who are increasingly recognizing the contradictions behind union leaders’ rhetoric. The disparaging phrase “strike fetishists” has begun to circulate–-including by labor scholar and decades-long PSC leader Steve London-–even though our coalition is dedicated not to striking itself but to education around the merits of job actions and taking seriously the union’s most effective tool in this moment of global crisis. Delegates as well trembled behind the word “militant” in the discussion of a militancy fund, attempting to paint it as a rank and file slush fund, ignoring the long and established history of these words and their uses. A stark division between powerful union leadership and disenfranchised regular members was made clear in these discussions, with some delegates rebuking rank and file members for not centering the Executive Council in strike preparation organizing. 

What amounted to almost 10 hours of DA meetings within the span of a week (not to mention the countless additional meetings and unpaid organizing power required to prepare) marks a shift for the PSC union moving forward: one from a state of mobilization, where members may sign petitions and show up to events such as telethons, webinars, car caravans, to organization, which activates members from the ground up and contributes to a transferal of power. While the road has been uncertain and long, our coalition continues to grow every day. We are more committed than ever to put in the hard work of assessing members for strike readiness over the coming months and holding leadership accountable by demanding budgetary commitments from a union that all of us together–the many, not the few–are helping transform into a strike-ready union.

*note about authorship: the “we” of this article refers broadly to the coalition, but does not necessarily represent the strategies or approaches of all members and groups within this coalition. CUNY Struggle as an organization was not involved in preparations toward this SAV vote.

Strike Readiness Vote at the PSC Delegate Assembly

At the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) Delegate Assembly last night, a vote on launching a strike authorization campaign and vote within the union narrowly lost: 73 votes in favor, 76 against. Yet some delegates complained that technical difficulties prevented them from voting and the struggle will continue into another Special DA announced for next Monday (11/23). *

Last Spring, the union announced that 2800 adjuncts had been laid off (about 10% of the bargaining unit), and hundreds were losing healthcare during a pandemic. Some were eventually rehired, but many who were given reappointment letters didn’t end up receiving classes for the fall so wouldn’t be counted among those numbers. Non-teaching titles were also hit hard. A survey distributed among Non-teaching Adjuncts (NTAs) in September revealed that NTAs were given restricted hours or placed on month-to-month appointments at fourteen campuses across CUNY. Higher Education Officers (HEOs) are facing a work speed-up as hours for faculty and staff are cut, and College Laboratory Technicians (CLTs) along with HEOs are being asked to return to unsafe workspaces, putting their health in danger. At Bronx Community College, approximately 30 adjuncts who were up for 3-year contracts were nonreappointed, and at LaGuardia Community College, 20 veteran adjuncts suddenly had their jobs cut, hours slashed, and health insurance taken away. Campus budgets for the Spring 2021 semester are being withheld at 20%, and there is fearful talk of retrenchment, the process by which full-timers can lose their jobs during a state of financial exigency, often resorted to in the ’70s.

The Lead-Up

For all these reasons and so many more, a group of rank-&-file activists and leaders within the union felt it is time to have serious conversations about striking: what striking outside of a contract campaign would mean, how to take concrete steps toward it, and how to develop serious measures for assessing members’ willingness to strike in a state where public sector striking is illegal. Strike Authorization Vote (SAV) committees began forming across campuses in the Spring, and in September we held our first cross-campus SAV meeting, dreaming up plans for expanding our push and, over time, collectively drafting the resolution that was voted on last night.

The newly formed coalition included members of the Anti-Racist Coalition at Brooklyn College, Cut Covid Not CUNY, Rank & File Action (RAFA), over seven different campuses, and multiple titles including adjuncts, full-timers, and HEOs. The resolution itself links the strike campaign and vote to concerns about systemic racism at CUNY as well as unsafe reopenings in schools for librarians and other titles, and the persistent eroding of student learning conditions through larger class sizes and reduced class offerings. The tough battle and major institutional barriers facing us led us to take a unique and deeply collaborative, participatory approach to presenting the resolution to the floor: in the weeks leading up to the vote, we approached individual delegates and CUNY student and activist organizations (such as Free CUNY and campus YDSA chapters) beforehand to ask if they would “endorse” it–that is, publicly commit to vote yes. We added this growing list to the bottom of the resolution, and were receiving additional endorsements even up to final hour, with a total of 63 individual endorsers and 17 group endorsements (including CUNY for Abolition and Safety, the Black Student Union of the City University of New York, the Graduate Center PSC Executive Committee, and the CUNY Adjunct Project), which can be reviewed via the link to the resolution above. 

The Debate

Most of a meeting that ended up lasting almost five hours was spent in fierce (if often baffling) debate. While there were a few impassioned and downright insulting arguments against–for instance, the chapter chair of Baruch claimed the writers of the resolution “had a screw loose” and denied the existence of racialized austerity–the opposing side spent most of their time arguing in favor of the spirit of the resolution (so they claimed) but expressing problems with the specific language as presented. We question the legitimacy of these arguments, since the PSC Executive Council (hereafter EC) had met with us a few days before the DA expressing their opposition to the resolution but then refused to offer edits or revisions when requested. One member of the EC who wasn’t at that former meeting, Luke Elliott-Negri, submitted additional language emphasizing the need for assessment of the conditions for striking among members and working with union committees such as CAP (the Committee for Adjuncts and Part-Timers) as we develop a strategic plan for striking. This was voted through and he, along with Rosa Squillacote and Sharon Utakis, became the only members of the 27-person Executive Council to vote yes on the final version.

Disappointingly, the New Caucus’s choice for incoming President of the union (after Barbara Bowen ends her 20-year tenure), James Davis, expressed opposition to the resolution and voted no even after months of seemingly favorable conversations with members of the cross-campus SAV coalition. Meanwhile, our side spoke of “leading with hope,” and observed that the resolution as written seemed to follow the spirit the PSC is already undertaking: language around militancy and striking has been added to internal phonebanking scripts, the Special DA on Monday is now dedicated to discussion of strike readiness, and President Bowen even mentioned in the meeting that she believes a strike may be necessary in the spring!


In the end, we lost the vote: but narrowly. Three people indicated in the chat that they were unable to vote due to technical issues, which would have brought the vote to a tie, and many observed that Zoom’s hand-raising function is an inadequate mechanism for voting on such binding issues. Generally most delegates follow the will of the Principal Officers, but our diverse and vibrant coalition managed to split the vote down the middle and win over many new comrades in the process–something that was barely conceivable just a few months ago. 

Ultimately this is a victory for the rank & file, and we look forward to the coalition continuing to build over the coming days and months toward the possibility of a strike that is so desperately needed during this crushing pandemic. The delegate who brought the resolution to the floor, Carolina Bank Muñoz, who has been a leader in the PSC for 16 years, commented afterward that she has “never been more hopeful about our collective capacity to organize and build power.” Despite reasonable fears at the beginning that this effort would be a lost cause, we are now that much closer to strike readiness. The outcome of Monday’s Special DA, where there may be another revised resolution submitted for a vote that incorporates some criticism of the original, could make all the difference.

P.S. Still confused about some of these union terms or acronyms? Check out this handy PSC Glossary, crowdsourced by Gerry Martini.

*note about authorship: the “we” of this article refers broadly to the coalition, but does not necessarily represent the strategies or approaches of all members and groups within this coalition. CUNY Struggle as an organization was not involved in preparations toward this SAV vote.

Immediate Aftermath of the Austerity Contract

$7K or Strike organizers, including CUNY Struggle, waged a fierce Vote No campaign against the new contract. We pointed out many loopholes that undermine the few crumbs we won and the inevitable budget cuts that would result, since the state and city didn’t commit new revenue for every gain in the contract. Not even a month since the contract was ratified, we are already hearing about cuts across CUNY caused by the contract. We report them here to be distributed widely, so that we can all stay vigilant of any attempts by our bosses to exploit the weaknesses of the new contract.

City Tech English department is attempting to use the new paid office hour to staff the Writing Lab.

In Fall 2019, the City Tech administration closed the school’s Writing Lab, leaving students with little support for their writing needs. The Vote No campaign warned that the contract language establishing new paid office hours for adjuncts is so vague  that it permits the administration to assign extra work during these office hours, for example, tutoring students in writing. The City Tech English department tried to do just that, announcing that, in the spring, adjuncts are to spend their new office hours tutoring any student who might walk in needing  help with their essay. Conversely, students are being directed to the English adjunct department office when they need tutoring: they are being told to look for anyone who might be available to help them. Adjunct labor is being redirected to make up for cuts elsewhere; adjuncts are replacing the Writing Lab. So much for the PSC’s argument that the office hour will compensate adjuncts for the work they already do, like grading papers and meeting with their own students!  What’s more, the City Tech PSC Chapter initially refused to step in, on the grounds that this kind of extra work is technically contractually permitted. Adjuncts pressed several times before the PSC ultimately took up the grievance:at the time of writing it is still being handled.

Hunter administration refuses to pay adjuncts teaching Composition for the new office hour.

Adjuncts at Hunter who teach English composition, a three-credit course, have historically been paid for four hours as compensation for an extra “conference hour” to work with students individually. PSC executives at multiple meetings have insisted that any adjunct teaching a three-credit course for four paid hours would be paid for a fifth hour – an office hour – under the new contract. But the Hunter administration plans to subsume the new office hour into the existing conference hour for adjuncts teaching composition. Worse yet, adjuncts teaching two sections of composition will see a pay cut, since the professional hour for teaching at least six credits will also be subsumed into the new office hour provision. English adjuncts, along with the English department chair and the PSC, are still fighting this grievance at the time of writing. This cat-and-mouse game could have been completely avoided if the contract language were tighter, but since PSC executives refuse to bargain openly, the rank-and-file had no input during negotiations and will never know why our bargaining team conceded to such a weak provision.

ARC Fellowship for graduate students eliminated.

One provision in the new contract allocates money to provide health insurance to Graduate Center students who are represented by the PSC but don’t already receive health insurance through a funding package or adjuncting. Rather than seek new funding from the state to pay for this, CUNY is instead cutting the Graduate Center’s Advanced Research Collaborative budget by 95%. ARC currently offers paid fellowships to roughly a couple dozen doctoral students each year, in addition to awards for full-time faculty. Although the latter will remain, student ARC fellowships will be completely eliminated. This has been confirmed by the Director of ARC.

New $320 tuition hikes for our students.

PSC executives said that the city and state committed tens of millions of dollars to pay for adjunct office hours. But what about the rest of the contract gains, including the 2% annual increases? When pressed on this question at a Retirees chapter meeting, PSC President Barbara Bowen admitted that Cuomo has not agreed to increase CUNY’s budget to pay for these increases. For the past three years, CUNY cannibalized around 2% of its annual budget to pay for the raises in our last contract. While this policy of “internal financing” is likely to continue, it appears that some of the costs of our contract will be borne on the backs of our students. Despite a rowdy protest by our comrades in Free CUNY, the Board of Trustees voted on December 16 to increase student tuition by $320: $200 as part of a five-year “rational” tuition plan and a new $120 student wellness fee. The bottom line is that without new budget money for contract items like raises, the PSC’s “wins” will continue to create losses throughout the CUNY system—borne mostly by our working class students—as admins just shuffle money out of already starved programs to meet contract obligations. PSC executives know this, but don’t put up a real fight because the alternative to capitulating to Cuomo’s austerity regime would require actual labor militancy.

Class cancellations explicitly due to the new contract.

While voting on the contract, we had already heard that BMCC was planning on cutting 300 classes in spring 2020, likely in anticipation of budget shortfalls caused by contract gains unpaid by the city. At Hunter, we have recently heard of widespread class cancellations due to the contract. Chairs of the German, English, Theatre, and Sociology departments have confirmed verbally that classes are being cancelled to meet budgetary constraints caused specifically by unfunded provisions in the contract. PSC executives at Hunter have tried to explain that the increase in class cuts resulted from a logistical snafu, in which classes were scheduled based on departments’ wish lists without budgetary adjustments. But this explanation flies in the face of department chairs’ accounts. No doubt, similar cuts are happening across the CUNY system.

Clearly management is finding loopholes within loopholes and PSC executives are not holding true to their promises. We welcome comments and emails from any and all adjuncts who are witnessing similar shoddy or dishonest employment practices across CUNY campuses and departments. The vote may be over, but in some ways our fight has only just begun.

The Fight Against Austerity at CUNY Continues

The following is a statement written by the $7K or Strike campaign.

In the four weeks since the Memorandum of Agreement was announced, we have witnessed a groundswell of energy from the rank & file in our fight against a powerful machine consisting of PSC leadership, CUNY management, and Governor Cuomo’s austerity regime. It was truly inspiring to witness the energy and enthusiasm of thousands of members and our students calling out this contract for what it is: a capitulation to the status quo.

PSC executives led a disinformation campaign (paid for with our dues!), buying ads and directing staffers to get out a yes vote on a contract that was, in reality, nowhere near historic. Our union’s leadership attempted to stifle discussion by shortening the voting window, censoring social media discussion, and ignoring rank-and-file demands for more contract town halls and meetings. They shrugged off the material needs of the most exploited members, and spread fear about the outcome of a no vote. Despite all this, we succeeded in creating online and face-to-face spaces for horizontal rank and file mobilization. This was truly historic. 

We knew this would be a tough battle, and we knew that many members would choose to ratify the contract simply because they felt disarmed, demobilized, and continually bombarded by leadership with the false notion that this contract was “the best we could do.” While we did not achieve the 51% vote required to reject the contract, we have gained a community of comrades, colleagues, and friends who have committed to building oppositional strategies and resisting neoliberal logic and complacency. Our social media platforms have received hundreds of new followers and posts sharing justified outrage, frustration, and solidarity. Solidarity with students, most powerfully expressed with the Free CUNY campaign’s support for $7K or Strike, has shown that the struggle to improve our learning and working conditions are inextricably linked. We would like to thank everyone who has joined the struggle against the forces of disinvestment and quiet resignation that have kept CUNY down for too long.

The $7K or Strike campaign is looking ahead to broaden our vision for CUNY. Despite their promises, we have no confidence that PSC leadership will mount the kind of campaign necessary to confront the crush of austerity in the next contract negotiation. The 2019-2020 budget for the PSC which was passed last week showed no increases to the organizing budget, a sign that PSC does not intend to do anything differently to activate the membership. They will almost certainly hew to the same defeatist strategy that produced the poverty contract that was just ratified. We will not sit back and wait for them to demobilize us. We will continue to organize across CUNY to build an even greater rank-and-file movement – one that is capable of winning a decent contract for ALL members and a people’s university for the city of New York. We invite all PSC members to contact campus stewards from $7K or Strike as we plan the next stage of our fight. 

In solidarity and continued struggle,
$7K or Strike

Far Short of $7K: The MOA Explained

(Revised on 27 October 2019.)

For two years our union has been fighting for an adjunct minimum wage of $7K per three-credit course. The rank-and-file $7K or Strike campaign has led this struggle, joined by many newly activated members. Yet without even considering a strike authorization vote or an escalating campaign of direct action, the PSC executives have rushed to settle a contract. The Memorandum of Agreement was announced yesterday. Although it is touted as a “historic” “breakthrough,” as soon as you dig through the legalese, you realize that the gains are small, the costs are high, and we are nowhere near $7K.

PSC EXECS SAY: “Breakthrough on adjunct pay—the biggest gain in equity in the union’s history”


The first four years of the contract would bring extra work and 2% annual wage increases to adjuncts, but local NYS inflation exceeds 2% and therefore real wages will fall during this period: adjuncts will continue to make poverty wages. In the fifth year, there is a significant one-time raise of about $750 for a three-credit course. But this only brings the pay for a three-credit class to $5,500, which is poverty pay today and by 2022 will be totally inadequate. The demand in the PSC bargaining agenda was for adjuncts to receive a living wage and parity with a full-time lecturer by starting at a minimum of $7,000 per three-credit course now. The contract falls completely short of its goal, and the fact that it delays until 2022 the jump to $5,500 per course adds insult to injury.


Beginning in spring 2020, adjuncts would be paid for one weekly office hour per class. This is part of the contract’s pathway to a pay rate of $5,500 per three-credit course in fall 2022. But the proposed contract would leave the door wide open for the administration to assign extra work during these “office hours,” including staffing tutoring centers, writing centers, and advising students through labyrinthine course selection systems. This modest gain, then, should be called out for what it is: a workload increase masquerading as a pay raise.


In fall 2022, the agreement would eliminate salary steps for adjuncts, replacing them with a single hourly rate for each title. Salary steps are the one guarantee of regular cost-of-living increases, which are especially crucial during those years – so common for PSC members – when we are working without a contract. These salary steps also compensate adjuncts for seniority. By flattening the steps, adjuncts at the top of their salary schedules wouldn’t benefit at all from the one-time raise in the last year, since their rate would already exceed $5,500 per course. Flattening the steps would also ultimately widen the pay gap between adjuncts and full-timers that we are supposed to be opposing. PSC officials are suddenly arguing that salary steps are unfair, while title differentials that lead to major disparities based on credentials and on difficult-to-attain merit assessments are apparently still fine. Every other title has salary steps – why shouldn’t adjuncts? 


At first glance, the 2022 wage scale ranging from $5,500 per course for Adjunct Lecturers to $6,750 for Adjunct Professors sounds impressively close to $7K. But 70% of adjuncts are Adjunct Lecturers, and only 2% hold the top title of Adjunct Professor that will be paid close to $7K in fall 2022. By that point, Barnard adjuncts will be making a minimum of $10K per course and Fordham adjuncts, $8K. For the rest of CUNY adjuncts, there is little hope of advancement to higher tiers and therefore $7K remains out of reach.

PSC EXECS SAY: “Salary increases across the board of more than 10% by November 2022”


Despite the PSC’s claim of achieving “historic” gains, the across-the-board wage increases that add up to 10.41% from our last raise in April 2017 to November 2022 would simply maintain the austerity “pattern-bargaining” that Cuomo has imposed on NYS unions. PSC executives were offered these 2% raises at the very beginning of bargaining; accepting only 2% at the end of bargaining means they failed to budge the city and state negotiators. This is nothing to brag about. The nation-wide inflation rate has hovered around 2% the past few years and local NYS inflation has been higher, so these raises barely keep up with inflation. They certainly do not keep pace with the cost-of-living increases in New York City – rent alone increases about 4% per year. These raises fall well short of what was in the leadership’s own initial bargaining agenda: 5% compounded per year. This “raise” is actually a pay cut in real dollars.

PSC EXECS SAY: “No give-backs”


Our contract expired on December 1, 2017, but the 2% annual retroactive raises only go back to October 2018. That means we gave up 10 months of pay increases to pay for this contract.


They can spin it however they want, but the elimination of step increases in 2022 is an epic give-back that will keep us paying for this contract’s raises well into the future, and will widen the pay gap between adjunct and full-time faculty.


Our bosses shamelessly tried to fracture even the full-time faculty into tiers, and the bargaining team let them: under the proposed MOA, reassigned time for untenured faculty would be reduced from 24 to 18 hours in their first five years, with the missing 6 hours postponed until, and if, they receive tenure. Since CUNY never received extra funding to pay for the last contract’s courseload reduction for full-timers, the cost of that will instead now be borne by new, untenured faculty, not to mention by adjuncts whose classes will be cancelled, by the faculty and students who will see their class sizes increase, and by students who will see their tuition rise.


The PSC has so far failed to show how the contract’s economic gains were made to fit into CUNY’s budget. How many adjuncts would benefit from the contract’s raises? How many will lose one or more courses this spring when massive budget cuts hit all CUNY campuses, leading to hundreds of course cancellations and setting back student graduation rates? In 2021, when annual $200 “rational tuition” increases end, will more of the burden be shifted to students in the form of further tuition hikes?

PSC EXECS SAY: “Huge strides toward addressing key issues that [grad students] prioritized”


For graduate employees, this contract holds out the possibility of extending individual graduate assistantships from five years to seven, but such extensions are not guaranteed and there is no mechanism for enforcing them. Similarly, language about providing health insurance to unfunded doctoral students merely sets aside funding and forms a committee to discuss the matter. Meanwhile, the MOA falls silent on the administration’s practice of assigning graduate students additional work and using their stipends as compensation, circumventing contractual workload limitations. Before bargaining, 600 grad students were polled on their contract demands and the number one demand was $7K. This was not won in the contract.

PSC EXECS SAY: “Additional salary increases for equity”


CLTs are some of the lowest paid titles in the bargaining unit and are paid far less than their K-12 public school counterparts. CLT leaders demanded lump sum raises to their salary schedules with comparable raises for adjunct CLTs, but what was actually won falls as much as $7,500 short for the lowest CLT tier. Meanwhile, there were no raises beyond the 2% annual cost-of-living increase for adjunct CLTs, widening the two tiers in the CLT chapter.


Non-teaching adjuncts didn’t win any raises above the annual 2%, either. Worse yet, the fixed 60% ratio between teaching adjunct pay and NTA pay would be eliminated, allowing NTA wages to decline further in real terms. What equity are the PSC execs talking about?

PSC EXECS SAY: “Improved funding and firm time frames for HEO differential awards”


Many HEOs are stuck at the top step of their salary schedule. A touted “gain” of the last contract stipulated that those HEOs were eligible for a $2500 raise called an assignment differential based on excellent performance (i.e., merit pay) or increased responsibilities (i.e., speed-up). Yet the power to award or deny differentials was given entirely to the college labor-management committees and presidents. The proposed MOA fails to fix these problems. The administration would retain full discretion, including the ability to exploit budgetary considerations to deny pay differentials. Meanwhile, there is no attempt to simply add more steps to the salary schedule or change the HEO series into a promotional line.

Public school teachers across the country are reminding us month after month – and now with the teachers’ strike in Chicago, day after day – that impoverishing public education is a political decision that needs a political solution. The backroom bargaining, futile lobbying, and performative protesting by New Caucus PSC executives will never overturn austerity. That approach will never get us living wages, real job security, reasonable class sizes, and free tuition. Only by mobilizing ourselves, our students, and our communities to strike for educational justice can we force the city and state to respect CUNY and respect public higher education. We urge you to vote “NO!” on this sell-out contract so that we as a union can pivot to mobilizing for a strike. $7K or strike!

Strike Authorization Campaign Resolutions Pass at Four CUNY Campuses

The votes in favor of the Strike Authorization Campaign Resolution (hereafter SACR) on Thursday at both Bronx Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community college were nearly unanimous. In the photo above, BMCC Chapter Chair Kathleen Offenholley proudly raises her hand in favor of the vote that could mark a sweeping shift in strategy from the lobbying, nonconfrontational, legalistic tactics that characterize the PSC central’s general approach to union activism.

The SACR was passed at BMCC with two minor amendments and will be forwarded to the Executive Council of the PSC and to the Delegate Assembly. Four campuses–add to the list Queens College and the Graduate Center–have pasted the resolution so far this fall, concretizing the wave of interest that began last year when 11 campuses voted to endorse a $7KOS resolution. Votes are being scheduled at other campuses in the coming months.

The campaign lays out a coordinated practical strategy that encompasses financial, interpersonal, social, and material organization in the lead-up to a strike. Mass education on the importance of a strike, food drives and financial assistance, public relations committees, additional adjunct liaisoning, and broad faculty-student solidarity will all be needed in the coming months after the PSC releases what promises to be woefully inadequate contract proposal, as we take action to fight it.

In direct contradistinction to a climate of austerity, of pitting part-timers against full-timers, and students against staff, the SACR pushes for a climate of unity and support, stepping in for overworked adjunct liaisons and drawing on individual strengths to craft a cohesive and fundamentally pragmatic campaign historically proven to be the most effective way to achieve fair and equitable working conditions.

Over 40 people were present at BMCC over the course of the three-hour meeting, about average for a BMCC chapter meeting. 7K or Strike activists are becoming widely known as the most feisty, mobilized, energetic, and active participants in union democracy, and full-timers and part-timers alike have expressed their support of the movement from afar. Many adjuncts are barred from attending procedural meetings by the scheduling demands and overwork that create the need for a strike in the first place. No one showed up at BMCC to oppose the vote everyone was informed in advance was happening, and no one spoke out against it.

Instead, there was a great discussion of how to build support for a fully funded contract with $7K for adjuncts, and we also passed a resolution calling on the Executive Council to immediately begin preparing for a large rally in front of the Governor’s NYC offices to demand more funding for our contract and a tuition-free university.

Support for a strike has been rising across titles this semester as we face almost two years without a contract and PSC leadership continues to stall and prevaricate on the status of negotiations. At the well-attended Grad Center chapter meeting in September, the vote was 65 for and 16 against, which included a number of HEOs and librarians voting in favor of SACR. Members were perhaps incensed by the so-called “contract update” initially given at the meeting by Andrea Vásquez, who arguably did more to promote the necessity of a strike authorization campaign than anyone else who spoke.

Next week there is yet another Delegate Assembly meeting that looks to be devoid of any new contract proposal (known as the Memorandum of Agreement, or MOA) from the bargaining committee. As each day passes without a contract, more and more rank & file members are recognizing the viability of the SACR and the likely necessity of a strike to secure a fully funded contract that offers no less than $7k/course for adjuncts and refuses to allow gains at the expense of student tuition hikes. After all, even PSC President Barbara Bowen remarked at the last DA, “don’t just vote on personal affiliations, but what’s on offer and whether it’s the best for CUNY.”

If you would like to get involved in helping us build the strike authorization campaign, including a strike authorization committee, please contact 7KOS at 7korstrike@gmail.com.