All aboard the 7K or Strike train! This past week PSC chapters at two more CUNY schools, College of Staten Island and Hostos Community College, passed resolutions supporting a rigorous campaign for a $7K minimum wage per course for CUNY’s adjunct faculty in the coming PSC contract, all the way up to a strike! They join The Graduate Center, Bronx Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Hunter College, all of whom passed resolutions this past year. They also stand astride hundreds of PSC rank-and-filers, CUNY students, and their allies from across the city, who rallied for 7K or Strike last month.
These resolutions represent a democratic awakening at the local level, where important issues impacting the lives of CUNY workers and students are rarely deliberated. Moreover, they provide the opportunity to debate tactics and strategy around fighting austerity, inside and outside the CUNY system. As the present contract negotiations drag on and PSC members work yet again without a contract, we find ourselves at a crossroads of great importance to the fight against austerity: Do we continue to rely on a small set of technocratic “leaders,” who impose from on high a failed strategy of backroom conciliation with politicians and management, keeping the rank-and-file demobilized and in the dark? Or do we harness the power of our numbers, our fighting spirit, and our strategic relationships with students, parents, and communities across working-class New York City, to build a grassroots movement capable of going on the offensive?
As if the usual gross exploitation of part-time workers at CUNY weren’t enough, the administration regularly uses bureaucratic maneuvers to further extract cost-savings from its most vulnerable employees. Adjuncts are rarely paid on time, they’re forced to give up their classes to full-time professors whose sections don’t meet the enrollment minimums, and fifth-year graduate students are forced to work as Writing Across the Curriculum fellows for twice as many hours as the contract permits but for the same pay. Adding to an endless list of injustices, this semester many international students at the Graduate Center have not been paid their fellowship money. Normally paid in August, fellowships can be as much as half a student’s income for the semester, which is especially vital for international students, who are barred from working outside of CUNY. The administration has offered no recourse besides broken promises and shady “advances” that were actually loans. Meanwhile, the PSC, which usually refuses to intervene in any issue not covered by the contract, has only further mucked up the situation by suggesting that the GC issue these loans rather than mobilizing its rank-and-file to demand immediate payment.
Thankfully, the rank-and-file aren’t waiting for the union leadership for direction. International graduate students have been organizing at the grassroots level to demand the money they were owed three months ago, as well as mechanisms to prevent future late payment. We share below an open letter explaining and raising these demands. At the time of publishing, over a hundred GC students and faculty have signed. You can sign onto the letter here.
At today’s meeting of the Hunter College chapter of the PSC, attendees passed the $7K or Strike resolution that passed at the Graduate Center last spring and Bronx Community College last week. After significant debate, the vote was twenty-eight for, one against, and one abstaining.
It is worth noting that many adjuncts cannot attend chapter meetings because low wages and punishing conditions demand that they shuttle back and forth between the several jobs they must hold to stay afloat. Recognizing this fact, colleagues from Hunter’s Film & Media department circulated a petition through which members unable to attend could signal their support for the resolution. In just two days, eighty members of the department, including a few full-timers, signed the petition.
Also significant is that the number of undergraduate students in attendance doubled from the last meeting. The support of students is a prerequisite for any successful mass action by teachers. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions, but just saying it is not enough—we need to mount a fierce campaign to actively enlist students on our side by making their teachers’ plight visible and asking them to participate actively in the life of the union. We should also make students’ concerns—tuition, class sizes, building conditions, advising, and more—part of our bargaining agenda in service of building a democratic bloc that can redirect the university away from the cruel logic of profit-seeking and in the direction of our ideals. This is not how it is done, the savvy will tell you. Pay them no mind. Formal structures have failed us—a democratic revolution is our only hope.
Another PSC chapter has thrown its weight behind a strike for $7K! As Hunter College voted on its successful 7K or Strike! resolution, a similar resolution was on the floor at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The room was packed to capacity and the energy was palpable. Chair Geoffry Kurtz remarked on the rarity of debating and passing such a resolution at the chapter meeting level. Members across titles, including multiple tenured faculty, spoke about the importance of supporting $7K, not just as a moral issue, but also as a strategic one: adjunct precarity, after all, is simply the principle means of imposing austerity on the entire university system. When adjuncts lose in the short term, everybody loses in the end.
The Executive Committee at BMCC had prepared a resolution, inspired by the initiatives at the Graduate Center and Bronx Community College, calling for $7K to be won by “large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike if and when such an action would unite PSC members and help the PSC win $7K.” Now, we at CUNY Struggle have earned something of a reputation for intransigence bordering on impracticality. But we were happy to support this resolution in the spirit of compromise without which a strike would be impossible. When the resolution hit the floor, however, the rank-and-file had other ideas. Multiple members unconnected to CUNY Struggle spoke up to say they were not satisfied with its indirect “waffling.” There was broad support for an amendment to state a clear commitment to striking for $7K. Therefore a motion was called and passed overwhelmingly in support of “large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike.” Period.
Today BMCC took a stand for CUNY’s future. Which campus is next?
The strike wave continues to roll through CUNY! On October 11th, the Bronx Community College chapter of PSC voted unanimously to support 7K or Strike! for the coming contract. This means if adjuncts don’t get 7K per course, we say shut it down! Roughly forty-five members came out for this exciting meeting, many bringing colleagues and friends who don’t normally attend PSC events. Discussion pointed to the need for strategy and prudence in approaching a strike. Nobody was kidding themselves about the magnitude of the task we are setting before ourselves when we say 7K or Strike! When it came time to vote, however, the result was unanimous. We understand the difficulties ahead, but we know with enough preparation, smarts and solidarity we can win!
BCC is the second chapter to endorse 7K or Strike, and similar resolutions are coming up at Hunter College and Borough of Manhattan Community College in the coming weeks. Who will be next? If you’d like to bring this to your campus, get in touch!
This year, the PSC has prioritized winning $ 7,000 as the minimum salary for anyone teaching a three hour course. Over the years, many full-time faculty wonder why the PSC has put so much time and energy into championing the demands of adjunct faculty. Many believe that gains, like $7K/course for part-timers come at the expense of salary increases for the full-timers.
This argument is wrong—the existence of a low-cost part-time faculty undermines the salaries of full-time faculty.
Unions exist to stop the destructive competition among employees which allows employers to cut wages, increase work load and and generally degrade the conditions of labor. In the past forty years, corporate and government employers’ have created multi-“tiered” workforces—workers doing the same work who are paid lower wages. The result is a downward spiral of wages for all employees.
The growth of a low wage part-time faculty is simply higher education’s version of the “two-tier” workforce. Low salaries for adjuncts mean lower salaries for all of us. It is no accident that CUNY has both one of the highest percentages of underpaid adjuncts and some of the lowest salaries for public sector full-time faculty. Winning $7K/course puts a floor on salaries, and gives CUNY an incentive to hire more full-time, tenure-track, rather than part-time and contingent, faculty.
Winning $7K will require all of us—full-timers and part-timers—to mobilize over the coming months. We all need show up at demonstrations for $7K and vote at our chapter meetings for resolutions supporting a strike if CUNY doesn’t offer $7K at the bargaining table.
An earlier version appeared in the BMCC faculty newsletter The Gadfly.
The red wave has come to New York City! Earlier this week, rank-and-file workers and students from across the CUNY system descended on Wall Street to deliver a clear message: $7k or strike! For the newcomer, this means the CUNY community is demanding a $7k per course minimum wage for CUNY adjuncts in the coming union contract, and if we don’t get it, we’re ready to shut it down!
It was a beautiful sight. The sterile sarcophagi of Wall Street echoed with chants of “7k or strike!“ and “Education is a right; strike strike strike!” CUNY workers from across titles joined with students and other working class New Yorkers to affirm our shared commitment to do whatever it takes to win $7k the coming contract. This was nothing short of a dress rehearsal for a CUNY-wide strike of workers and students, which we must prepare for in case the PSC fails to win $7k at the bargaining table. And just like the red wave that is remaking teachers’ organizing all across the US, the movement at CUNY will be led from the bottom-up, by the people with the most on the line! It’s no coincidence that the small handful of PSC members who oppose the message of 7k or Strike!all seem to hold some elected office.