Who’s Afraid of AWDU?

At long last, two members of the NYU AWDU caucus have seen fit to respond, formally and publicly, to arguments I have been making for years in every possible forum I could. I am struck by their timing but still happy that they have put something out. I have always believed that AWDU would eventually crash on the rocks of evidence and argument. I believe this now more than ever

Below are my responses to the counterarguments they make in each major section of their piece.

Majorities Matter

Raheja and Larson somewhat surprisingly admit that “[a]t first glance, the strongest aspect of Denz’s case against AWDU is the emphasis he places on the need to win majorities.” But Raheja’s and Larson’s considerations do nothing to weaken my case against AWDU on these grounds for the simple reason that they never address the fact that the AWDU caucus with by far the greatest power and longevity, the one that leads UAW Local 2865 in the University of California system,  has consistently “organized” among only a tiny minority of the workers they represent, holding a long campaign for the contract settled in 2014 featuring “strikes” with less than ten percent participation, a strike authorization vote with seventeen percent participation, and a contract ratification vote with nine percent participation. Who’s afraid of the rank-and-file? Sounds like AWDU is!

Raheja and Larson pretend that AWDU caucuses share the usual commitment to majoritarian  organizing and that what makes them distinctive is how they use those majorities. In fact, the real difference is that AWDU caucuses have generally disdained majoritarian organizing, not engaging in it at all or treating it as a last resort when the more campus activist tactics fail.

Raheja and Larson present a history of the NYU GSOC recognition campaign that is simply fanciful: “good relationships with the employer continued to be prized over any reliance on workers themselves to organize direct actions or encouraging other member-led organizing initiatives.” What? A campaign defined by a strike that lasted nearly an entire academic year was characterized by seeking “good relationships with the employer?” As with any campaign, critiques of this strike and of the strategy of NYU’s long recognition drive following the Bush NLRB decision are surely possible. Some are in fact collected in an excellent published volume to which many graduate student workers who actually participated in the organizing at that time contributed; I find some of these contributions more convincing than others. Conciliatory to management this campaign was not, by any reasonable standard.

It is also of course untrue that graduate student workers did not engage in any direct actions over the course of the nearly eight years between NYU’s withdrawal of recognition and its reversal in 2013, even if Raheja and Larson did not at the time participate in those. I remember blowing up GSOC balloons with other grad workers and UAW representatives and giving them to thousands and thousands of NYU students to take into a graduation back in 2013, which certainly didn’t lead to “good relationships” with John Sexton and other NYU administrators present at that event! I realize I sound like a curmudgeon sometimes, but I actually enjoy a good direct action as much as the next graduate student.

Raheja and Larson are welcome to make a serious argument about what would have been a better strategy for securing union recognition at NYU, keeping in mind that NYU remains the only private university to have ever agreed to recognize graduate student workers without being legally required to do so. They are welcome to claim, for example, that rallies with piñatas would have been more effective than blowing up balloons. Instead, their primary argument seems to be that because achieving recognition took a long time, the wrong tactics were therefore used. But unless they can point to any other example where the goal was achieved more quickly under otherwise similar circumstances, indeed, any example where it was achieved under similar circumstances at all, then there is no reason to accept their view. There is no such case—NYU is the only private university, and surely among the only U.S. universities period, to agree to union recognition for graduate student workers when it was not legally required to do so. Overall, NYU’s recognition campaign would certainly seem primarily a success to emulate, not a failure whose mistakes should be a cautionary tale.

Also fanciful is Raheja and Larson’s suggestion that there was some drastic transformation in the strategy of the recognition campaign that led to a different result. This is a total invention on their part without any trace of relationship to reality. There simply was no such change of course; the eventual victory was the culmination of a consistent strategy, not the result of a sudden shift. They are right that winning recognition required “a sustained organizing campaign which mounted faculty, student, and community pressure against the administration.” They are wrong that this in any way represented a departure from what had already been the recognition campaign’s approach for years prior to that. Raheja and Larson are also wrong to oppose “private discussions” with the employer against direct actions or other public tactics to achieve a goal. The recognition agreement with NYU was negotiated off-the-record, as too was the contract once NYU AWDU realized there just wasn’t any other way it was going to happen. This in no way prevented workers from strongly supporting the union through petitions, related campaigns such as protesting health care increases, and direct actions.

What Raheja and Larson do not note about majority support in the context of graduate student worker unions is that it evaporates almost instantaneously because of high turnover from semester to semester. By implying that the repeated petitions to gain majority support were somehow redundant, they conjure an image of bumbling union bureaucrats stuck in their ways who lack the clear strategic vision that enlightened academics bring. In reality, demonstrating majority support year after year was the single strongest proof of the union’s democratic mandate and the basis for whatever real, serious further actions the union took. Raheja and Larson’s flippancy about the need for demonstrating majority support over and over again in order to win a campaign among graduate student workers was exactly the kind of attitude NYU was counting on for the campaign to eventually just die out on its own! Thankfully, Raheja and Larson were not in charge of the strategy for GSOC’s recognition campaign. When we finally did get our election, the strong basis in majoritarian organizing was crucial to turning out a majority of all eligible voters to vote “yes,” which, in turn, strengthened our position at the contract bargaining table.

Contract Bargaining at NYU

Raheja and Larson contend, “The bargaining committee — handpicked by UAW staff organizers to prevent radicals from playing a role — was so demoralized by the lack of progress to a contract that in summer 2014, half of them either dropped out entirely or broke from the concessionary strategy, soon to be supported by over a hundred GSOC members in an open letter.” The spring 2014 Bargaining Committee, including Raheja herself, was democratically elected. It is especially ironic for Raheja to complain about “radicals” (of whom she apparently considers herself one) having no role when the fact that she became a Bargaining Committee member at all resulted from my decision not to campaign with the slate that eventually won so that she could join it instead. (Raheja secured the support of both slates by misrepresenting herself to ours ideologically, and so she got the most votes because she had everyone campaigning for her.) I have lived to regret that decision!

Moreover, Raheja herself played no small role in the demoralization of other committee members, dragging out Bargaining Committee meetings for hours by constantly revisiting questions that had already been decided, adopting right-wing anti-union rhetoric to third-party UAW representatives and undermine trust within the committee, and generally making every aspect of being involved with the negotiation process as unpleasant as she could. She no doubt considered it among her proudest accomplishments when four of the eight committee members, disproportionately women and international students from underrepresented schools and departments, did indeed resign their positions so that her friends could win a different set of elections in the fall.

Raheja and Larson also claim that “the UAW leadership’s bargaining during the first nine months was notable for its stalled progress, opacity to GSOC membership, and a conciliatory stance toward management that failed to secure many gains.” At the time, Raheja was more worried that a deal might be reached so quickly that she and her friends would not have time to drive the other Bargaining Committee members out and win a second set of elections! How else to explain the demand that the union stop meeting with NYU until a new set of elections could be held? The agreement we ended up reaching with NYU in March 2015 after almost an additional academic year was actually not all that much better than the university’s first economic proposal in May 2014, and in some respects it was actually worse. (I have already documented this in thousands upon thousands of words in this blog and won’t repeat it all now.) It could have been achieved much sooner, without the resulting losses in retroactive wages and benefits, had the NYU AWDU Bargaining Committee simply acted more decisively by taking a strike authorization vote earlier on and setting a strike deadline in the fall semester.

Raheja also claims that “AWDU organizers obtained the majority of strike authorization votes,” omitting that this is only true when one includes the one AWDU organizer (herself) who was also a member of the paid staff of the union. (That’s right, Natasha Raheja was happy to take money from the nefarious “business” UAW!) As I indicated in my piece, a majority of the strike authorization votes were turned out by four staff paid with UAW members’ dues. (Except the staff, no graduate student worker at NYU paid a cent of dues to the UAW until the contract was ratified.) Neither in this instance nor anywhere else in the piece do Raheja and Larson acknowledge the indispensable role of other UAW members’ support in winning the organizing and contract campaigns.

Sisterhood of the Dwindling Membership

As noted, Raheja and Larson do not acknowledge or address the fact that the AWDU caucus in the UC system never at any point in its long contract campaign engaged a majority of workers the union represents (not in ratifying initial demands, not in their strike authorization vote, not in their “strikes,” and not in their contract ratification-in fact, only one of these even reached double-digit percentages!). Nor do they address the fact that the local’s membership rate fell below majority under AWDU’s leadership for the first time in decades and has probably fallen even lower by now than the 38% I cited for 2014.

They nevertheless try to claim that the contract UC AWDU negotiated ending in 2014 was somehow a great victory. Obviously, this contradicts their own laudable admission earlier in the piece that winning majorities is “essential to the campaign.” To be crystal clear, UC AWDU never got anything close to a majority even one single time over the course of their eighteen-month campaign (the Californians admitted it right to my face at the CGEU conference in 2015), yet that apparently gives Raheja and Larson no pause about their sister caucus’s effectiveness as a union leadership.

In presenting the economic gains in the 2014 contract as substantial by comparing it to previous contracts UAW Local 2865 negotiated (with majority support, no less), they ignore two factors. First, prior contracts had been negotiated under conditions of relative state-wide austerity during California’s budget crisis. Under the majoritarian pre-AWDU leadership, UAW Local 2865 won wage increases even when other unions representing campus workers were accepting freezes or cuts. By contrast, the state allocation to the UC system had gone up 20% in 2013-2014, the year that AWDU “won” a 0% increase. There is no way to deny they left money on the table.

Second, accepting a contract that does not include retroactive wage and benefit increases sets a bad precedent for future bargaining, encouraging the university administration to drag out negotiations past contract expiration (even if AWDU itself doesn’t do it for ideological reasons) and omit the retroactive increases. That’s why it’s a “concession.”

As for the social justice gains in UC AWDU’s 2014 contract, to the extent that they are real they are good, but AWDU also exaggerated them. (My comrade Jason Struna has addressed this issue thoroughly.) In any event, they do not somehow excuse an organizing strategy that failed to engage the overwhelming preponderance of workers a union represents.

Still Spinning Social Justice

After waxing poetic about a grievance the union won based on language in the contract, Raheja and Larson argue for their position that graduate students should be entitled to union membership regardless of whether they have ever worked under the contract or paid union dues. They cite the fact that UAW Locals 2865 and 4121 do this. However, these locals do not include workers who are not graduate students, and this issue of the membership definition therefore does not raise the same problem of equity between graduate students and other workers in the union.

Raheja and Larson do not really address the basic point that it is unfair for someone who never works under the contract or pays dues to have the same vote as someone who does both of those things. Nor do they address the fact that this would indeed lead to overrepresentation of disproportionately white and socioeconomically privileged graduate students at the expense of other workers in the Local who are disproportionately older people of color, long-time New York City residents, and men and women with dependents. Again, their total refusal to address these issues constitutes a tacit admission that they simply have no good response.

Instead, they focus on my choice of the verb “gentrify” as a description of what they want graduate students to do to Local 2110, which seems to have really gotten under their skin. I heard from Local 2110 members who are not graduate students that they agree this is an accurate description of their own perception of NYU AWDU’s attempt to under-enfranchise them in favor of graduate students who do not work under the contract or pay dues. Raheja and Larson point to the fact that there have been instances of homeless graduate students as evidence that graduate students themselves couldn’t also be (either literal or metaphorical) gentrifiers. But this is a non sequitur. It has nothing to do with whether it is fair to give graduate students union membership rights when they do not work under the contract or pay dues.

Raheja and Larson also claim that the Local’s eligibility rules deprive GSOC of adequate representation because only five Joint Council seats were filled out of eight. But this is question-begging. After all, the only reason five seats were filled instead of eight is that only five eligible candidates submitted their names; others who did so had never worked under the contract or paid union dues. Had NYU AWDU wanted to fill eight GSOC seats, it should have recruited eight people who had ever worked and paid dues under the contract out of literally thousands of such graduate students at NYU.

And yes, it doesn’t change anything that NYU AWDU also supports Black Lives Matter, BDS, or any number of other causes, however sincere that support might be. The only elected leaders in Local 2110 who support NYU AWDU’s position on membership eligibility are themselves graduate students affiliated with the NYU AWDU caucus; others reject it as unfair to the rest of the Local.

Raheja and Larson’s (non-)response is not a refutation but much rather a vindication of arguments I have been making for years in every possible forum. I am optimistic that the tide even in graduate student worker unions may be turning against this version of academic exceptionalism and toward a labor movement in which academics stand alongside other workers rather than bossing, bullying, condescending, and lying.

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When AWDU Loses

The AWDU caucus in UAW Local 4121, which represents graduate student workers at the University of Washington, suffered a resounding defeat last month when hundreds of members met to vote on its Bylaws proposals. The biggest proposed change was to introduce term limits for the Executive Board. This may sound innocuous, but it was, in fact, a back-handed way to try to make many of the most effective and popular officers ineligible to run again because the UW AWDU caucus knew that it wouldn’t be able to beat them directly. The NYU AWDU caucus has also stated a more general support for term limits. Even if term limits seem abstractly democratic, they can also be very detrimental to a union’s effectiveness if they prevent the most experienced and trusted leaders from continuing to serve. This is why support for legally mandated term limits for union office is often a right-wing anti-union position.

In fall 2014, the UW AWDU caucus lost a trustee vacancy election by a more than 2-to-1 margin. Apparently in partial response to this, they vowed not to run candidates in this year’s triennial elections but instead to focus on “structural” change through amending the Bylaws, and they have kept this promise. Their logic appeared to be that members might not like them personally but would perhaps see the abstract beauty of their Bylaws proposals. At least, this appears to have been the point of a weird video one of them made entitled “Why do I like the amendments but not AWDU?”

Apparently, members like neither. The membership meetings defeated the proposed Bylaws amendments by a similar 2-to-1 margin. This is especially significant because AWDU tends to have a relatively easier time getting its supporters to take time to attend a meeting as opposed to just dropping off a ballot or voting online. Many rank-and-file members who do not strongly self-identify as radical activists must not only have disapproved of these proposed Bylaws amendments but also cared enough to show up to vote against them. Hundreds came out not once, but twice to do so.

What does a caucus committed to making the union more “democratic” do when members overwhelmingly reject not only its candidates but also its very version of democracy? Does it, perhaps, admit that maybe the union wasn’t so “undemocratic” in the first place? I wouldn’t bet on it. Demanding term limits while also refusing to run candidates was a revealing move. It tacitly admitted that the UW AWDU caucus, while it may have positions about what is abstractly more or less democratic, has no interest in actually taking responsibility for the strategy and tactics of collective bargaining.

I believe that UW AWDU actually shares this tendency with other AWDU caucuses. But whatever their many flaws, the AWDU caucuses at NYU and in the UC system have at least held leadership positions and therefore nominally taken responsibility for collective bargaining in addition to tweaking their precious Bylaws, making it possible for critics like me to hold them accountable when they consistently do a bad job. Perhaps the UW AWDU caucus saw from the examples of UC and NYU that dreaming up new “structures” is easier and more fun than fighting management.

Frankly, I personally wouldn’t mind if the other AWDU caucuses started to go this direction too. There’s never been any reason a small extracurricular group couldn’t do most of the things that the NYU and UC AWDU caucuses seem most excited about doing (having a reading and film discussion group, conducting highly bureaucratic meetings, advocating for BDS) without derailing collective bargaining or the national movement to organize adjuncts, postdocs, and graduate student workers. Instead of fighting to change the Bylaws of existing unions, other AWDU caucuses could even just write their own caucus Bylaws like UW AWDU has!

Anyway the example of the University of Washington proves that AWDU can be defeated. Now that the triennial elections are concluded, we will see how the UW AWDU caucus responds to the membership’s overwhelming rejection of its vision for the union’s future.

Sticks and Stones

The values of the NYU AWDU caucus are again on full display in the recent story entitled “Grad students challenge union on the meaning of ‘work.’” That framing of the issue happens to be totally inaccurate: the dispute is not over what counts as work but instead who counts as a union member. There are unfortunately many workers in this world who are not represented by a union in collective bargaining. The issue between Local 2110 and the NYU AWDU caucus is whether individuals who are not represented by UAW Local 2110 in collective bargaining can nevertheless be considered “members” for the purposes of internal elections. This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether they are abstractly workers or not, but only whether they can be considered “members” when they do not work or pay dues under a Local 2110 contract.

There happen to be a number of statements in the article that can easily be shown to be false on the basis of publicly available evidence, including the claim that only teaching assistants are represented by our union. But I am more interested in the statements of my NYU AWDU colleagues Chris Nickell and Claudia Carrera.

The article states, “Chris Nickell, GSOC’s communications head, said GSOC members are ‘alienated from our labor’ as other unit members are not.” That’s interesting because a Marxist would say that all labor in capitalism is alienated. Alienation isn’t an emotion or psychological state (although it may be reflected in these) but instead an objective circumstance. It’s unclear to me what Nickell could possibly have meant by this.

Nickell continues, “The rhetoric of class and education is a problematic one…We [graduate students at NYU] are as working class, if not more working class, than clerical workers. We make less money, point blank. We are structurally in a less advantageous position as they are, point blank.”

It is tempting to ask just how structurally advantaged or disadvantaged the speaker of these comments may have personally been in his life, but this would be an absurd argument no matter who was making it. First, many of the other workers in Local 2110 actually make the same or less money than graduate students who teach. An NYU graduate student who teaches during both semesters and the summer and who also receives a stipend makes about $45,000 per year. Of course, we don’t teach every single semester or year, but that is our annualized income during the periods of time when we are covered by a UAW Local 2110 contract, and I’m sure there are plenty of workers in Local 2110 who make less than that (I have no idea what proportion, and I don’t really care). Of course, hourly research assistants or graduate assistants covered by the GSOC contract who make $15 or $16 per hour don’t earn nearly as much, but they are not the focus of the story.

Anyway I hope that this is pretty obviously a totally preposterous class analysis of U.S. society. Access to elite educational institutions in the United States is overwhelmingly skewed along class lines. Many of the most active people in GSOC went to schools like Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill as undergraduates. I went to Princeton. This doesn’t mean we aren’t workers or part of the working class, and I’m not even arguing that we’re less working class, whatever that would mean, but I would confidently bet that on the whole graduate students who teach at NYU are much more likely than the average worker to have grown up in favorable or even very favorable class circumstances.

Again, none of this has anything to do with the issue between Local 2110 and the NYU AWDU caucus, which concerns whether individuals who do not work under a union contract or pay dues can nevertheless be considered union members. Union membership isn’t a moral hierarchy between workers based on how “working class” they are or whether what they do is really work. It’s a legal and political status connected to collective bargaining between a union and an employer.

Unfortunately, the article does not limit itself to mischaracterizing this as some kind of psychological or metaphysical issue. It also resorts to vicious stereotypes about union workers, stating, “During the April meeting, some members of other units jeered and cursed at the graduate students, and one lost patience with the discussion, saying she had to get home, and asked for a vote to be called.”

These words paint a picture of the Joint Council of Local 2110 as an unruly, disorderly mob. I was pained to read them because, as someone who has attended Joint Council meetings for years, I have found them among the most consistently inspiring experiences of my life while in graduate school. Workers who may have access to fewer political “spaces” than do graduate students at NYU speak of the uplifting solidarity they find there. UAW Local 2110 members who attend Joint Council meetings are courageous, principled, and intelligent people who choose to dedicate their time to building and maintaining a strong union that has played a vital role in many national struggles including the fight for collective bargaining rights for graduate student workers. Before my NYU AWDU colleagues came along the vibe of these meetings was extremely supportive and positive. My NYU AWDU colleagues’ attempts to portray these individuals as union thugs is as morally reprehensible as their recent characterization of fellow graduate students as Zionist conspirators.

I attended the Joint Council meeting described in the sentence above. It was tense. One worker cursed at Chris Nickell, who had interrupted when someone else was speaking. That worker shouldn’t have done this, and the President of the Local who was chairing the meeting immediately told him to stop. Many workers were vocally annoyed by the amount of time the discussion was taking. The worker who “lost patience with the discussion” had a long commute home, and it was already almost eight o’clock at night when she called for the vote. There is nothing wrong with calling for a vote, as often happens in our own Assembly of Stewards meetings when discussion of a particular topic is taking too long.

On the other hand, my colleagues in the NYU AWDU caucus also came off as extremely condescending and adversarial to many Local 2110 members who attended the meeting. Workers seemed especially hurt and offended when the NYU AWDU caucus asked that the meeting be paused so that they could caucus among themselves, as if this were contract negotiations with an employer rather than a democratic decision-making process among workers in solidarity with one another. Members of the NYU AWDU caucus now routinely compare the democratically elected leadership of UAW Local 2110 to management. Of course workers whose dues and activism have been central to winning our collective bargaining rights were shocked and dismayed to be treated as the enemy.

Instead of expressing respect for her fellow union members, Carrera’s comments in the article add fuel to the fire. She states, and the article uncritically repeats, that a fall meeting “turned into an hour and a half of people standing and pointing and shouting at us.” I did not attend that meeting, and as someone who has been in the minority at many more union meetings than has Carrera I know that it doesn’t feel good. But I am getting a little tired of this narrative of graduate student victimhood at the hands of the big bad workers in Local 2110, and I’ve seen too many false accusations to lend much credence to this one.

Carrera alludes to “differences in role and population” between NYU graduate students and other workers in Local 2110. It’s probably pretty obvious what “population” means, but let’s just say it: many, sometimes a majority of the workers who attend a Local 2110 Joint Council meeting are Black, whereas to my knowledge no elected leader in GSOC is currently Black. I don’t see why this was any more relevant for Carrera to bring up in connection with a dispute about membership eligibility than Chris’s comparison about who is “more working class.” Carrera also states that the Joint Council meetings are “structured by the executive board for mass aggression against our unit.” I assure her that the negative responses of other Local 2110 members to her and her colleagues’ actions are very real and not something the Executive Board magically whipped up. The conjunction of Carrera’s comment about “population” with her comment characterizing the Local 2110 Joint Council as an aggressive, irrationally angry “mass” is disturbing to me.

Nickell, Carrera, and the rest of the NYU AWDU caucus know that their only leverage for when a majority of Joint Council delegates don’t accept the “reforms” they want to impose is to try to threaten the UAW’s organizing at other campuses, as they are explicitly doing every chance they get. I would have a different approach to strengthening the labor movement, but I also do not believe these vicious attacks will succeed in damaging the national movement to organize adjuncts, postdocs, and graduate student workers. They are sticks and stones, and their targets have survived far worse.

 

 

 

Unit Representative Statement

For years I have organized, strategized, and blogged as part of our union. I have collected hundreds of signatures on petitions, helped convince the Bargaining Committee not to leave stipends out of our contract, and argued that faculty should not intervene in internal union disputes. The NYU AWDU caucus consistently compares the democratically elected leadership of our larger union, UAW Local 2110, to management. By contrast, I believe that other workers in our union are our indispensable allies in fighting for justice. I will focus on signing up members and proactively investigating contractual issues, not picking new internal fights. I will work to renew our commitment to building leadership across the unit, demonstrating majority support for our demands, and filing timely and accurate grievances. I believe that consistency and logical rigor, not flashy rhetoric or activist self-identification, are the qualities that union leadership requires.

Vote for me because of, not in spite of gsoccommentary

Today, there will be an election for the summer staff positions in our union at 4:30 p.m. in the Judson Memorial Church. This election was supposed to take place in March since the contract requires that names be sent to the university by April 1, but it is being held now for reasons that are mysterious to me. The fact that we still have not sent the names to the university that were due the better part of two months ago is itself evidence of a certain level of neglect on the part of NYU AWDU leadership concerning basic priorities in collective bargaining during at least the past semester.

The GSOC Bylaws apparently state that all members, not only stewards, may come to the meeting where the Unit Representative election is taking place and vote. The fact that members may come and vote was announced to the membership. However, because there was no nomination deadline (other than the requirement that candidates announce themselves to the relatively new “gsocactivist” listserv sometime before the meeting itself), the announcement about the election at the meeting today did not contain the names of any candidates, and it was not even clear that the election would be contested. I participated in this dynamic by also myself waiting to see who if anyone my opponents would be before announcing my own candidacy, which I am doing today only hours before the meeting itself. Nevertheless, I find this process kind of strange and am not sure what exactly its outcome could be said to represent since members (other than those to whom candidates have directly reached out) will not have been able to decide beforehand whether or not to go to the meeting on the basis of who the candidates are or even whether the election is contested at all.

Under the GSOC bylaws, only stewards are allowed to run for the Unit Representative positions. I do not necessarily agree with this provision of the GSOC unit bylaws or accept that it is binding on the Local, but as a steward I am eligible to run. According to a recent e-mail, some have taken the position that recently elected stewards are also eligible to run. Of course, there is disagreement between the Local and the NYU AWDU caucus about who exactly those are. In any case, I do not accept that newly elected stewards should be eligible to run in a contested election under the GSOC unit bylaws for the simple reason that, had these elections occurred in March when they were supposed to according to our own bylaws, individuals not elected until this April would not have been eligible to run. It seems to me that the spirit of bylaws that state that a staff position is only open to current stewards is to require that individuals have spent some non-negligible amount of time as a steward before serving in the staff position. I have done this, and regardless of whether I personally agree that it should be a requirement, given that it is I do not think it would be fair to me if stewards who were just elected were allowed to run against me in a contested election for which they would not have been eligible had it occurred when it was supposed to. Of course, if there are not enough stewards who were not just elected who want to do it, we should open it more broadly, but such stewards including me should have priority. This issue will also apparently not be decided until the meeting itself where the election will take place.

Despite all these procedural issues, I am participating in this process both because I would like to serve in a staff position and because the meeting itself is an opportunity to demonstrate that I have some degree of support from other graduate students at NYU. In the event of a contested election, I am asking that anyone who wants me to be a Unit Representative vote for me and only me. If everyone who votes for me also votes for other candidates, I will lose.

I think I am well-qualified to serve in one of the staff positions because I have the most experience with GSOC of anyone who might run. I will be the only candidate whose experience spans the pre-contract, contract, and post-contract phases of GSOC. I am very proud of the countless hours of my life I have devoted to this union and to the national movement to organize adjuncts, postdocs, and graduate student workers.

Nevertheless, such claims are difficult to substantiate, whereas the aspect of my union work that has recently been most apparent is this blog. Although under ideal circumstances writing such a blog would have been far less important than organizing, and although I do have a strong record as an organizer, I wanted in the remainder of this post to argue that my blog has also played an important and positive role in our union’s democracy and that I am therefore a valuable and at this point necessary voice of dissent who should serve in one of the three staff positions.

My blog began by publicly pressuring the NYU AWDU majority caucus of the Bargaining Committee not to accept a contract that did not include stipends. This came after numerous meetings in which a “consensus” emerged that leaving stipends out might be all right if we couldn’t win high enough raises because at least then we wouldn’t be paying dues on them. Leaving stipends out of the contract would have set a terrible precedent for graduate worker unions at other universities, and it did not happen in part because of this blog.

On this blog I vociferously argued to create districts for the steward positions in order to incentivize caucuses to build leadership across the unit and not just in certain departments. The NYU AWDU leadership accepted a compromise from its most extreme position that there should be no such districts, and now there are. I believe that the existence of districts for stewards has to some extent succeeded in incentivizing caucuses to cultivate leadership outside of core departments in the humanities and social sciences and that this would not have happened without this blog.

Finally, my blog was central to refuting in a timely and conclusive manner the false and outrageous accusations of Zionist conspiracy against a number of my colleagues and the Local 2110 leadership. These claims were deeply destructive of our union and would have been even more so had they been allowed to grow in an environment where a more accurate picture wasn’t being presented.

Writing this blog has sometimes felt like the dirty job someone had to do. It was never what I wanted or expected from life, and it has been immensely difficult personally, but I look back on its successes so far with great pride. I ask you to vote for me not despite but in part because of my work here on gsoccommentary.

Response to Votes Committee Final Report

The Votes Committee has finally issued its final report. Phew! That took a really long time and a lot of pressure from me and other members who are furious about its conduct of the recent elections. Notably, the Votes Committee has only quietly posted the report on the GSOC website, so unless one checks that page every day one would not yet know that the report had been posted.

First, and most importantly, the Votes Committee dismisses the “accusations” that the Local’s election of candidates by acclamation reflects anything to do with candidates’ support or opposition to BDS. It also finger-wags about the Zionist conspiracy issue, though it leaves strategically unclear whether the Committee is scolding NYU AWDU (the people who actually claimed a Zionist conspiracy) or me and the GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine caucus (for noting that they made this outrageous claim). Scroll down to the next post if you are unsure whether NYU AWDU ever claimed that the elections by acclamation represented a Zionist conspiracy to “silence support for BDS.”

These are major victories. Do you believe for one second that the Votes Committee would have so distanced itself from its friends in the NYU AWDU caucus were it not for my blog and relentless pressure from numerous members? I don’t.

Nevertheless, the report is very lacking in other respects, including at least the following:

  1. It does not address the fact that the language in the notice of nomination concerning membership eligibility was changed dramatically from the final version reviewed by the Votes Committee to the version sent to the GSOC membership. This goes to the heart of the dispute about whose fault it was that members weren’t clear about the requirements. The fault rests with whoever in GSOC unilaterally changed the notice at the last minute.
  2. It does not address the fact that even in the version of the notice sent to the GSOC membership, the language on eligibility for Joint Council differs dramatically from that used for stewards, requiring that Joint Council candidates be “bargaining unit members in good standing” while stewards need only be “members eligible to work in the bargaining unit.” It is not plausible to state that someone who has never worked nor paid dues under the contract is a “bargaining unit member.” Thus, apart from the disagreement with the Local, the Votes Committee also did not follow the requirements announced in its own notice to the membership. Instead, it placed on the ballot names of numerous candidates who are ineligible because they have never worked under the contract or been dues-paying members of the union. The Votes Committee does not clarify in this report whether it used the same or different eligibility criteria for steward as for Joint Council despite my repeated requests that it do so. It appears to have used the same criteria despite the two dramatically different formulations.
  3. It does not adequately address the discrepancy between the number of vacancies announced for the GSAS Humanities and Social Sciences district (2) and the number of individuals announced as elected (3). C’mon folks, this really isn’t that hard. If you announce that there are two vacancies, you can’t then announce that three people are elected. Right? The Votes Committee says only that it became aware that Sean Larson was stepping down after the notice was sent out. It does not say whether or when it ever announced this additional vacancy to the membership. I do not believe that the membership learned about the additional vacancy until the moment that three candidates were announced as elected. I have no doubt that the NYU AWDU caucus was aware of the vacancy, hence its decision to run three candidates. But everyone should have known in advance how many vacancies there were, especially given that there were competitive slates. You can’t elect more candidates than there are announced vacancies!
  4. It does not address the Votes Committee’s open partisanship while the elections and referendum were ongoing. Shelly Ronen participated extensively in a highly misleading Electronic Intifada story, sharing the most specific details of the election planning with this partisan source. Of course, the “report” omits that little detail. I have since become aware that the Votes Committee may also have shared with NYU AWDU and pro-BDS candidates information about which individuals had already voted in the BDS referendum and which had not yet done so. This, of course, would also be an absolute violation.
  5. It does not address the fact that the final ballot was sent to members the day before the election and that the ballot announcement did not indicate how many vacant positions there were for each office.

What the report does do is attack me personally from the very first page. I have no doubt that the Votes Committee isn’t happy with me! And I wear that as a badge of honor. Still, I am the only Votes Committee member for whom it appears in the report whether I attended meetings or responded to emails. That also seems just a little partisan to me.

Anyway, the Votes Committee has two major accusations against me: that I ran for office while I was on the Votes Committee, and that I shared Votes Committee correspondence openly. As I have already stated, I did not and do not believe that the GSOC Votes Committee has any jurisdiction whatsoever over the Joint Council. I had thought that the Votes Committee itself settled this issue when it decided to put my name on the ballot for the invalid elections. If the Votes Committee believed me to be ineligible because I had been on the Votes Committee, it should not have put my name on the ballot. Elections in which names of ineligible candidates appear on the ballot are invalid. Anyone who argues that I am ineligible for Joint Council because I served on the Votes Committee is also making an argument against the legitimacy of the elections said Committee conducted. Since I believe these elections were invalid for very many other reasons, I indicated to the Votes Committee that it was a matter of the most complete indifference to me whether it put my name on the ballot or not.

I find the second accusation both baffling and staggeringly hypocritical. This is the first I have ever heard anyone suggest that the Votes Committee was doing its work secretly or confidentially. Other than selectively sharing information that would benefit specific candidates (which, as I say, I do believe the Votes Committee did), I can think of no good reason for such secrecy. Moreover, as I already indicated, Shelly Ronen shared extremely detailed elections correspondence with the Electronic Intifada while the election was ongoing while she was a Votes Committee member.

I assume the Votes Committee is referring to my post about the changes to the notice of nomination discussed above (entitled “A Tale of Two E-mails: the Smoking Gun on Membership Eligibility”). Imagine my situation! Students and faculty were repeating false and groundless accusations against the Local 2110 leadership. Some were calling into doubt the future of the UAW’s national strategy to organize in academia on this basis. Because of my service on the Votes Committee, I had access to information conclusively refuting many of these claims. Do I, for one second, regret my decision to publicize it here? HELL NO!

The Votes Committee can be as officious as it wants, but anyone who applies any level of scrutiny can see that this was an entirely illegitimate and indefensible process. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

P.S. One of the inaccuracies in the report that doesn’t concern the legitimacy of these elections but that does concern the issue of membership eligibility is the statement “Any graduate student who signed a card was permitted to vote in the vote to unionize on December 11, 2013.” This is simply untrue. In fact, there were two days of voting, December 10 and December 11, and only individuals working in the bargaining unit were allowed to vote. I remember that vividly as an organizer during that election, and in fact it is clear from the Neutrality and Election agreement still available on the GSOC website. For this reason, the 630 individuals who voted “yes” in that election represented an actual majority of the approximately 1,200 graduate employees eligible to vote. This is a very important point about that election, for which several members of the Votes Committee were around. It’s striking to see how little impression that particular election apparently made on them.

Yes, NYU AWDU Did Allege a Zionist Conspiracy

Last week, I wrote a message to GSOC’s discussion list pointing out that NYU AWDU’s false and groundless accusations about a Zionist conspiracy were incompatible with our union’s stated commitments to democracy and social justice. This message represented no one’s views but my own, and it has been met with deafening silence. But now, the NYU AWDU caucus has quietly changed the sentence in question from its first press release, and some members of that caucus are claiming that NYU AWDU never made any such allegation at all.

In its original first press release about the GSOC elections, the NYU AWDU caucus stated the following: “Notably, Local 2110 Executive Board disproportionately disqualified known supporters of the GSOC for BDS caucus and installed several leaders of the Zionist GSOC for Open Dialogue caucus as representatives…’I find it too much of a coincidence that AWDU and BDS supporters and advocates have been denied the chance to be voted for’…said Ziad Dallal”…

As I stated, I do not believe the authors of the press release are personally anti-Semitic. However, it is entirely appropriate to characterize these statements as malicious accusations of a Zionist conspiracy in keeping with the long history of such accusations for the following reasons:

  1. The statements were always totally groundless and they have turned out to be untrue. At the time it put out the press release, the NYU AWDU caucus had (or should have had) no way of knowing whether individuals with one affiliation or another had been “disproportionately” disqualified. It turns out that a greater proportion of anti-BDS than pro-BDS candidates were disqualified.
  2. The statements characterize the GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine caucus as “Zionist” despite the fact that it does not characterize itself that way. Not everyone who opposes BDS is a Zionist! Noam Chomsky is not a Zionist by any reasonable definition, yet he has criticized the BDS movement on tactical grounds and might well vote against BDS in a given situation (I do not know whether he has). To call the GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine caucus and its individual members “Zionist” is to attribute views to them that are not based on positions they themselves have taken.
  3. Ziad Dallal’s comments invite the reader to join him in speculation about the motivations of people who had already given a satisfactory alternative explanation for their actions. The Local 2110 Executive Board stated that candidates were considered eligible or not based on the criterion of having ever (that is, in either Fall 2015 or Spring 2016) been a dues-paying members of the union, which has nothing to do with BDS. There has never been a shred of evidence that this was untrue. The error resulting in Ziad’s own omission from the list of announced Joint Council delegates had already been corrected by the time this press release came out, yet it still characterizes him as “originally disqualified” without clarifying that this original error was corrected. To my knowledge, no one has alleged further errors of this sort. Conspiracy theories generally have to ignore more obvious and logical explanations for the phenomena for which they seek to account.
  4. The verb “installed” implies that this was a coordinated effort between the Local 2110 Executive Board and the “Zionist” GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine caucus despite the fact that there is, again, no evidence whatsoever that this was the case. Generally, people who are “installed” into office for some nefarious reason are aware of and somehow cooperate in that process. This statement therefore implies that the Local 2110 Executive Board and the GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine caucus worked together to put anti-BDS individuals in leadership positions and disenfranchise BDS supporters. That would be the definition of conspiracy! It’s never possible to prove a negative (another perennial reason conspiracy theories gain credence) but suffice it to say that it is wildly unlikely that the Local and a “Zionist” caucus would coordinate elections that “installed” more pro-BDS than anti-BDS candidates, left BDS supporters in an overwhelming majority of the Assembly of Stewards and Joint Council delegation, and did nothing whatsoever to prevent the scheduled BDS vote itself from taking place.

NYU AWDU did make a false and groundless accusation that the GSOC elections by acclamation constituted a Zionist conspiracy even if it did not use exactly that word. It owes an apology to everyone unfairly targeted by the statements discussed above, especially to the members of the GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine caucus who were elected to steward positions and to the President of UAW Local 2110.