Abusing Tropes of Death, and other reflections on direct action in the CUNY struggle

(or, I’m About To Violate the Taylor Law)

by Drake Logan

Note: This piece was submitted to CUNYStruggle.org in response to Sean Kennedy’s “Death of the die-in (and PSC ‘Civil Disobedience’, too). We welcome reader submissions, which do not reflect the views of CUNYStruggle.org. 

I appreciate Sean M. Kennedy’s effort to boldly critique our actions in struggling against austerity conditions at CUNY, as critique can so often be stifled in the service of fear—that to critique in the midst of political struggle would undercut the cause or detract from the “real” issues at hand. I write as a CUNY instructor and graduate student who was planning to engage in the direct action last week, but needed to stay home for health reasons. Instead of getting arrested that night as planned, I sat down at my desk and finally had the chance to try and tabulate exactly how underpaid I am.


would like to join in Kennedy’s critique of the inappropriate—and, appropriative—use of imagery from a Black Lives Matter die-in to promote the March 24th CUNY action. And, I too would like to question the use of the die-in as a direct action tactic which aims to symbolize what is already a metaphorical “death” or “starvation” of our institution.

Continue reading “Abusing Tropes of Death, and other reflections on direct action in the CUNY struggle”

Death of the die-in (and PSC ‘Civil Disobedience,’ too)

by Sean M. Kennedy

This photo of a Black Lives Matter die-in was photoshopped and used in student-made promotional flyers for the PSC die-in.

On Thursday, March 24th, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) staged its second “civil disobedience” of the academic year, this time a die-in in front of the building that holds Governor Cuomo’s New York City office. Like its “blockade” of the entry to the building that holds CUNY’s central offices last November, the PSC trained participants who volunteered to risk arrest, and the NYPD dispatched those arrested to central booking, where they were released shortly after—the whole action a smooth operation carefully production-managed for maximum positive media exposure and minimum duress for participants. What couldn’t be controlled, of course, was the reaction from observers, inside and outside the PSC, to the action, which ranged from adulation for those arrested to revulsion that the PSC once again colluded with cops to enact another fake civil disobedience (or civil disobedience “lite”), at a moment when many rank and filers would like to see the PSC hold a strike: a genuine civil disobedience, given the Taylor Law.

Continue reading “Death of the die-in (and PSC ‘Civil Disobedience,’ too)”

The Graduate Center Doctoral Students’ Council endorses a strike

On March 18, 2016, the DSC passed the following resolution endorsing a strike. 

Resolution Endorsing a Strike to Ensure a Fair PSC Contract With CUNY

WHEREAS the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) is the faculty and staff union representing 25,000 CUNY workers, including Graduate Center students working as graduate assistants and as adjuncts;

WHEREAS six years have passed since the PSC’s last contract expired;

WHEREAS the PSC has been steadily bargaining for a new contract with CUNY management since June 2014;

WHEREAS the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) passed a resolution in December 2014 calling for a $7,000 minimum starting salary per three-credit course for CUNY adjuncts;

WHEREAS the CUNY University Student Senate, comprising delegates from all CUNY campuses, passed a resolution in September 2015 supporting “all adjuncts, especially those who are also doctoral students within CUNY, in their demands for better wages and working conditions”;

WHEREAS the DSC passed a resolution in October 2015 against five more years of tuition increases and in support of a tuition freeze and state funding of CUNY’s mandatory costs;

WHEREAS the DSC understands that wages for faculty and staff, state funding, and tuition are related;

WHEREAS CUNY management has made only a single economic offer to date, one that would have essentially amounted to a pay cut for faculty and staff, and which the PSC rejected;

WHEREAS the PSC and its members have been mobilizing for a strike-authorization vote since October 2015, which, if the vote is held and is successful, would allow the PSC to call a strike;

WHEREAS New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed, in January 2016, a $485-million cut in state funding to CUNY;

WHEREAS, also in January 2016, CUNY management declared an impasse in bargaining, noting a number of unresolved PSC demands, including salary increases for adjuncts, multiyear adjunct appointments, increased access to tuition waivers for adjuncts, and penalties for non-payment of adjuncts and graduate assistants;

WHEREAS the PSC continues to organize around a strike-authorization vote as the necessary next step in the fight for a fair contract with CUNY management, and is actively seeking public pledges of support for a “yes” vote;

WHEREAS the Adjunct Project (AP), an affiliate of the DSC, endorsed a strike as the only means to ensure a fair contract with CUNY management; and

WHEREAS the AP also endorsed organizing by other groups and coalitions across the Graduate Center and CUNY in support of a fair contract, a strike, or both, including the Alternative StrikePledge for Adjuncts and Allies, which specifically centers adjunct and student concerns; the Adjunct Message Center, which supports the demands of long-time adjuncts and conveys them to the PSC leadership; and a planned series of popular assemblies to discuss and unite demands for a transformed CUNY;

Be it RESOLVED that the DSC endorses the PSC’s strike-authorization vote;

Be it further RESOLVED that the DSC endorses the Alternative Strike Pledge for Adjuncts and Allies, the Adjunct Message Center, and the planned series of popular assemblies;

Be it further RESOLVED that the DSC endorses a strike as the only means to ensure a fair contract with CUNY management;

And be it finally RESOLVED that the DSC calls upon the PSC to establish a strike-relief fund to defray or minimize financial penalties any striking workers receive due to New York State’s Taylor Law. 

Visit HR for Fun and Profit

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be hearing from the people of CUNY in their own words. Had a run-in with management? Feeling mad about the injustices of the two tier system? Are you a student struggling to balance life, work and school? We want to hear from you. Email submissions to cunystruggleinfo@gmail.com

This first post in our series of worker and student stories is written by a graduate student worker and adjunct at one of the CUNY campuses.

I had some spare time between classes yesterday and decided to visit my local HR department. Because of the on-again, off-again nature of adjunct work and possibly due to factors related to my own lifestyle, I can’t quite remember if I have been employed as an adjunct for six straight semesters and am therefore entitled to a step increase that has not shown up on my latest appointment letter. So I went to my HR office to ask them for a copy of my employment history with the school. I delivered my request to the receptionist, who looked at me like I had just landed from Mars and insisted to know why I would want such a thing. I told her I wanted it “just to have it” and eventually just “can I please have it”—it’s in the contract, after all. This was not the right answer. She said make sure you sign the register with your exact name and department and I was told to wait while she gathered reinforcements.

Continue reading “Visit HR for Fun and Profit”

Reflections on the first CUNY-Wide Popular Assembly

Last Saturday, over 100 people turned out for the first of what we hope are many CUNY-Wide Popular Assemblies. At this day-long event people from across CUNY, including students, faculty, staff and community members, came together to discuss our common problems and imagine a way out.

Continue reading “Reflections on the first CUNY-Wide Popular Assembly”

CUNY Adjunct Project Endorses Strike

We re-post below an announcement from the CUNY Adjunct Project, an organization that since 1993 has operated under the auspices of the Doctoral Students’ Council at the CUNY Graduate Center. The goals of the Adjunct Project are to “raise consciousness about academic labor issues inside and outside CUNY, educate GC adjuncts about ways to address these issues, and activate GC student workers to improve their collective position as workers at CUNY.” Last week the three members of the Adjunct Project collectively endorsed a potential strike by members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union that represents around 25,000 CUNY faculty and staff who have worked without a contract for the last six years. Any strike by CUNY faculty and staff would violate the New York State Public Employees Fair Employment Act, popularly known as the Taylor Law, which prohibits public employees from striking or even to “cause, instigate, encourage, or condone a strike.” The Adjunct Project has recently posted video of a 2011 event called “‘What Do You Mean I Can’t Strike?’: Confronting the Taylor Law” and has announced a new event called “The Will to Strike (Against the Taylor Law),” scheduled for April 6. What follows below is the text of the recent Adjunct Project announcement endorsing a strike. Continue reading “CUNY Adjunct Project Endorses Strike”

Notes on the Impasse and PSC Bargaining Agenda

The notice of impasse issued late last month amidst the PSC’s ongoing contract negotiations gives the public a rare peek into a process that has been opaque to a vast majority of PSC members. The notice, issued by CUNY management, asserts that bargaining has broken down and requires a third party mediator in order to move forward. President Bowen’s November announcement of a strike authorization vote features prominently in CUNY’s argument as evidence that good faith is no longer present in the proceedings. We now hear that mediation sessions are moving forward, though the timeline for actionable decisions remains open ended.

Continue reading “Notes on the Impasse and PSC Bargaining Agenda”

The Contract Struggle at CUNY: A View from Below

Last Fall some folks affiliated with CUNY Struggle penned a response to The Nation‘s uncritical coverage of the ongoing PSC contract dispute. As the ruling class offensive on US trade unionism ever intensifies, far too many comrades in leftist media confuse unquestioning support for existing union structures and leaderships with support for the working class against capital, and we find this to be a major miscalculation. The Nation declined to print our response, and though the situation has changed since December, we are sharing our opinion below as an invitation to dialogue and critique.  Continue reading “The Contract Struggle at CUNY: A View from Below”

Toward a Renewed CUNY Movement

Tuition is rising across CUNY, while wages for faculty and staff are stagnating. The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which represents 25,000 CUNY workers, has been unable to secure a fair contract for over five years. Student life and campus activism are increasingly suppressed and policed, while facilities crumble and student movement gains of yesteryear like the Morales/Shakur Center are lost. Professors dedicated to educating working class young people are teaching huge courseloads in overcrowded classrooms, while many adjunct professors face insecure futures, stretched thin across multiple campuses and struggling to get by on low wages. Like Higher education more broadly, CUNY is in the midst of a crisis and nothing will change for the better until we learn to work together to fight for both ourselves and our institutions.

Continue reading “Toward a Renewed CUNY Movement”