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 forward 2) (W)hy (Am) (I) (T)alking? 3) Assume best intentions 4) Attack ideas, not people 5) Progressive stack 6) 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 is
important to not assume someone’s PGPs as it allows people to define themselves and not be addressed by 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 Chile to the unlimited student strike in Quebec, student uprisings have been ubiquitous in 2012. Now eyes 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 across the country are experimenting with different kinds of organizational structures and tactical approaches 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, “I think there are things that unite all, but I think it’s important to recognize the differences in these realities.There are different realities that may have some common grounds. Our history defines 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. Looking to the future, the New York City student movement need echo Titelman’s call for a movement that acknowledges all of these struggles as a part of a structural problem in order to transform our “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 mobilize around austerity measures attacking our schools and other social services. However, not since the 1990s have we seen mass student protests and building occupations at CUNY. The transformation of what had once been called the "free academy” (where state funding once fully covered the cost of education for all students) has now eroded into a steadily inaccessible
opportunity. At the National Student Power Convergence convergence “International Student Uprising” 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 in Canada!” 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 the lowest in the country because of our history of resistance. We cannot allow this historical memory to be taken away from us. At the panel at the convergence on “Student Unionism and Building Student Power in the U.S.”, we asserted that if students in the United States hope to have the kind of impact on our universities that we witnessed in Quebec, we will need to first establish radical, federated student 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 unionism on individual campuses let alone across the entire country? To start, establishing departmental assemblies where students of similar academic interests, who are connected by the university bureaucracy of ‘majors’ can work together to build bottom-up structures of participation. Building a participatory democratic student union across New York City needs to happen from the bottom-up. Many argue that campus wide assemblies, similar to those at Occupy Wall Street are enough to sustain student power--we know from experience that this is far from the truth. A couple of the “open mics” that we organized in the fall of 2011 were successful in bringing out over three hundred students but could never transition into active decision making bodies for the entire campus. Questions coming out of the New York City student movement are actively mulling over the concept of student unionism; however, do not see the clear steps to get from here to there. Many students from CUNY traveled up north and got advice from Quebecois students at the anglophone campus, Concordia University on how to approach departmental level organizing. 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 attention to. Having spent the last couple years building a relationship with our faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, we already have connections with key faculty allies who are willing and able to support us in our attempts to reach out to our peers. Our first step moving forward is establishing assemblies in few academic departments that can act as a framework to unionize the remaining departments. As we see it, the student leadership built in these initial departments can be used to leverage the university administration around increasing funding in basic 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 to building these viable structures of student participation. Our questions are not theoretical, they are transparent about our insecurities addressing upcoming challenges. How do we engage the business accounting and chemistry majors? How can we break through the heavy smog of neoliberalism that creates divides between our student body? How do our unionizing efforts respond to conservative backlash? What the hell do we do with student government? What we mean 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, we will are often being sucked into reactionary actions after the fact. Our campaigns cannot be distracted by administrative efforts to squash our organizing (see: union busting). What is difficult in building this is that we as students need to realize that this work is slow. We may not see the fruits of our labor for a few years if we are incredibly organized. We might not even be students when student unionism becomes a reality in the U.S. The contemporary university is filled with students who are enrolling in higher ed institutions in because a degree in order to ensure a better quality of life and a decent wage. It is for this reason that we feel student unions are important. In order to protect the only way we see ourselves moving forward we need to build an organization that allows us to come together. The quality of life that higher education promised U.S. students via the American Dream has already withered away; however, we are being overburdened with mounting student loan debt and the stress of finding a real job after graduation. “Why have student unions?” mimicked Frank Levesque-Nicol, organizer with Quebec’s student association, CLASSE. “Students can be in solidarity with others but few will be in solidarity with students. Because no one else will defend student rights otherwise!” ACTIVITY 1: MCs pass on activity to Conor: This event is a continuation of many previous conversations about what the state of NYC student organizing is and what student unionism could look like in NYC and the US. This is not an attempt to create an NYC Student Union in one meeting but part of a longer term conversation and process. To start off, we’ll have a large group discussion to popcorn the issues the issues facing students in NYC today as well as the current state of our bases and organizing: Conor Tomas Reed poses two questions on what the issues that students and youth are focused on and faced with on campuses in NYC today: What do our bases look like? What are the challenges and strengths of current organizing efforts? ISSUES: ● CUNY Pathways is a major overhaul of how the curricula is organized. It will lead to a gutting of programs such as Africana, women, and queer studies. The shift from a 4credit to 3-credit system will negatively affect adjuncts. Pathways was decided upon an appointed task force and not presented to faculty and student bodies in a democratic manner. Pathways is characterized by lack of transparency. ● Student governments are not representative of student bodies and not responsive to students’ 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 and negatively impact diversity of the student population at the Grad Center. ● There is no oversight of the NYPD’s targeting of students of color and general surveillance practices on CUNY campuses, referenced in particular at Hunter.
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At Brooklyn College, there is a lack of health services for LGBTQ students. Also, at Hunter and generally at CUNY campuses, there is limited or no reliable access to needed health services. Spying on Muslim students by NYPD. Adjunctivication of academic labor has led to increased precarity for faculty who are increasingly overworked. At Brooklyn College, the Board of Trustees has removed the cap on the president and the board’s salaries, which is leading to significant increase in administrative expenses at a time of rising tuition fees for students. At public universities, tuition hikes are an overriding concern, while at private universities, rising levels of debt are a primary pain point. At Hunter, there’s only one location on campus for printing and scanning. At Hunter, issue of bureaucratic red tape is a constant hurdle to be confronted. CUNY students don’t receive any discounted fares from the MTA. This is problematic as many students can’t afford to pay the rent in spaces in their campuses and must use transit to get to school. This could be a point of mobilization for students and solidarity with labor and communities, considering that fares will be raised again in March 2013. Focus on local issues is important but we shouldn’t lose sight of global factors or a critical analysis of capitalism which connects our struggles with those across the world. Generally, there is a lack of basic training for budding student organizers and limited understanding of what a base is and how it should function. A base shouldn’t just be a safe space for a small number of like-minded people to gather. It’s about the numbers of people across the campus that you can mobilize around certain issues. We complain too much about the problems and don’t take enough action or initiative. If we were out doing things that positively affected students, they would recognize and we would be able to take over the student governments easily. We need to take advantage of potential alliances we could benefit from immediately. Example: Each professor at CUNY is allowed to print 500 pages free a day. If we connected with a few sympathetic faculty, this would resolve our printing needs. Student governments across the board are shallow representative but lots of resources available. City issues are student issues: profiling and brutality, food insecurity, debt, employment, transportation/infrastructure. Thousands of student for NYC high schools enter CUNY each year. Connections should be developed. Workload of students both internal to the campus and outside. Precarious workers No student spaces
BASES: General: ● collaboration across schools and campuses ● relationships with faculty for resources
same people being mobilized/lack of diversity
New School: ● Fragmentation of our groups based on ideology ● New social justice center which is sympathetic and willing to allocate resources. ● New disorientation team is producing great material and pursuing creative ways to engage students ● faculty solidarity and alliances ● faculty connections growing and strengthening ● precarious work assemblies Hunter Students Rising ● is rebuilding base ● DREAM TEAM, SJP, etc other clubs and faculty collaborating to build stronger base NYU: ● ● ● ● ●
Campaigns on labor solidarity divestment campaign racial profiling by security gentrification/expansion campaigns graduate student union
Brooklyn College ● base erosion due to burn out, in part due to trauma caused by abuse suffered at the hands of the administration and campus security. ● base is predominately women, trans* and queer people--clearly, a need to expand base ● in need of formal organizing training ● beginning unionization campaign in order to expand base via focusing on 5 departments and delegating our organizers to specific departments (7 “department organizers” positions) ● club collaborations in order to build progressive student coalition to take over our student government BMCC Students United: ● took over student government ● building a base on a community college using a racial justice framework ACTIVITY 2:
-MCs count off attendees into groups and designate spots to sit in different parts of the room according to the readings for an activity which compares student union models around the western hemisphere: 1) U.S. (Facilitated by Conor Tomas from CUNY Grad) - Toward a New Student Unionism http://castudentunion.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/toward-a-student-unionism-jasperconner/
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Goals of student unionism: Taking education out of the market Community control of education Important to develop capacity of the student union to mobilize its base Creating collective ownership of the union Multi-faceted unionizing / multi-issue organizing (funding, student government, etc.) Federation model: Department union / College union / student union “Re-organized student government doesn’t equal a student union” Crucial to ask: What is specific to NYC and what resources do we have for these models? How do you resist budget cuts? Through political organizing How do we deal with factionalization within student unions? Possibly through allowing flexibility and thinking critically about the possibilities. Coordinating committees working collectively with other sectors with representatives What are some successful NYC models for organizing? We should look back and know the history. How can we move student bodies from where they’re at to a collective movement for free education How can we relate to the broader society with a common understanding to synchronize? This is critical for the longevity of the movement & ultimate goals Foundation building: Student movements are a part of a larger political struggle.
2) Quebec (Facilitated by Zoltan from CUNY Grad) - Snapshots of a Student Movement http://recomposition.info/2012/05/27/snapshots-of-the-student-movement-in-montreal/ ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● CLASSE functioned as an umbrella coalition which comprised of the radical federation ASSE along with other unions who decided to take part in the strike. The assemblies function through direct democracy (in contrast to the Chilean model which combines direct and representative democracy) CLASSE developed a systemic analysis of the issues which they confronted. They retained an anti-capitalist framework. The student movement built solidarity and cultivated a solid relationship with the general population CLASSE was able to maintain a structure that allows people to see / meet one another in and through the process Picket-line tactics to encourage the strike A floor (minimum of persons as a “floor” for starting an action) was used before declaring srike “Horizontal discipline” - generated through trust in the assembly / buy-in from large swathes of the student body. How they define a union: “more of a union (unity) than labor unions” Diversity of tactics Organizations were allowed to keep their own identities while being part of ASSE. The focus is on maintaining autonomy while valuing discipline and solidarity.
3) Chile (Facilitated by Denise from Baruch College) - http:// castudentunion.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/chile-building-the-student-union-at-thedepartment-level/ ● ● ● Synchronicity between public / private Context of the way they organize In Chile, private schools are poorly regarded. They can be started by any entity with the funds in order to profit off students. There are more students at private schools, largely for lower class backgrounds. They are not as organized as students at the public universities, which are higher quality institutions. At the public universities, they organize by department, rather than by club or group. In 2010, in Chile, there was low involvement and fragmentation of student activists. By 2012, there had been a stark increase in student involvement. In part, this increase was in part catalyzed by the student / societal response to the massive earthquake. Also, there was mass mobilization following the enactment of a regressive neoliberal law. Pinochet instituted numerous neoliberal laws. The legacy of the dictator has outlived the collapse of over military rule. Generally, there is no talk of race or gender within the Chilean student movement However, they do have a national analysis and a common project. How to move towards total inclusion of all students? How to build structures where involvement won’t end after students graduate? When we organize around small struggles, mobilization is low, but if we unite around large issues, there’s potential for high mobilization. In the US, power seems more distributed and opaque. Can we identify specific targets / laws to mobilize around?
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Instructions: Give the groups 30 minutes to read and discuss (make sure folks delegate note takers and somebody to give -- use progressive choices in choosing these reps) -MCs bring people back together to the big group for report-backs for 15-20 mins. (TAKE A 10 MINUTE CIGARETTE BREAK) ACTIVITY 3: MCs transition into the next activity by doing another count-off (maybe a jumping jacks to get the blood flowing).Instructions: Give the groups 30 minutes to read and discuss (Facilitators will ensure that each group delegates note takers and somebody to give -- use progressive choices in choosing these reps) 1. (Facilitated by Caitlin from NYU) How can private schools work with public schools? What steps do private schools need to take? What steps do public schools need to take (Bundy Grants, etc.) Group generated answers: ● Given the division, how and why should we organize together in NYC?
Private schools have resources and shared experiences. We’re stronger when we’re united Our issues are interconnected. We operate in similar contexts but with unique situations for each school. What are some of the things that hold us back? Typically, tuition hikes are more of a focus at public universities while students at private universities are more stressed by debt. However, these issues are interrelated. Considering the sharp increases in tuition at many private universities and the burgeoning debt burdens for public university students, there is space for collaboration. Time! Many at public schools work and have little time to organize. Tuition generated budgets vs. state budgets ⇢ More power for private school students, but public schools are moving in this direction. Private schools (as well as state) perpetuate privilege. Due in part to the isolated nature of the campuses, there is not much interest in justice or radicality and even less in the larger political and social problems. Concern revolves more around cultural issues. Race and class! Varying compositions at private and public. Academic calendars are different Spatial issues: schools spread out, tend to have all meetings in Manhattan trust issues How can we overcome these barriers? Strategies for Problem Solving: Private schools tend to be more insular. It might be useful to establish an intra-private university unity. Possibly a consortium of resources? Make time to discuss issues of race/class/gender/power/privilege upfront and constantly, rather than letting things simmer under the surface Hold conversations / regular meetings to cooridnate around common goals Coordinated but decentralized actions. Rotate where meetings are held Organize around issues that affect all of us: expanding a NYC consortium, student metro passes, etc. Develop a collective analysis of issues.
2. (Facilitated by Domingo from BMCC) What are the goals for our movement: big G goals small G goals? Group generated answers: Little Goals: ● Abolish the Board of Trustees/Regents (administration) ● Develop/organize campuses ● Raise consciousness/critical thinking ● Develop a model of organizing ● Build dual power with student government ● Develop ties with adjuncts/faculty ● Create educational resources at the grassroots level Big Goals:
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Free public higher education Democratic boards of administration Statewide student union Diversify student population
3. (Facilitated by Alexi from Hunter) How can student unionism relate to student governments? Collaboration? Confrontation? Reducing student gov to party planning? Group generated answers: Student government comments/issues: ■ They are often cliquey. ■ New roles within student government is not the answer, but political movement / coalition building might be. ■ Student governments already don't exercise power, so there is a vacuum that student unions could fill. ■ Progressive club coalitions could run to take over student government, since that is who student government usually controls. ■ It's good not to worry about the enormous amount of funds student government has. We can fundraise on our own, or worry about splitting those funds later. ■ Student governments should be relegated to control aspects of student life like parties, etc. Student unions should be centers of mobilization. ■ Where does the money go? ● Student government has access to funding! What to do with this? Access to resources as well. ● Split the money between USG & student body / union. ● Insertions of unions into USG. ■ What about departmental organizing of student government? ● Increased dialogue between students / departments & USG -- Student Union spokespeople. ● In terms of power, do we go to administration or student government? ● Invite members of USG consistently to activist events / meetings. Have empty chairs for them if they don’t show. New School Disorientation team has done this. ● Challenge student governments to debates! ● Consider on the round department discussions of issues ● Department organization -> large townhalls [(CL)ASSE] ■ Creation of long-term investment in student unionism ■ Focusing on resources risks creating friction between students as opposed to focusing on bigger / systemic issues. ● Student union fundriaising drives. ■ Hunter College - SLAM - (90s) ● (Now) No body to actually represent students. Student government body is the organization that mediates between faculty and students only. ● USG institutionalized club council cutting off grassroots organizing base ■ New School / NSSR (New School for Social Research) ● Department forums within each division ● Graduation faculty senate - apolitical and powerless ● University student senate - cliquish, non-representative
CUNY Grad Center ● doctoral students council - increasingly radical, carrying out occupation of student government ● Representatives from each department are tempid (sic). Disconnect with the council? ● Graduate Center General Assembly - “Program student associations are using direct democracy approach ● They are often cliquey.
4. (Facilitated by Izzy from Brooklyn College) Departmental organizing vs. Club organizing. How can they complement each other? Do we need to elevate one above the other? Group generated answers: Use departmental organizing to build collective bargaining like old school labor unions (dual power/counter power style) and use club organizing to build progressive student coalitions to run slates and take over student government Our approach to departments and clubs doesn’t have to be either/or. We can act on both fronts simultaneously. Creativity and flexibility at these early stages is key. Clubs already have internal structure and focus on particular issues. Possible Approach to club organizing: Establish a coalition of leftleaning groups and individuals with shared values (ex: equity) and eventually process. A broad enough coalition of left/progressive groups could run and take over student government. Again, this could happen simultaneously with departmental organizing which would have focus on the administration and issues like control of curriculum. Focus less on clubs, focus more on departments. There’s an issue of representation in clubs. Most are not all-inclusive while an individual can be a member of multiple clubs. The advantage of functioning departmental unions is that all individuals in the department have a say. There is the concern about the fact that many people don’t choose majors until junior year. At Concordia, an anglo-Quebec campus, this was offset by allowing students who took particular classes, like SOC100, to be represented by the departmental union. For tactics like a strike, departmental organizing is critical for practical “insider” knowledge (like class times and location) and for shutting down classes by department. Posed as a question: What would it look like to begin forming a citywide federation of particular politicized / organized departments (and groups?) at various universities? This could be an interim structure that would facilitate the flow of information and allow for meaningful cross-campus solidarity and mobilizations.
Next steps and conclusions: Important upcoming dates: ● ● ● November 13 - MTA Hearing on Fare Hike at Baruch November 14-22 - International Student Movement Global Week of Action November 19 - CUNY Board of Trustees Meeting
1) Go back to our bases and introduce the idea of “Student Unionism” to our bases, grow our bases and get buy-in from our bases on the idea of a city-wide student unionism 2) Do outreach for next meeting on Student Unionism 2) Hold our next meeting on November 10th at Ya-Ya Network office space from 2pm-5pm. Sharmin and Sara will be MCing! 3) Volunteer to be apart of the facilitation team for the November 10th meeting--email: Isabelle.firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer. 4) Combine next meeting with training on Organizing 101, Coalition-Building, Facilitating Training and Base-Building
Other resources on student unionism: http://www.alternet.org/story/155438/ toward_a_more_perfect_student_unionism%3A_lessons_from_the_maple_spring http://www.thenation.com/blog/169848/building-student-movement-us http://occupytheory.org/read/radical-education-nation http://www.thenation.com/blog/169378/why-dont-american-students-strike#
Contemporary voices on the subject of Student Unionism in the United States can be read in the "Anthology of writing on Student Unionism": http://bit.ly/StudentUnionism