Have you all noticed the recent uptick in email communication from the Executive Board? Just since the beginning of December there have been messages about actions on Human Rights Day, about Alta Gracia Apparel whose products are now carried by UC, the message to stop the deportation of a UCSD graduate student, and a recent broad appeal stating the E-board’s intentions to fight the gouging of public services in Gov Browns proposed budget.
This is great, make no mistake about it. Our union should organize solidarity actions for causes like the DREAM Act and fighting foreclosures. Our union should make known to its members union-made goods that are available and need our support. Our union absolutely should protect its members from ICE raids. And our union should be sick about the cuts being made to public services in all sectors of our state. Especially when those cuts are being proposed by the Governor our union endorsed and helped to elect with union funds.
These messages and positions are all positive. But here is our caucus’ analysis of why these emails are showing up now, why they don’t show any actual change in the way our local operates, and what else still needs to change.
The first email in this series came out on December 8th, 2010. The contract ratification vote ended and was announced on December 3rd. This contract ratification was the first massively contested election in our local that many of us can remember (that’s right! an election doesn’t always have a predetermined outcome!). For the first time, members questioned the information being sent by our E-board and Bargaining Team. Emails went out on all campuses, meetings and conversations happened among members, and the views of dissenting members of the BT were made available. The results of this debate were that hugely increased numbers of members learned about the vote and participated, and that 1457 out of 3878 voting members rejected the new contract.
Suddenly, the E-board didn’t have a monopoly on information in our local, and members were demanding to be told what was going on. You might not know that in our local any email communication, even from Campus Unit Chairs to the campus unit, must be approved by the president of the local personally. No wonder you don’t hear much about what the union is doing on your campus.
Now that rank-and-file activists are building networks to share information and views about our union, the E-board has had to break the silence. Knowing that we are criticizing them for their absolute absence from the scene of university and community organizing for the last two crucial years, they are suddenly being vocal about their support for causes that, yes, are absolutely worthy of our support.
Until the “No” vote campaign, caucus members were attacked as being a very small, very noisy, very radical (anarchist! anti-union!) clique. Since the vote, they are being forced to realize that a large number of members are dissatisfied with the way things are run in our local, and are already hard at work changing how things are done.
Emails are nice, but I get plenty already
While the new spirit of communication, the causes being supported and the positions taken in the messages from the E-board are all salutary, it doesn’t take long to realize that nothing has really changed. The message endorsing actions for Human Rights Day were send out on Dec. 8th–Human Rights Day was Dec. 10th. Does it really show support for the farmworkers and ending foreclosures to send a call to support an action two days in advance? During finals? Even worse–that email also asked members to call our state legislators asking them to support the DREAM act…too bad it was sent out at 3pm on the day that the vote on the DREAM act was happening.
Such short notice shows both a lack of respect for the actions and for members, who are offered no ways to propose or help plan actions which the union will endorse, but are only told when and where to show up.
The latest email about the Governor’s proposed budget shows that the E-board still doesn’t understand this last point. The email ends:
Fighting back will take all of us pulling together, sharing ideas about how to be a part of the solution, and taking action to hold our representatives accountable to those who worked hard to elect them. As things move forward, we will keep you apprised of opportunities to increase your involvement in this struggle.
“We will keep you apprised”?? Last time we checked, the members were (at least in theory) the highest authority of the union. If the members aren’t discussing and deciding on the forms of our “involvement in this struggle,” who is? These are not decisions to be made by the E-board alone, nor would it be fair for a board of 10 officers to be solely responsible for coordinating the political actions of 11,000 members on 9 campuses. So how about sharing the burden?
The involvement of our local, through the actions of its members and the use of our dues, should be decided by the membership of the local through membership meetings at the departmental, campus, and eventually statewide level.
Do you remember being asked who the local should endorse for Governor? And where our VCAP donations should go? Now the executive board which unquestioningly threw our resources behind Jerry Brown (’cause Meg Whitman sure would be worse!) says they will decide how to fight the policies he is proposing.
Elections for the Executive Board are coming up in May. The E-board knows this, and is going to do everything possible to make themselves appear like the progressive, active leadership that our local needs. But we’ve seen their model of our local for the last three years and more. What does that local look like? Here are just a few examples:
Unfilled positions–campuses have gone without unit chairs, recording secretaries, to say nothing of head steward and steward positions. Berkeley has the most head stewards of any campus because AWDU members have recruited for those positions. And we still have only 5 out of a possible 9 positions filled. The second biggest campus, LA, has ZERO head stewards.
Nonexistent membership meetings–when was the last time you went to a unit membership meeting? How many people were there? Since AWDU has been organizing at Berkeley, our membership meetings have gone from an attendance of 3-10 to an average or 40 or 50.
No solidarity for UC unions–our local has been absent from the discussions of the UC Union Coalition and from local labor council meetings throughout the state. How many AFSCME, CUE, UPTE and AFT members have we seen at rallies and protests for issues like student fee hikes? Now, how many UAW signs have you seen at rallies to defend pension benefits? That is, except for the one you were holding?
How could our local be anything but dysfunctional when no effort has been put into the most basic structures: an informed and connected membership, filled leadership positions and support of other union struggles?
This semester, members will be attending their membership meetings, bringing ideas and proposals for actions and campaigns our local can undertake, ideas for contract enforcement, recruiting stewards, and solidarity actions with the other UC unions. We’ll be organizing for the March 2 Day of Action for Public Education. We’ll be supporting CUE workers who remain without a contract, and AFT members who are going into negotiations. We’ll be attending Regents Meetings. And we’ll continue to organize on our campus, meeting with grad students and undergraduates and showing them that they can have a voice in their union; that their union needs that voice. We’ll see how the current E-board responds to a membership that has taken up their call to “fight back” “pull together” and “share ideas.”