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Published by Matthew Tinker

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Published by: Matthew Tinker on Nov 06, 2012
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October 27th “Envisioning Student Unionism” Notes 
MCs: Zoltan Gluck (CUNY Grad Center) and Izzy Nastasia (Brooklyn College)Co-facilitators: Alexi Shalom (Hunter), Denise Romero Franco (Baruch), Domingo Estevez(BMCC), Caitlin MacLaren (NYU), Conor Tomas Reed (CUNY Grad Center)Timekeepers: Jen Tang (CUNY Grad)Notetaker: Matthew Tinker (All in the Red) Attendees: (http://bit.ly/O27Attendees) Safe space practices/policies:1) Move aside, move forward2) (W)hy (Am) (I) (T)alking?3) Assume best intentions4) Attack ideas, not people5) Progressive stack6) Respect the f*ck out of people’s preferred gender pronouns**
Preferred Gender Pronouns are ways that people refer to themselves and prefer to be referred to as. It isimportant to not assume someone’s PGPs as it allows people to define themselves and not be addressedby terms based on someone else’s assumptions.
 Round of introductions: Name, PGP (preferred gender pronouns), organization/schools 
The (lengthier) introduction to event (that we didn’t have time for)
From the #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico City to the anti-austerity movement in Chileto the unlimited student strike in Quebec, student uprisings have been ubiquitous in 2012. Noweyes are on the United States as the missing piece of the student movement in the Americas.While we may be far from the kind of mass mobilizations of our neighbors, young people acrossthe country are experimenting with different kinds of organizational structures and tacticalapproaches to achieve structural change, not just single issue organizing campaigns. As Noam Titelman, the President of Confederation of Students of Chile(CONFECH)stated at the
Student Uprisings
panel at the CUNY Graduate Center on October 15th, “Ithink there are things that unite all, but I think it’s important to recognize the differences inthese realities.There are different realities that may have some common grounds. Our historydefines the moment we are living right now.” Our continuous fights against cuts to higher education, police profiling of communities of color and LGBTQI people, and the deportation of undocumented Americans are inextricably linked but too often we do not work together. Lookingto the future, the New York City student movement need echo Titelman’s call for a movementthat acknowledges all of these struggles as a part of a structural problem in order to transformour “beautiful, noble, naïve movement to a beautiful, noble, effective movement”. As NYC students, we look to Quebec and Chile as a models of how to mobilizearound austerity measures attacking our schools and other social services. However,notsince the 1990s have we seen mass student protests and building occupations at CUNY. Thetransformation of what had once been called the "free academy” (where state funding oncefully covered the cost of education for all students) has now eroded into a steadily inaccessible
opportunity. At the National Student Power Convergence convergence “International StudentUprising” panel, Emilie Joly, member of prominent Quebec broad-based student coalition:CLASSE, described how other Canadian provinces have responded to their student strike.Shaking a passionate finger, “Why are you striking? You have the lowest tuition inCanada!” she imitated, “...We have the lowest tuition in Canada BECAUSE WE STRIKE!”This sentiment is not unlike what CUNY student activists hear from private school students,administrators, and politicians. We have the lowest tuition in New York state and one of thelowest in the country because of our history of resistance. We cannot allow this historicalmemory to be taken away from us. At the panel at the convergence on “Student Unionism and Building Student Power inthe U.S.”, we asserted that if students in the United States hope to have the kind of impact onour universities that we witnessed in Quebec, we will need to first establish radical, federatedstudent unions here at home. These unions would be organizations capable of replacing our currently weak systems of student participation.Now, everybody is saying: that sounds great, but how do we actualize student unionismon individual campuses let alone across the entire country? To start, establishing departmentalassemblies where students of similar academic interests, who are connected by the universitybureaucracy of ‘majors’ can work together to build bottom-up structures of participation.Building a participatory democratic student union across New York City needs to happenfrom the bottom-up. Many argue that campus wide assemblies, similar to those at OccupyWall Street are enough to sustain student power--we know from experience that this is far fromthe truth. A couple of the “open mics” that we organized in the fall of 2011 were successful inbringing out over three hundred students but could never transition into active decision makingbodies for the entire campus. Questions coming out of the New York City student movement areactively mulling over the concept of student unionism; however, do not see the clear steps to getfrom
Many students from CUNY traveled up north and got advice from Quebecois studentsat the anglophone campus, Concordia University on how to approach departmental levelorganizing. For example, Brooklyn College student organizers are starting our own process of unionizing and hope to begin with a couple departments that we can devote our full attentionto. Having spent the last couple years building a relationship with our faculty union, theProfessional Staff Congress at CUNY, we already have connections with key faculty allies whoare willing and able to support us in our attempts to reach out to our peers. Our first step movingforward is establishing assemblies in few academic departments that can act as a frameworkto unionize the remaining departments. As we see it, the student leadership built in these initialdepartments can be used to leverage the university administration around increasing funding inbasic student services such as printing, library hours and subsidised textbooks.Questions moving forward are essential to keep our eyes on the prize when it comes tobuilding these viable structures of student participation. Our questions are not theoretical, theyare transparent about our insecurities addressing upcoming challenges. How do we engagethe business accounting and chemistry majors? How can we break through the heavy smogof neoliberalism that creates divides between our student body? How do our unionizing effortsrespond to conservative backlash? What the hell do we do with student government? What wemean by this is, does student government serve a purpose once a student union is established?
Is our goal to take over the student government or to abolish it? As a result of attacks on student activist groups by administrations and police, wewill are often being sucked into reactionary actions after the fact. Our campaigns cannot bedistracted by administrative efforts to squash our organizing (see: union busting). What isdifficult in building this is that we as students need to realize that this work is slow. We may notsee the fruits of our labor for a few years if we are incredibly organized. We might not even bestudents when student unionism becomes a reality in the U.S.The contemporary university is filled with students who are enrolling in higher edinstitutions in because a degree in order to ensure a better quality of life and a decent wage. It isfor this reason that we feel student unions are important. In order to protect the only way we seeourselves moving forward we need to build an organization that allows us to come together. Thequality of life that higher education promised U.S. students via the American Dream has alreadywithered away; however, we are being overburdened with mounting student loan debt and thestress of finding a real job after graduation.“Why have student unions?” mimicked Frank Levesque-Nicol, organizer with Quebec’sstudent association, CLASSE. “Students can be in solidarity with others but few will be insolidarity with students. Because no one else will defend student rights otherwise!”
MCs pass on activity to Conor: This event is a continuation of many previous conversationsabout what the state of NYC student organizing is and what student unionism could look likein NYC and the US. This is not an attempt to create an NYC Student Union in one meetingbut part of a longer term conversation and process. To start off, we’ll have a large groupdiscussion to popcorn the issues the issues facing students in NYC today as well as the currentstate of our bases and organizing: Conor Tomas Reed poses two questions on what the issues that students and youth arefocused on and faced with on campuses in NYC today:What do our bases look like? What are the challenges and strengths of current organizingefforts? 
CUNY Pathways is a major overhaul of how the curricula is organized. It will lead to agutting of programs such as Africana, women, and queer studies. The shift from a 4-credit to 3-credit system will negatively affect adjuncts. Pathways was decided upon anappointed task force and not presented to faculty and student bodies in a democraticmanner. Pathways is characterized by lack of transparency.Student governments are not representative of student bodies and not responsive tostudents’ needs.Issue of access to space and over-programming of certain spaces.Change in admissions process at CUNY Grad Center will lead to fewer admissions andnegatively impact diversity of the student population at the Grad Center.There is no oversight of the NYPD’s targeting of students of color and generalsurveillance practices on CUNY campuses, referenced in particular at Hunter.

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