Answers to Some Likely Questions
What is GSOC?
“GSOC” stands for “Graduate Student Organizing Committee” and is the union of graduate TA’s and RA’s at NYU. The first GSOC contract negotiated in 2002 increased stipends 38%; whether we know it or not, many of us were able to afford pursuing a graduate degree at NYU because of increases and additional benefits first introduced in that historic contract.
In 2005, NYU withdrew recognition from GSOC after the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate employees are “apprentices” and not “workers” and therefore do not have the legal right to bargain collectively. For the next eight years, the UAW International continued to support the campaign with millions of dollars in resources. Graduate student activists worked with UAW organizers to demonstrate majority support for the union semester after semester. In fall 2013, NYU administration responded to these years of consistent pressure by agreeing to a neutral union election. Graduate employees at NYU overwhelmingly voted to join the UAW, 630-10. We have been in contract negotiations with NYU for over a year to address issues including fair wages, health care, family benefits, and tuition remission.
What is the UAW?
“UAW” historically stood for “United Auto Workers” and is one of the largest unions in the United States with about 400,000 members. Now, UAW officially stands for “United Auto, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implementation Workers.” Soon, the “A” may also stand for “academic,” since over 50,000 graduate students, postdocs, and adjuncts are organized with the UAW! Although it is of course possible to form an isolated union, there are many advantages to cooperation with the UAW: the strategic knowledge of experienced leaders, financial resources including the largest strike fund of any international union, and the political power of a large national institution. Most importantly, our cooperation with the UAW means that academic workers are standing in solidarity with the broader labor movement.
What is Local 2110?
Local 2110 is a local union within the UAW comprised of technical, office, and professional workers in Manhattan. NYU GSOC is one bargaining unit within local 2110. Besides NYU, shops represented by local 2110 include Harper’s magazine, MoMA, the ACLU, and clerical workers at Columbia and Barnard. Recently graduate employees at Columbia have announced majority support for a union to be organized with local 2110. Maida Rosenstein, the president of local 2110, and Julie Kushner, the regional director of UAW Region 9A (most of the Northeast and Puerto Rico) worked with NYU GSOC activists to negotiate the historic first contract in 2002, which raised stipends 38%.
What is AWDU?
“AWDU” stands for “Academic Workers for a Democratic Union.” It is a self-proclaimed “reform” caucus that currently holds a majority of elected positions in two graduate employee unions within the UAW, the University of California system and NYU. The AWDU caucus in the University of California system gained power in 2011 and has already been publicly criticized for negotiating the first concessionary contract in the union’s history, hiding concessions from the membership, and allowing membership participation as well as the union’s financial resources to plummet to historic lows:
The AWDU caucus at NYU claims to be independent from the AWDU caucus in the UC system, although they have the same name and many of their public manifestos prior to September’s Bargaining Committee elections cited the AWDU caucus in the UC system as a good model to imitate. Since September 17, 2014, NYU AWDU has been the majority caucus in elected positions in GSOC. This site criticizes NYU AWDU’s leadership.
Is AWDU the union?
AWDU is a caucus within the union; during the spring semester of 2014 leaders who sided with what later became NYU AWDU were in the minority of elected positions on the Bargaining Committee, and in the fall they were in the majority as they continue to be now in elected positions since our contract. Thus AWDU is to the elected leadership of the union as the Republican Party is to the elected leadership of the United States government; some members of GSOC-UAW Local 2110 belong to the AWDU caucus and others do not.
Why is this site necessary?
Our decisions about strategy and tactics have serious consequences for our members, for local 2110, and for the future of the academic labor movement.
Believe me, it is impossible to look forward to the consequences of publicly criticizing the choices AWDU leaders have made since taking control over our union. When I ran against AWDU in September’s Bargaining Committee elections, I was treated more unkindly than I have ever been treated by any group of people in my life. Personal e-mails told me I was “brainwashed” and asked me to “kindly refrain from invoking any Marxist or political or intellectual solidarities with me”; public manifestos accused me of “heresy” and “violence” and represented me as a hapless tool of the UAW International. NYU AWDU also circulates its slanderous materials among faculty, our managers, in a flagrant violationf of the principle of employer neutrality in internal union affairs.
Many other members have totally abandoned the union as a result of such scorched-Earth tactics. I believe that internal dissent can be healthy and productive, and I would like to do what I can to make our union safer for democracy.
Isn’t this a negative campaign?
Every argument worthy of the name is both an argument for something and an argument against something; every campaign is always both positive and negative. Our contract campaign was positive insofar as it sought to improve the lives of hundreds of graduate employees through fair wages, health care, family benefits, and tuition remission, but it was also “negative” in that it criticized the injustice of current arrangements. NYU AWDU’s persistent campaign against “UAW staff” has from the beginning had a strong “negative” component. This site is critical of NYU AWDU, but it also articulates strong positive values: commitment to majoritarian tactics as the source of a union’s strength, attentiveness to bargaining and organizing strategy, active encouragement of participation in the union by as broad a range of members as possible, and constructive and respectful collaboration with elected leaders in the broader labor movement.
I do not engage in personal attacks on this site; however I do cite the words of individual NYU AWDU Bargaining Committee members and their supporters as evidence in favor of my characterizations of NYU AWDU as a whole. Supporters of NYU AWDU have always done this themselves, except that they tended to cast aspersions that were as vague as possible in order to paint all their perceived enemies with the same brush. (For example, in a summer message to the GSOC-discussion listserv Christy Thornton quoted certain views as coming from someone from “UAW staff” and later claimed that they were held by all staff members.) In an attempt to be fairer to my colleagues than they have been to me, I have therefore identified by name the speakers of many quotes and also provided as specific information as I could about when and in what context a statement was made. I in no way claim that all NYU AWDU supporters hold the views I criticize on this site. However I must say that in every single instance on this site in which an NYU AWDU elected leader or supporter is quoted, to my knowledge no other NYU AWDU leader or supporter then or subsequently expressed the slightest disagreement either with the views expressed or with the manner of expressing them.
Who are you?
I am Jacob Denz, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in the department of German and long-time GSOC activist. Since becoming involved with the union in fall 2012 I have spoken to hundreds of graduate workers on both NYU campuses to learn about working conditions and encourage support for GSOC campaigns. I have also been sporadically employed by the UAW International as a part-time organizer. NYU AWDU supporters will claim that this disqualifies me from making legitimate criticisms of their strategies, tactics, and rhetoric; I disagree. Many members of NYU AWDU have also served in staff positions.
I also ran and lost in both Bargaining Committee elections. NYU AWDU supporters will likely claim in response to this site that their margin of victory in September’s elections proves that my views are discredited. But I’m not so sure most members who voted in those elections would recognize the AWDU of the campaign-committed to militancy, democracy, and solidarity with the larger labor movement-in the policies that AWDU leaders have actually pursued or the spirit in which they’ve pursued them.
I take responsibility for the entire content of this site. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me.