Monday, October 28, 2019

Constituent Imagination and Labor, Solidarity, Extinction, and the MOA

Negri's Autonomia Operaia.

Saturday, I found myself  at  Stanley Aronowitz’ house talking about
Insurgencies Constituent Power and the Modern State by Antonio Negri.
Social  movement are all about things people  desire, freedom, autonomy, respect, democracy.
We see this in play from  Hong  Kong to Chile.

The  point is how to connect the action in the street, with thought and theory.
The activity is important. But so is the thought.

The struggle is the educational  apparatus.

What about Negri, asked  another  participant in the discussion.

He was born in 1933, influenced by the 1960’s, thinking about Spinoza, leading Autonomia Operaia, delivering this work as a counternarrative to neoliberalism in 1992.
This is a provocative, important  book, says Stanley.
There are few works in  the Marxist tradition that have originality.
The erudition here is stunning.

The story is essentially a contrast between constituent and constitutional limits,
no limits, vs limits.
What’s constitutionalism – an attempt by existing order to maintain it.
The larger issue is determination vs constitutional democracy, based on limits.
Democracy is constituent power, open to our imagination.

The Soviets turned on the anarchists, who supported them in Russia,
And their ideas about constituent power.
Anarchists are advocates  of constituent power, without limits.

Two concepts concretize the imaginary.

Absence and desire, posits Stanley.

Absence is employed over  and over again.

Representing democratic constraints.

Negri writes:

“The constitutionalist paradigm always refers to the "mixed constitution," the mediation of inequality, and therefore it is a nondemocratic paradigm. In contrast, the paradigm of constituent power is that of a force that bursts apart, breaks, interrupts, unhinges any preexisting equilibrium and any possible continuity. Constituent power is tied to the notion of democracy as absolute power.”

Even revolutions must bow to power.

The Birth of Tragedy by Neitzche,  contrasts the eros  of Dionysus and  the  linear thought  Apollo.

The philosopher writes:

“…art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollinian-Dionysian duality, even as the propagation of the species depends on the duality of the sexes, their constant conflicts and periodic acts of reconciliation. I have borrowed my adjectives from the Greeks, who developed their mystical doctrines of art through plausible embodiments, not through purely conceptual means. It is by those two art sponsoring deities, Apollo and Dionysus, that we are made to recognize the tremendous split, as regards both origins and objectives, between the plastic, Apollinian arts and the nonvisual art of music inspired by Dionysus. The two creative tendencies developed alongside one another, usually in fierce opposition, each by its taunts forcing the other to more energetic production, both perpetuating in a discordant concord that agon which the term art but feebly denominates…”

Listening to the discussion,  I find myself thinking of the debates  about the memorandum us agreement around our new PSC contract with the university.
The two sides dueling  with each other.

Jotting notes  about constituent vs constitutional power,
Absence vs desire:

Void – Hope
Reality – Imagination.
Possible vs Impossible.
Implosion  vs Explosion.
The Taylor Law vs Strikers.
Rule of Law vs Anarchism.
Restricted vs free bodies.
Electoral  College vs One person,  one vote.
Pete Seeger vs. Mayer Vishner and Phil Oches who left too soon.
Constituent dreams do not always come true.

This is a dreamscape, a living force o f the imagination.
Hopefully, activism feels invigorating, giving  our life meaning.
Providing solidarity and support.
Community and creativity.
We have to adapt.

Our politics is complicated.
I left the reading group to attend an Extinction  Rebellion  talk right afterward.
We can’t all go  off and live in  the woods.
These are systemic problems that are not going to solve themselves, one of the facilitators mentioned during  the Extinction  Rebellion Heading Towards Extinction  Talk during the 8th Annual Permaculture Festival.
The planet is in ecological crisis. Scientists believe we may have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown. This is an emergency. In this public talk…. members of Extinction Rebellion will share the latest climate science, discuss the psychology around climate change, and offer details about this social movement. Everyone is welcome and there will be Q&A afterwards that includes the representatives from the New York Permaculture Exchange.

Its not so easy.
XR is a decentralized movement.
The IPCC report suggests we have a dozen years to act.
It’s a hard thing to talk about.
There are  not enough butterflies in the garden.
Its  actually ok to talk about it.
What’s our five year, our ten year plan to cope with increasing greenhouse gasses?
There are too many fossil fuels.
We’re getting too hot.
There’s too much carbon in our atmosphere.
There are time delays to feel it, but  we’re feeling  it.
Temperatures  rising.
July 2019 was the hottest  month ever.
The ocean is acting as a buffer the heat.
Still, we’re witnessing sea levels rising.
Sea ice is decreasing 13% per decade.
There is a chance there will be no permanent sea ice after  2030.
Decrease  in glaciers.
No glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2022.
These small changes reverberate.
Disequilibrium is the new normal.
Sea levels rising, coastal erosion,
With 11 of the 15 largest cities on the coasts,
more migration  problems, hurricanes, and extreme storms.

So let’s get organized and do something about it,  implore the organizers.
Lets move this forward.
Some resent XR.
Others resent the MOA saying it doesn’t go far enough.
Those in XR think we are not moving  fast enough.
Too much capitalism,
Too many debates about jobs.
I thought about it all,
On the way to try to catch bike kill, dreaming about what could  be.

“Next week we will be back  to our usual subjects, death, love, and climate change,” notes Donna  the next day at Judson, beginning her sermon about the raised fist.

“Relationships are built at the speed of trust.
Social movements are built at the speed of trust.’

“Sometimes we  can be wrong in the right ways, and right in the wrong ways…”

“We believe  in inclusion.”

And hopefully solidarity.

…even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,” 
Psalm 139,7-14

We hope for solidarity.
To be seen.
Our efforts acknowledged.
Instead poverty diminishes us.

Walking past  Mayer Vishner’s old apartment,
Near Eve Adams’ old tea room, I wondered what they would think.

What came of their dreams?

Spent all weekend debating,
thinking wondering about our contract.

As a social movement watcher and supporter for a few decades  now, I tend to follow people who have
delivered in  the past.  That is why I support efforts by Barbara, Mike,  Penny, Alex, and countless  others in  our leadership,
the people i have marched with through the years, the people who have  delivered adjunct healthcare and other gains, and contract after contract.

I supported a strike as a member of the California Faculty Association.
There is no Taylor Law in California,  that i know of.

I supported  our strike resolution a few years ago.  It took hours per member to  get  signatures, something i don't think we could get now.

I asked our membership if they want to strike.  And  they voted  down the  position.

And I've taken Stanley Aronowitz’s classes where endorses strikes,
although to  my knowledge,  he never lead one among public sector workers  here.

My friend LA Kaufman,  author of Direct Action,  reminds us not to fetishize one tactic over  another.
We need to be  flexible,  she reminds us.

I read the 7K or Strike argument that we  reject the moa in favor of a  strike.

I'd like to ask if anyone in  7K or strike if they've ever been a part of a  successful strike among public sector workers in New York?  If so,  how did it go?

The last strike i know of with public sector workers in New York was the TWU workers strike of 2005 that came close to breaking  the union.
The results were disastrous.  As one writer notes:
"Between the two votes, the Local was fined $2.5 million for ignoring a judge’s injunction against the strike. The Local will lose its right to have dues automatically deducted from members’ paychecks after the fine is paid off in June 2007. Each individual striker was fined a day’s pay (on top of the day lost while striking) for each day of the strike. And in a stunning development, Roger Toussaint was sentenced to 10 days in jail for contempt of court.(9)"

How would we  avoid a similar fate if rejected
this offer and went on strike?

The conversation continues all weekend.
With little common ground.

Several agreed 2005 was an unmitigated disaster.
Some suggest it helped move things forward.
The last public sector strike to move things forward was the TWU 1980, 39 years ago.
The dualism between constituent and constitutionalism back and forth.

Mike Fabricant writes:
Many delegates have been involved in an important debate. A number of assumptions have both implicitly and explicitly undergirded one side of the debate. They include but are not limited to the following;
1.  If we fail to ratify the PSC can do better in the short run and the long run
2. This can occur through preparation for a strike and escalating tactics including a strike
3   Accepting this contract will demobilize our membership for future fights
4.   Chicago and LA through their strikes produced transformative change

In my estimation each of these assumptions are both wrong and asserted with little if any evidence.
1. As James Davis and Michael Batson have noted we will be back to ground zero with NYS and NYC in our bargaining if the settlement agreement is rejected by the DA. The blowback in terms of future negotiation is likely to be substantial. To begin with there is little  if any incentive for NYS and NYC to return to the table quickly. Second, all bets are off even if they return quickly. The settlement once rejected resets the negotiation to our starting point of two years ago. To imagine otherwise is politically naive is asserted we can do better if we move to a strike authorization. On what basis in this moment is it imagined the PSC can unilaterally break through the restrictions of both the Taylor Law and pattern bargaining?  At best it is the longest of long shots. Most likely it results in heightened vulnerability and erosion of PSC power. Some will argue this is a defeatist posture. My response to such claim is that it is a sober not romanticized analysis of our power in the City and State at this moment. We have neither the power to unilaterally shut down the City or a powerful student movement to support a strike campaign. In the absence of both assets we would be relatively alone and vulnerable if we were to strike. Work needs to be done to both assist in the building of a student movement accompanied by a unified labor press to abolish the Taylor law for a PSC strike in this moment to be successful. Neither of these outcomes will be produced in the short run.  They will require steady and systematic organizing in and outside CUNY
3. The prior discussion assumes our membership after a DA no vote would be willing to strike. Again, I would dispute such assumption for the following reasons (1) our members would be at best divided and more likely unified in their opposition to such a vote, 2) it would take years not months to constitute anything resembling union-wide solidarity as a result and (3) these divisions would in the short term likely produce division and destructive fall out in relationship to our present agenda.  Alternatively, the assumption that ratification would produce demobilization of members is an explicit statement of distrust in the willingness of members to continue to wage fights as they have in the past to improve working and learning conditions at CUNY. I believe the strengths of this settlement agreement will bring  more members to the PSC precisely because their live have been improved. Organizing campaigns depend on such interim successes to draw more people to ever larger and more expansive campaigns.
(4) This settlement agreement will improve workers lives and influence learning conditions. It promises significant structural change and improvement especially for part time instructors. The outcomes of our negotiation are not diminished because we failed to strike to achieve  these improvements.   I am intimately familiar with both the CTU and UTLA strikes. Karen Lewis, Jessie Sharkey and Alex Caputo Pearl  along with CTU and UTLA rank and file members are to be commended for their courage and long march in building solidarity in every community where public schools are located. They won many of their important demands. That said, none of their economic gains comes even close to what the PSC settlement agreement has won for part time faculty. Secondly they also struck to improve learning conditions for students. Some improvements have been made in class size. LA is now contractually required to drop from a maximum class size of 39 to 36 students. Their most significant and far reaching demands however regarding an end to school closings and privatization remain unresolved.

The changes in LA and Chicago improved but did not transform working or learning conditions. Similarly the PSC settlement agreement has improved but not transformed working conditions or wages for part time faculty. I would argue however we are getting closer and closer to powerful economic incentives based on four cycles of bargaining for much greater rates of conversion of part time to full time positions. Reaching that plateau would be transformative.

Clearly the act of striking has a compelling power but alone it is not a magic bullet for reversing neoliberal policy or the decline of public agencies. It can contribute to building the muscle necessary to lift a movement but is only  a small part of campaign tactic and strategy to create the conditions for transformative change. Similar change can also be produced by pressure tactics of confrontation and negotiation. That is precisely what the PSC has done to produce this strong settlement agreement. It is far from perfect. How could it be given the forces arrayed against us and movement power? But like UTLA and CTU settlements it will make important contributions to improving working and learning conditions for members and students. The next steps in the struggle to transform CUNY await us after what I hope will be continuing democratic debate and the ratification of the settlement agreement.

In solidarity,

Mike Fabricant

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