Thursday, November 5, 2015

Taking a Bust with the PSC. Civil Disobedience for a New Contract.

 Ron Hayduk , the PSC and this author, fighting through time. Photo Erik McGregor

This writer under arrest. Photo by Mery Diaz.
I have always loved the International Workers of the World and their adage, an injury to one is an injury to all.  They called for “One Big Union” to support all workers and suggested we used direct action to get it. “Direct Action Gets the Goods,” they declared.

Six years without a contract, the PSC union leadership and rank and file have come to call for direct action to get a new contract.   

“Six years without a raise, six years of erosion of competitiveness and conditions at CUNY, is intolerable—especially in one of the richest cities in the world. If Chancellor Milliken will not defend CUNY, we will,” notes President Barbara Bowen, in her report on Planned Strike Authorization Vote  “The union has used every legal means at its disposal to achieve a fair contract—we have held scores of negotiating sessions, we have met privately with CUNY management, we have advocated in Albany and City Hall, we have testified at public hearings, we have run more than 600 radio ads, and we have engaged in protest actions in the boardroom, on the campuses and in the streets. Chancellor Milliken has still not delivered.”

But Unions are also part of an effort to battle for fair wages, which support education and a stronger public commons for all.  If you want us to have a middle class in this country, unions are a vital ingredient.   My friend Kim Fraczek shared a Fight for $15's photo on facebook the other day.


Raising some very good points about universities. #‎FightFor15
The point, of course, is that at their best unions can support all workers and students. They are a tool against inequality.  For our purposes, they can push back against the assault on higher education.
Over the last few weeks, the PSC has worked to amplify its campaign for a contract, first with a  Wake Up Rally at the Chancellor’s house pushing him to move on the new contract. 

The next step in the campaign was a disruptive action.   As Barbara Bowen explained.

Dear PSC Member,

The union promised to escalate our campaign until we win a fair contract-we cannot stop now.

There is still no offer on the table, despite the increased attention our contract has received in Albany, City Hall and CUNY's corporate offices as a result of our October 1st demonstration and the announcement of a strike authorization vote. We need to turn up the heat again.

The schedule of future bargaining sessions has been confirmed, and our next session is on Wednesday of next week-November 4. 
Come to show your support for the PSC bargaining team and demand a fair economic offer: Wednesday, November 4, from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at CUNY's central office, 205 East 42nd Street. After six years without a raise, we've heard enough promises. We demand a fair economic offer now!

Close to a thousand PSC members came out early in the morning for our October 1st protest. We have less time to plan for this demonstration, but we need just as much support. I am asking each of you to rethink your schedule and make it a priority to be there.

November 4 is also the date the union announced in advance for a mass disruptive action. Scores of PSC members have been training this fall to participate in non-violent disruptive protest, ready to act if needed. Those members are prepared to participate on November 4 in a planned, non-violent action that will risk arrest. They need your support and your witness as they engage in an action that will convey what is at stake for us, our students and the people of New York in the failure to fund our contract.

Please come to the rally on 
November 4 to support the bargaining team and your colleagues who will risk arrest. The rally itself will be a legal action, and we expect to have a permit. Only those who have trained in non-violent protest with the PSC will be involved in the disruptive action. You do not risk arrest by attending the rally, being loud and strong, and working with our marshals to maintain a safe and powerful demonstration.

CUNY management's failure to produce an economic offer has already begun to damage the quality of education for CUNY students. The failure to resolve our contract is a failure to invest in the college education of working people, people of color and the poor in this city. On 
November 4 we will stand up for our right to earn decent pay for the important work we do. By standing up for ourselves, we also take a stand for racial and educational justice.

Once you have decided to be there, send the flyer to two co-workers and ask them to come with you. We will triple our numbers if we each bring two colleagues. On Wednesday, November 4, from 4:00-6:00 p.m., stand up for what you need; stand up for what you believe.

In solidarity,
Barbara Bowen
President, PSC/CUNY

So yesterday,  I joined a few hundred other colleagues, some former professors, others long term colleagues and new friends, outside of CUNY headquarters on 42nd street. We had all taken part in direct action training. Hopefully, the union makes more and more use of direct action, so it feels like a movement, not a bureaucracy.  Direct action to get the goods.

With a street full of supporters, almost sixty of us were there to get arrested.  The PSC bargaining team had  finished another fruitless bargaining session, with little to show for it. 

“I am here because CUNY is a public good,” noted Ron Hayduk, a long time organizer with the PSC.  “I am a product of it. And I hope it will be around.”

“I have been part of CUNY forever,” noted a woman from the English department at Brooklyn college, the campus which brought over a quarter of the arrestees.

My campus, City Tech, had three arrestees.  Hopefully more will join in the future.  Our big union is only as good as its acts active members.  That meant a lot yesterday.  In the future, hopefully, we can continue the organizing, escalating the campaign so the students who are coping with tuition increases and larger class sizes and other faculty and staff see they can be a part of this movement.

Waiting for things to get started, Ron recalled the 1995 student actions at CUNYwhen 30,000 joined the action to beat back tuition increases and a turn toward neoliberal urbanism.

We’ve worked together for years on projects, including as part of the Lower East Side Collective, as writing partners, dads, and now the PSC. 

Friendship extends through this model of solidarity. For Hayduk, such practices involve, “the dialectical interplay among key individuals engaged  in activism through friendships – the magical elixir of sustainable movement making.” (That was actually part of the blurb he wrote for my new book, Rebel Friendships). That is the feeling one gets locked arm in arm  to take solutions into our own hands create solutions. 

Hoards of faculty members, staff, and students cheered as we were arrested after the afternoon’s useless round of negotiating.  We’d later hear that we were being offered six percent from negotiators, not even close to matching the 9 percent cost of living increases over the last six years.

The police van was hot and we ended up sitting there for almost two hours between 42nd street and Central Booking, where we sat and sat.

Standing at central booking, I talked with one of the police, who was upset about the deal the NYPD received on their contract after binding arbitration.   “It sucks,” he explained, suggesting Pat Lynch's days may be numbered, after his most recent gambit.  The policeman went on to describe a litany of the difficulties of being a policeman, low pay, management which is often manipulative, and a public which rarely seems to acknowledge the good things police did, despite the risks they face.  He showed me a picture of his kids, wishing he was at home with them, doing homework.

“I lost all my seniority after this latest move,” he confessed.  “That was a bait and switch.”  The police seemed genuinely supportive of our cause.

At the holding cell, I recalled being there after the Matthew Shepard political funeral 17 earlier.
The cells rarely change much.

“How are you holding up?” I asked one of the organizers, from another union, who had taken a bust with us. 

“Great.  I could be here all night, as long as the cuffs are off.”

My shoulders and arms ached after the long ride with the cuffs off.

“But think of what it must be like for those not going in for a simple political bust,” noted Barbara  later on.  “Think of Freddie Gray and his rough ride.”  He was killed when put in handcuffs in a police van earlier this, his spinal severed, as they drove him to the station.

There were stickers from past busts.  Ron showed me several from actions he had been part of.
Costas and I talked about alienation and the police, now on overtime.  They seemed to be milling around, bored, killing time, filling out paperwork, ordering food.  The smell of fried chicken and pizza whiffed through the holding pen. 

“You guys want corn flakes?” asked a policewoman.
“No, but how about bologna sandwich,” I asked.
“Not tonight,” she confessed.  “You’ll be out soon.”

I talked with Bob, our chapter chair.  
“What are you going to have for dinner tonight?”
“Probably a piece of bread and a glass of water,” he laughed, acknowledging he was going to be home a little late for dinner. 

And by 11 most of us were out.  We'd sung solidarity, talked about dialectics, and contracts, and luckily we were not going through the system. 

“I genuinely hope you get a real contact,” noted one of the police as we were leaving.
“One big union” I replied.  “Solidarity.”
“Solidarity when they are smashing our heads on the picket line,” noted another PSC member, acknowledging the long shadow of brutality which hangs over the police.

But for now, they were respectful to all of us.
Barbara Bowen and the other union organizers were outside cheering us on.
There will be other steps in this campaign, others moves. 

Everyone is feeling good to be acting and supporting each other through this enormous lift involved in getting a contract.  Why the governor is being so obstinate, few seem to understand.  CUNY is the pathway 
to a better life for generations of New Yorkers. I am not sure he understands or supports that.  And that in itself may represent a problem for him.

Ron and I got Chinese food after the action, recalling walking around Times Square after an action together with Bill Talen and others from the Lower East Side Collective 15 years ago.  We got liverwurst sandwiches and hung out all afternoon after our arrest.  Yesterday was another great day, in this lineage of actions, through the years, for us and everyone at CUNY.  

rebel friends over the decades!

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