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.