Collective Liberation for Education Workers (CLEW)

Committed to solidarity, joint struggle, internationalism, collaboration, anti-oppression, anti-racism, centering the marginalized, rank and file power, direct democracy, transparency, and accountability

Letter Resigning as Head Steward for UC Student Worker’s Union (UAW 2865)

I began this letter after the last Joint Council, and have written and rewritten it about three times. I kept coming back and re-writing because it’s been so hard to parse what happened to my comrades. Not those of you who are openly hustling for management and the international (I don’t give you a lot of thought these days, to be honest), but those who got swept up in this whirlpool of fear and malice and timidity.

I kept coming back to this letter because I genuinely couldn’t tell if, for many of you, it was a political dislike for grassroots unionism and a desire for hierarchy; or if it was personal grudges and pettiness taking precedence over the difficult work of building with difference; or if it was a move towards conservativism shaped by a deep fear of the very real forces rallied against us; or if it was just the endorphin rush of consolidating personal power and influence at the cost of a more dispersed collective strength.

I have never in my life seen a supposed “social justice” organizing body try So Hard to convince its members that they are powerless. Beyond this particularly disgusting moment in our union’s history, I’m heartbroken at wondering how many in this generation of students will be convinced that labor organizing is, at best, endless milquetoast for-the-sake-of-itself organizing without spine or teeth, and, at worst, directly worsens their material conditions. I’m deeply sad that we didn’t lean into the potential we could have had, to paste together a powerful collage of different organizing talents, visions, and tactics, with a broad member base differentially excited about tabling, and rallying, and legislative interventions, and direct action, and slower political education, and shutting shit down…and all holding these differences in real solidarity with one another. It would have been a dream.

I am quitting because I am not willing to participate in moving our union even further down the path of becoming nothing more than a defunct dues generator for the international, nor do I feel that I am in a position to effectively dissent from inside the leadership.

Even more fundamentally, though, I am quitting because I understand our union to be working hard to align ourselves with white supremacist histories of labor organizing and this is something I am no longer willing to be complicit in. Our union, as with most organizations and institutions, has always had a problem with whiteness, but I used to think (maybe naively) that there were enough people working to reckon with it, confront it, and build something different.

I continue to believe that labor organizing is a deeply powerful lever to move us towards a more just society, but we in unions and in labor movements will have to  work twice as hard as many other organizations to undo default structures and norms of labor that were build explicitly for a world in which workers hold the power and workers are straight white cis men supporting their nuclear families. As many of us have been saying over the past year, This Is A Structural Critique.

My whiteness manifests in that I kept a certain optimism and hope for this space for longer than I should have. I should have listened more closely to the Black, POC, and radical spaces on campus, and the powerful organizers who hold a deep cynicism about the genuine interest of the union in following through in our publicized commitment to racial justice combined with worker power. I should have stopped for longer and been more thoughtful about the way in which the leadership has hemorrhaged so many experienced, radical (and especially queer and POC) unionists over this last year. I feel foolish for having taken so many of you at your word for so long, for having thought that all of the talk about Social JusticeTM came from a deeper place than leftist performativity. I don’t believe you any more, and you’re welcome to prove me wrong. I really hope that you do. I really hope that I’m eating my words a year from now when our union is less caught up in the fetish of business efficiency and neoliberal managerialism, and is throwing down hard for our collective liberation.

I’m sure there are many different justifications everyone is holding for themselves about what we’ve been doing and why. For me, I’ve realized that I don’t give a fuck about caucus politics, and I’m always willing to build with people who differ in style, analysis, or approach, but share certain deep principles. I’ve also learned to better recognize when these principles have been hollowed out from the inside and gnawed into meaningless and empty rhetoric. I have more thoroughly learned the importance of sound, democratic, institutional structures that can’t be as easily co-opted by cults of personality. I have learned how groupthink becomes pathological when it is used to criminalize dissent. For these, and other reasons, I’m grateful for having spent five years of my life in this space. I’m getting better at understanding impact over intent, and how so many of the decisions people in power in the union have been making over this last year, which I’m sure at least some of you saw as Good and Strategic and Right, have led to so much fracture and violence. I am every year getting better at recognizing which actions come from ego or a certain performance of politicking, or playing out some union boss fantasy, and which come from the urgency of something deeper at stake. It’s been instructive, and I’m grateful for the instruction, even recognizing what it’s cost me.

I was struck recently by adrienne brown’s insights on how organizations become dysfunctional and ineffective:

“So many of our organizations working for social change are structured in ways that reflect the status quo. We have singular charismatic leaders, top down structures, money-driven programs, destructive methods of engaging conflict, unsustainable work cultures, and little to no impact on the issues at hand. This makes sense; it’s the water we’re swimming in. But it creates patterns. Some of the patterns I’ve seen that start small and then become movement wide are:

  • Burn out. Overwork, underpay, unrealistic expectations.
  • Organizational and movement splitting.
  • Personal drama disrupting movements.
  • Mission drift, specifically in the direction of money.
  • Stagnation–an inability to make decisions.

These patterns emerge at the local, regional, state, national, and global level–basically wherever two or more social change agents are gathered. There’s so much awareness around it, and some beautiful work happening to shift organization cultures. And this may be the most important element to understand–that what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.” (Emergent Strategy, p. 52-53).

I stayed in for so long because I think that dissent is important, and I thought that we could still build together with our differences towards a shared vision of a better world. I stayed despite my growing concern over this past year that we were beginning to mirror the university in its treatment of people as disposable revenue streams, its self-branding as progressive without material follow-through, the fetish of productivity over an ethic of care, the misogynistic devaluation of the insights that come from emotional sensitivity… But I’ve realized that you cannot build through difference if people are interested more in crushing dissent in the service of uncontested power, in presenting their particular aptitudes, organizing styles, and insights as the One True Path, and devoting their time to devaluing and destroying everything that can’t or won’t subordinate itself to their stunningly narrow vision. It’s borderline fascist, quite frankly, and I don’t toss that term around without knowing the history of its weight and heft. What we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system. Our small scale patterns have become explicitly violent, and that is not a system or a world I’m willing to be a part of creating.

For my comrades who are staying in and continuing to push to reclaim this space and its possibilities for radical grassroots power and liberation, a deep solidarity, and you know where to find me.

Juliet

Janus, budget projections, and what they don’t mean

I’ve been hearing some interesting arguments about how Janus affects our decision of whether to move toward a strike. Let’s be clear: Labor didn’t have fair share fees until we won them by fighting. Losing fair share fees makes things harder, but it does not pose an existential threat to the labor movement writ large, because our power has always been and will always be in our ability to shut things down. We don’t win by asking nicely, and when SCOTUS or UCOP tells us “no” when we do ask nicely, that does not mean we’ve lost.

Janus just means public sector unions once again need to demonstrate to workers that we are worth joining and paying dues to, because we are fighting for our collective interests. People who don’t join unions, don’t join because they think the union is a third party that has its own interests and can’t be trusted to fight for/with/as them. The only unions Janus threatens existentially, are those opaque, bureaucratic, Reutherist unions that are not aligned with labor writ large.

Settling for a lousy contract in summer because we’re afraid to lose dues-payers, tells workers that we are exactly that kind of union. Strikes are inspiring and galvanizing. Why would a strike would cause membership to decline rather than increase? A Union that sees striking for a better contract as at odds with its survival as an organization, is a Union that has third-partied itself.

We’ve heard a lot about how we only have ~10 months of being able to maintain staff and office space at current membership rates. What we haven’t heard about, is where exactly our dues are going. Here’s the answer: 60%+ of our dues goes to the International. More than half of what’s left, is being used to fund non-member staff organizer positions we did not have before this year.

The rationale for the $500k investment last July in full-time professional organizing staff was that they would pay for themselves with higher membership and therefore a strong contract. Did it work? Let’s take a look at the real wage offer on the table, compared with what UCOP has offered vs. what we have won in other years:

We’re now being told that we cannot afford to maintain these staff at current membership rates. If we simply hired fewer $70k-a-year professional organizers, we would be solvent. If this offer – which looks the same as what the admin caucus-led bargaining teams of old used to settle for – is the best we can do after the efforts of the past year, then that investment has not paid off and we need to cut our losses. Professional, non-member staff organizing positions are what face an existential threat – not our UC Student-Worker Union.

The specter of bankruptcy is that the UAW International would put us in trusteeship and we would run like we did before AWDU. That is what they mean when they say we could “lose our union”. If UAW 2865 takes this deal instead of fighting, because we’re putting long term job-security of non-member career organizers above the interests of our own membership, then the UC Student-Workers have already lost our union.

More on the history of the relationship between UAW and grad student workers:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/06/uaw-academic-workers-colleges-union-walter-reuther-treaty-detroit/
https://jacobinmag.com/2016/12/uaw-awdu-graduate-students-workers-nyu-gsoc

Which side are we on?

Ruminations on my Open Letter

We are sharing this letter, a follow up to the open letter sent to the Joint Council on July 24, with India Pierce’s permission.


About a week or so ago I, with the support of a number of POC UC graduate students, sent an open letter to the union to express my concerns with their hiring of a full time organizer position, to make explicit my hiring preference, and most importantly to bring to light the ways that I feel the union has failed to center the voices of the Black community and develop a relationship with Black organizers at the UCs.

That letter has been met with silence. Within that silence I am reminded that challenging people to acknowledge anti-blackness as a building block of our society makes people deeply uncomfortable.

Letters like the one I have sent often create in people defensiveness or guilt.

I have no use for either.

I have no desire to be invited to tables to brainstorm about how to help folks help themselves.

I do not want excuses.

I do not want healing circles.

I do not want deflections.

I want action.

I want to be clear in saying that the lack of response to my letter will not silence my voice. Audre Lorde teaches me that,

I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it becomes no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet, all too often guilt is just another name of impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection of changelessness.

Audre Lorde

The union must face the uncomfortable truth of the culture of anti-blackness that plagues our nation and this organization. Then it must begin the hard and tedious but necessary work to create a union that truly is FOR US ALL.

In love & light,

India

An Open Letter to UAW 2865

We are sharing this letter, sent to the Joint Council on July 24, with India Pierce’s permission. At the Joint Council meeting on July 31, we posted her words on the walls around the room:


Dear Union Members,

I, India Pierce, along with the below undersigned graduate students are writing to express our concern with the upcoming hire for a full time organizer and make explicit to whom our support goes as it relates to this hiring. It has come to our attention there is a black trans organizer who has a depth of experience and years of active organizing in the union who is being considered. We write today to advocate for them and to urge the union to finally uplift Black community.

As a Black queer woman and doctoral student, I have never felt completely seen and/or supported by the union. The Union leadership historically has not recruited or maintained relationships with Black grad students, organizers or organizations. You all have the opportunity to right that wrong by making a decision now that will center the voices of the Black community and develop a relationship with Black organizing efforts at the UCs.


Furthermore, the union needs to address the ways that anti-blackness runs through the very fabric of this organization. Anti-blackness perpetually situates Black people at the bottom of the social hierarchy, and as the basis of racism in this country, it is present in all forms of oppression. The absence of any real concerted effort to fight this by the large majority of union leaders makes the hiring of this position all the more important.

An ideal candidate would be able to center black union members and potential union members in their organizing, as well as build campaigns against police violence and anti-Blackness.
Blu has been organizing the union for over five years, has actively brought the union’s presence into key organizations, and Blu’s research is known throughout the UC system as they have direct experience on issues of anti-blackness in progressive politics and actively recruit for the union on a day-to-day basis specifically targeting students of color.

The Union’s motto is “UC for All” — We can’t just say “UC for ALL” and not mean it, we need structural change. We need Black feminist union politics in the labor movement as to prevent the union from replicating the wrongs of the United States labor movement throughout history. The union leadership hires all of the students for its positions. Thus, resources and benefits must be allocated when possible to the most marginalized among us. We’d like to leave you with this question: what is the union doing for people of color?


Signed,
India Pierce,
UCSD PhD Student
Along with the undersigned UC graduate students of color:

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