google-site-verification: googlea33552291e834fff.html Education: Why Solidarity is Important, or, An Open Letter to UC Faculty

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why Solidarity is Important, or, An Open Letter to UC Faculty

By Earl Perez-Foust, Comparative Literature, UCSB

Dear UC Faculty,

I am a graduate student at UCSB and a rank-and-file member of the UC Student-Workers Union (UAW 2865).  As you may have heard, my union has declared a strike for April 3rd with some campuses striking April 2 as well.  This is the first Thursday of the Spring quarter and it will likely add further disruption to what is already a chaotic time of the year.  The strike is over an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge that the UC has intimidated members of the union with respect to their participation in the November 20thsympathy strike with AFSCME 3299.  In a recent statement, the Berkeley Faculty Association called on the UC to �respect the protected rights of union workers to take collective actions free of undue managerial interference.�  I would like to echo this and call upon all UC faculty to take stock of their stakes in this conflict, which at the very heart of it deals with the misuse of power dynamics within the University, and show solidarity with their graduate students.

This letter, however, is not meant to be an announcement of the strike nor a detailed breakdown on the charges within the ULPs � I have attached a link to these materials if you're interested in finding out more.  Instead, this letter is concerned with what it means � and what it feels like � to be a graduate student who is invested in the quality of their, and their colleagues', working conditions but who may feel intimidated by the prospect of approaching faculty with these investments.  Some of this may come as a surprise to you, a lot of student-faculty relationships are bracketed by an implied camaraderie and friendship.  However, perhaps especially when it's an issue of work stoppage, students may feel as if any disruption might be registered as a personal affront to this relationship.

To be sure, a strike is a legally protected concerted activity and any managerial intimidation with respect to one's participation in a strike is a violation of the law.  However, there are hidden mechanisms of intimidation and we all know what these may be: the infamous things which �just happen� (ie, TA appointments which �just happen� to go to someone else, a fellowship competition you �just happen� to lose, letters of recommendation which �just happen� to be poor ones).  These things, the �just happens,� are terrifying and can make the prospect of approaching our faculty daunting.  

No doubt some of you are thinking that you would never do this to your students and I'm not calling this into question.  You need to understand, however, that this isn't completely apparent to us � there is just so little room to talk explicitly about the workplace in these relationships.  We simply don't know what the response is going to be.  This strike gives us an opportunity to redefine the terms of our relationships within the University.  It gives us an opportunity to rethink what labor within the University means and what an ethical relationship within it could look like.  Navigating this is dizzying and can be confusing or difficult to situate.

For these reasons, starting the conversation may be the hardest step � we are unequipped with a language with which to speak about these issues.  If you are approached by one of your students or hear about the strike through another means, your unequivocal support is necessary.  The details and the context of the strike are important, but there is at least one other question in this conflict: what sort of working conditions are faculty endorsing?  We need to change the lexicon of our student-faculty relationships, which is to say that we need to be able to talk about the conditions in which we live and work.  Your expressed support of our collective action is an incontrovertible part of this.

I hope to see you on the picket line and that you will offer your support to myself and my fellow academic workers.


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