What is ‘Bargaining’?

By Bob Velez, VP of Membership, GA United

Welcome to 2014!

velez_bBefore I get into the substantive material indicated by the title, since this is my first contribution to the GAU Advocate, allow me to provide some introductory information about myself.  I am a fourth year PhD student in the Political Science Department.  I began my program in the fall of 2010 after moving to Southern Illinois from the Minneapolis / St. Paul metropolitan area.  I completed my BA degree at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, MN; an institution designed to accommodate the specific needs of non-traditional students.  I attended Metro State part time from 2006 – 2009 where I graduated a mere two weeks shy of my 40th birthday.  I have three children ranging in age from my stepdaughter who is 25 (though I have been told that I do not look old enough to have a child that age) to my son who is turning 16 in February.  My professional experience includes 6 & ½ years in the US Navy (1987-1993), six years in the private sector, and a thirteen-plus year career in public service not including my time here at SIU.  I have been active in the organized labor movement since about 2000 participating at all levels of activism including lobbying elected officials, organizing internally and externally, and serving as a representative to national and international labor organizations.  I have met many graduate assistants during my time in Carbondale and more so since I became your Vice President for Membership in August 2012.  I certainly hope that I will meet even more of you during the upcoming semester and bargaining season.

One of the benefits of union representation is the ability to collectively bargain an employment contract with the university.  Employment contracts have, similar to our GA contracts, beginning and ending dates that are established and agreed upon.  Our current contract expires June 30, 2014 and your Executive Committee has been identifying issues to raise in the upcoming round of contract negotiations.  Primary among those issues are wage rates and benefits as well as a wide array of conditions of employment.  Not every issue that GAs face in their working environment is covered by the contract, but many are.  Ultimately, the goal of the bargaining team (separate from the Executive Committee; for more on the distinction, please read on) is to secure the best deal for everyone in the bargaining unit irrespective of their status as a dues paying members of GA United.

Let’s talk briefly about terminology.  You will hear the terms “contract negotiations” and “bargaining” (or the aforementioned “collective bargaining”) used interchangeably to refer to the same process.  The process involves representatives from GA United as well as representatives from the other unions (public employees, electricians, Teamsters, etc.) sitting down in a physical space with representatives from the university to present proposals for and discussions of issues relevant to the relationship between you, the university employee, and the university.  There will be mutually agreed upon dates for these “bargaining sessions” throughout next year.  The process is initiated when GA United along with the other unions file an official “Intent to Bargain” sometime in March, 2014.  The process can be long and drawn out (our previous contract was in the making for well over a year), but all interested parties have a vested interest in crafting a new agreement and putting it in place as soon as it is feasible to do so.  The bargaining team is comprised of dues paying members who have volunteered to participate in the process and been appointed by the Executive Committee.

The first meeting (not yet scheduled) is reserved for the two sides to make their initial proposals; GAU bargaining team members receive instruction from both the Executive Committee and the General Membership (the first General Membership meeting will be in February this year – announcements forthcoming) as to which issues are to be proposed.  All issues are prioritized and presented within the context of the current agreement.  The university has a separate process to determine their initial proposal and upon receipt, your union is eager to make that proposal available for members to review.  Only dues paying members are eligible to vote on any final contract proposal.

As I am sure you suspect, there is a LOT more to the process than these scheduled meetings.  Proposals are evaluated for their potential impact on the membership outside of these scheduled meetings and members of the bargaining team discuss which proposals are acceptable and which are not, which proposals are beneficial and those which are not.  I have shared with others that, in my experience, much of the visible interaction between the union and university bargaining teams is tantamount to political theater; with the various groups vying to get the attention of their counterparts and attempts being made to marshal support from various stakeholders.

Do not be surprised if you are approached by members of the bargaining team and the Executive Committee during the run up to and during the bargaining season asking for feedback or suggestions on which issues are most important to you.  As a democratically run organization that is desirous of having a bottom-up approach, we eagerly solicit input from graduate assistants across the campus and university system.  You may see tables with representatives in common areas designed to answer questions about the union or you may see us in your workspace during one of our more informal “walkthroughs”.

One guiding principle that I would like to communicate to all readers is that your Executive Committee and bargaining team are committed to the bargaining process being done with efficiency, effectiveness, and expediency.  I believe I can speak for members past and present in stating plainly that we reject the notion that it requires months and months of ongoing negotiations to reach agreement and that your bargaining team wishes to avoid any unnecessary delays in securing a good contract for our members.  It is worth mentioning that the last round of bargaining took an inordinate amount of time and resulted in our members working without a contract for well over a year.  In addition, all the unions in negotiations were brought to the brink of a work stoppage (aka strike) before contract terms were settled.  Unfortunately, faculty had to engage in a strike in order to solidify their contract.

A strike or work stoppage is always the tactic of absolute last resort; such activity has long term deleterious effects for workers, the university, the students, and the surrounding community.  It has the potential for effecting the culture and reputation of the university as well; by products that should be avoided wherever possible.

One thing to keep in mind at all times is that contract negotiations is not about making good arguments; as grad students, making logical, reasoned arguments is our strength.  Securing good contracts is all about POWER.  For unions, it is about membership numbers.  Plain and simple.  The more members we have, the more clout me have at the bargaining table.  If you have been on the fence about joining or have decided that there are plenty of others involved so your participation is not necessary, I strongly encourage you to rethink your position.  Also, keep in mind that your bargaining team and Executive Committee are all volunteers.  While the employer is able to direct their substantial resources to move their interests to the fore, the union struggles with very finite resources.  Join GA United.  Attend events and rallies.  Get off the sidelines and into the game.  Whether you are here at SIU for another six months or plan to be here six more years, your energies and efforts are our most valuable resource.

 

Rygged Time: Pragmatic Political Philosophy as Prophetic Pedagogy

By James Anderson

The boy held up “Castle Under Attack,” showing off the 48-page Dorling Kindersley Lego Reader. Ryg with son

“Daddy reads it to me all the time,” Peter said about his favorite book.

Matt Ryg, 34, reads the story of how King Leo’s feast at the castle gets interrupted by the evil outlaw leader Cedric to his son Peter, 4, and his other son, John, 3, one minute. The next minute he is moving “Toward Better Knowledge: A social epistemology of pragmatic non-violence” – his dissertation-in-progress.

Ryg, who is also president of GAUnited, the union for graduate assistants at SIUC, said his personal philosophy is a political one.

His philosophy differs from conventional American pragmatism in this regard. The latter did not “include any kind of political orientation,” at least not traditionally, Ryg said. He added that it was “originally conceived of as a theory of concept formation and a theory of meaning,” wherein the meaning of a concept was deduced by its effect on conduct.

The current GAU president and former vice president of the Graduate Philosophy Union now serves as student liaison for the John Dewey Society. He works in-against-and-beyond the American philosophical tradition.

“It’s a mode of cultural criticism of participating in – while simultaneously critiquing – the society, the culture and economy of which we are a part,” he said.

Conversely, French philosopher Michel Foucault once claimed politics and philosophy “must never coincide,” arguing that philosophy should rather have “a sort of restive and insistent exteriority toward politics.”

Ryg begs to differ.

“Is philosophy exterior to politics? Fuck no,” he said. “Philosophy is nothing if it’s not political – thoroughly saturated with politics.”

Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire once echoed similar sentiments.

“Education never was, is not, and never can be neutral or indifferent in regard to the reproduction of the dominant ideology or the interrogation of it,” Freire wrote in “Pedagogy of Freedom,” articulating a tenet of his critical pedagogical approach.

“I’m with Freire on that one, absolutely,” Ryg said. “Education can never be neutral. Objectivity doesn’t exist independent of people.”

Ryg has a lot experience working with people. He’s spent time in a variety of traditional and non-traditional pedagogical settings, living the subject-object dialectic.

Born in Rochester, Minn., he grew up in Kasson, a town about 15 minutes away. His family is of hearty Norwegian, Swiss, French and Czech stock – “good people,” he said.

Ryg attended high school in Kasson, which is where he met his sons’ mother, Lyndsey Hanson.

“We went to a smaller high school so it wasn’t hard for us to meet or know each other,” Hanson said. “But he’s come a long way.”

Ryg was not a serious activist in high school. It wasn’t until he was an undergraduate majoring in English at Hamline University that he decided to start down a slightly different path, one philosophical and political.

“I was on the pre-law track, and so they required me to take logic and ethics,” he said regarding his first foray into philosophical inquiry.

So he dropped the English major and decided to minor in it instead. He picked up philosophy as a new major. He also started work in the social justice program, and he knotted another minor in conflict studies.

“About the time when I dropped the pre-law thing and picked up philosophy I got really interested into social justice issues,” he recounted.

Duane Cady, Professor Emeritus at Hamline University, mentored Ryg in the Philosophy Department and encouraged him to get involved in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a multi-faith organization with a chapter on campus.

“Matt was always excited about social action, especially nonviolent social change,” Cady told GAU in an email. “I remember his optimism and a big smile, always willing to pitch-in his time and energy.”

Cady served as a FOR board member, and he spearheaded a lot of anti-war issues with Ryg.

“We re-ignited a group that had been active on campus before called Students for Peace,” Ryg said.

Work at the Office of Service Learning and Volunteerism and at the Hamline Undergraduate Conference on Race and Ethnicity (HU-CORE) occupied Ryg’s time too.

Upon graduation, he spent one year teaching at Southside Family School in Minneapolis, which later became Southside Family Charter School.

“Back when I was there it was an alternative elementary school,” Ryg explained.

After that he did two years with Americorp Vista with an affordable housing and homeless prevention non-profit. The second year out of school “was the year I really got into community organizing,” Ryg said. “That was my job title – community organizer.”

After three years with Americorp he worked for another non-profit on homeless prevention while working on his Master’s in Advocacy and Political Leadership.

For the applied degree, in lieu of a thesis, Ryg interned at Metrowide Engagement on Shelter and Housing Homelessness and at the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions.

He also did an internship with the Minnesota Senate working for Senator John Marty.

“They gave me a mug,” he said. (A mug that works wonderfully for drinking coffee spiked with Baileys Irish Cream liqueur while conducting an interview for a profile piece, one might add.)

While interning at the Minnesota Senate, Ryg did everything from answering constituent mail, to getting scolded on the floor of the Senate for walking up an aisle he probably shouldn’t have. Someone told him to deliver a message to Sen. Marty while the Senate was in session.

“And I just walked in and gave it to him,” Ryg remembered. “The Sergeant at Arms came up to me afterward and said, ‘Don’t do that,’ … He was very stern. … And I was like, ‘Well I didn’t know what,’ and he was like, ‘No. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.’”

Ryg bounced back after his lashing on the Senate floor. He continued working with MESH after graduating with his Master’s in 2007, gaining metropolitan level organizing experience.

“We worked on county issues and state issues, [and] tried to coordinate homeless service programs around the seven-county metro area in Minneapolis – that metropolitan area,” he said.

The process was dynamic but difficult, Ryg said.

“Each individual county re-created its own wheel,” he said, “whereas homeless people, they didn’t give a fuck if they were in Ramsey, or Hennepin, or Anoka, or Dakota County. They just went where there [were] resources. … So we tried to coordinate resources across county lines.”

The coordination proved challenging because there were “so few resources to begin with,” he said. It was also educational, in more ways than one.

Many contemporary pragmatists “don’t make a hard distinction between theory and practice,” he explained, and so those experiences were thus part of his praxis. He said although it wasn’t in a formal academic setting, the work he was doing still had a strong pedagogical component.

“I honestly thought – and think – that in those different jobs I was doing education,” Ryg said. “I was doing teaching. I was teaching people.”

In addition to the homeless service coordination and the grant writing work, Ryg also led the training program at MESH. They put together a series of workshops, including Homelessness 101, designed to educate people – the public and those new to service work – about homelessness. Other MESH workshops focused on mental health issues, the culture of poverty, working with veterans and working with homeless youth.

The motivation to bring that experience to bear in the classroom prompted Ryg to go back to get a doctorate. Although his memory remains hazy, Hanson also remembers him coming home from a job interview describing how well it went, but lamenting that he would not get the job because he didn’t have a Ph.D.

“So there’s a point where I was being denied jobs – apparently – because I didn’t have the Ph.D.,” he confessed with a touch of bewilderment.

Since coming to SIUC in 2010 to pursue a doctoral degree in Philosophy, Ryg has taught PHIL 102: Intro to Philosophy, PHIL 210: The American Mind and Education 311: Diversity in Education. He also worked as a Teaching Assistant for PHIL 104: Ethics, and as a Research Assistant in Morris Library.

He worked as an undergrad at his school’s library, and considers the work of activist librarians who bring underground newspapers, labor weeklies, zines and other publications into libraries “cool” and inspiring.

Hanson works as a GA now too in the Cataloging Department of Morris Library, and she is GAU’s co-steward for the library along with Jennifer Haegele.

“Don’t fuck with librarians,” Ryg said jokingly.

Ryg received the Dissertation Research Assistantship this year, which has allowed him to focus on writing while becoming even more involved. While writing his dissertation he has served as Vice President for Administrative Affairs on the Graduate Professional Student Council and as the Lectures Director for the Student Programming Council Lectures Committee.

As Lectures Director he is working to bring Cornel West to campus in the spring. Ryg said West also shows up in his dissertation, albeit unexpectedly.

“Right now I’m actually writing through Cornel West on prophetic pragmatism,” he said. “And I didn’t think I would do that. He’s not in my prospectus, for example. But I’m using him because not only does he critique the tradition of American pragmatism much like I do – I think he’s right on – [because] it lends itself to corporatization, opportunism, militarism,” and more oppressive forces.

In the same vein, Freire wrote in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” that a pedagogy of problem-posing “is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and as such, hopeful).”

“I actually use a little bit of Freire in my dissertation too,” Ryg said. “I’m trying to lay out a conception of knowledge – an epistemology – that is situated. It’s problematized, it’s social – and political, obviously. One of the reasons that I love Freire and ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ is that it doesn’t take learning or education or knowledge as this abstract endeavor or field or subject matter [or] discipline. It’s very much co-constructed.”

He stressed the situated character of that knowledge.

“So it’s not just about a teacher standing up in front of the classroom and making deposits of knowledge in the student’s heads,” Ryg explained. “It’s about teachers being participants. It’s about students being teachers also. It’s about learning together.

“And not just for the sake of acquisition of propositional knowledge. I mean, that’s part of it. But it’s also oriented toward social justice, about getting folks politically engaged … getting people to empower themselves to solve social and political problems, economic problems.”

As president of GAU, he has embraced “social movement unionism,” a kind of public pedagogy that critically reflects and acts upon the array of problems graduate students face and want to address.

It entails “not just focusing exclusively on bargaining and grievance work,” Ryg said about the need to be responsive to a host of interwoven GA concerns. He stressed that the union continues to add value to the University through work with other student organizations. The union has reached out to GPSC, engaged in substantive dialogue with international students and advocated for inclusive housing.

Some of these connections might not have been made if Ryg were not at the helm. But his tenure as president almost never happened.

Ryg said he remembers that an email went out to graduate students asking for GAs to run for office. He responded.

“‘Plug me in where you need me,’ that’s what I think I said,” he recounted.

He received a reply and was told that he would be put down.

“I thought I was going to be a steward or something,” Ryg said.

He ended up on the ballot for president.

Ryg said he remembers thinking to himself: “This is something that I can do.”

“If you actually believe in it, you should step up,” he said. He decided to step up, knowing that with the DRA award he would have a little more time.

“He said it’s going to be little to no work,” Hanson recalled. “That’s what he said. I said, ‘Matt you don’t have time for this.’ He said ‘little-to-no work. None.’”

“That’s not what I said,” Ryg retorted in earnest.

“Yes it is,” Hanson corrected him. “Yes it is what you said. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that’s what you said. Are we being recorded?”

The record speaks for itself. Ryg said the “kids are definitely the priority,” and finishing the dissertation is right up there as part of this “big juggling act,” but pressing issues demand attention.

“The problem doesn’t escape me that we don’t have enough people stepping into this position,” he said. “That need doesn’t escape my attention. We need more people to step up. One of my main goals with respect to that is building the capacity of GAU to do work.”

Nurturing a formative “culture of organizing,” and building “sustainability over the long term,” remain top priorities for GAU, he said. Theory and practice converge here, and that public pedagogical approach makes a difference.

“I don’t know that there are any other grad unions in the country that do quite the level of communications work that we do,” he said while also acknowledging major barriers to GA organizing.

“Grad students have no time,” Ryg admtted. But he added that there are “tangible reasons to be involved,” and given that more than 50 GAs have joined the union since the beginning of the academic year, people get that.

Healthcare, a resolution on fees and a raise so grads can make a living wage remain key, he said. GAs add value to the University, but the University continues to extract value from them without sufficient remuneration.

“They don’t pay their grad students enough,” Ryg said, “especially given the role that grad students play.”

With the current courseload, the University could not function if not for graduate students, he said.

“And we’re not getting paid for it,” he added. “That’s my critique.”

University pitfalls unfold through “administrative indifference,” and “through egregious administrative pay,” he said apropos the current situation in which, after fees, most graduates fall below the poverty line with the current level of pay. And the University’s graduate students fall well below the middle income.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for residents of Jackson County is $32,819. A typical GA might make about $22,000 less than that after fees. For families like Ryg’s, with two GAs as income providers, their household income would still be almost $12,000 shy of the median mark when the employment fees GAs pay to work at the University are factored in.

A typical GA pays 24 percent of his or her salary back to University. If the same percentage was deducted from the Chancellor’s salary, that would be $83,514 in fees, or more than two-and-a-half times the median household income, indicating the vast discrepancy between the highest salaried administrators and those who teach and research at SIUC.

“They shouldn’t be making that kind of money if we’re making the kind of money that we make,” Ryg affirmed.

With all of the union’s committees staffed and regularly meeting, Ryg said fees, a raise and economic democracy continue to be central issues to mobilize around while pushing for participatory democracy within the organizing process. There is plenty to learn from and teach people in the University community, and new issues arise all the time.

“The University has arbitrary violated our contract,” Ryg said about recent developments. “They’ve capped the number of hours we can work on campus. It’s a contract violation. We cannot work at .75 anymore. We’re restricted to working at 50 percent or 25 percent … because they don’t want to pay for our health insurance.”

The personal is thus political, which for Ryg is also philosophical. That philosophy, however, must be pragmatic, if not also rhizomatic.

In “A Thousand Plateaus,” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari described a rhizome as something that “ceaselessly establishes connections between the semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.”

Deleuze and Guattari also critiqued linguistic models, among other conventions, for reasons at odds with Ryg’s philosophy.

“Our criticism of these linguistic models is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough, that they do not reach the abstract machine that connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field,” they wrote in the aforementioned book.

“I don’t have a lot time for that,” Ryg said. “I don’t.”

He said that’s not the reason he is interested in philosophy.

“I’m interested in philosophy because people are being theoretical,” he said. “There are theoretical and philosophical implications in the work people are already doing.”

From dissertation research, to union activism, to raising kids, his doing is application-in-process.

“I don’t think my work is something that needs to be applied at all,” Ryg explained. “I think it is applied. It’s meant to be.”

Ryg’s schedule really only permits reflection fused with action, and he wants to make the most of his time here.

He said he will not run for president of GAU again when elections are held next May.

Like Jim Podesva, former GAU president and current Steward Council chair, Ryg said he would like to stay involved in a similar way, which would help establish “a nice tradition” for the outgoing president.

“It would be silly of me to talk about identifying and grooming emerging leaders and not continue and stay involved as I can,” he said.

Ryg clarified that he could only hold that position for a semester since he, Hanson and the boys will be leaving next December after he obtains his degree. First he has to finish taking his dissertation committee “Toward New Knowledge,” but he said he is confident it will be completed in a timely fashion.

Climbing the kitchen chair to reach sugary treats atop the cabinet, his son John illustrated that shared ethos of determination.

“No, you’re done with fruit snacks,” Ryg said to his son.

“See, that’s his persistence,” Hanson commented. She was referring to John, but she subtly spoke to Ryg’s philosophy as well – one that is personal, political and pedagogical all at the same time.

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

Our “¡Ya Basta!”

By James Anderson

The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (the Zapatista National Liberation Army; EZLN) first yelled “¡Ya Basta!” in response to centuries of domination as the New Year dawned in 1994.Speed of Dreams

With those indelible words — ¡Ya Basta! (Enough!) – the EZLN emerged from the Lacandón jungle early in the morning 20 years ago to challenge the exploitation of indigenous peoples in Mexico while making a statement against the greater global trajectory toward profit-dictated globalization.

Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, the Zapatista uprising coincided with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that liberalized trade across the US and Mexico border while protecting investor rights and privileging transnational corporations. The agreement disadvantaged Mexican farmers who could not compete with US agribusiness, and it disempowered US workers by permitting companies to relocate production – primarily for the US market – to Mexico.

The Zapatistas, named for the Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, occupied towns in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas during the rebellion. The Zapatistas demanded, “in essence, the right to live their lives with dignity,” Maria Armoudian wrote in “Kill the Messenger,” quoting also an EZLN communiqué that proclaimed: “Throughout the world, rural and urban workers celebrate their rebellion against exploitation and reaffirm their hope for a more just world.”

Zapatismo, the movement’s dialogue-oriented philosophy and praxis, resonates with contemporary struggles. Zapatismo is thus a pedagogical experience of which we are a part.

The “movement of movements” ignited by the Zapatistas illustrate the shared struggle against contemporary injustice, in its variegated forms.

The resonance of struggle refers to an empathic mode of identity in which heterogeneous peoples identify with the democratizing ethos to prefigure “a world where many worlds fit,” as the Zapatistas put it.

Bypassing traditional commercial media gatekeepers and institutional filters that keep discourse within narrow ideological bounds, the Zapatistas used a sophisticated communications strategy, utilizing nascent new media technologies to reach out to global civil society.

In response, state-corporate powers-that-be waged a smear campaign to discredit the Zapatistas and their oft-quoted spokesperson, Subcomandnate Marcos, by accusing him of being gay.

Marcos waxed poetically in reply:

“Yes, Marcos is gay. Marcos is gay in San Francisco, Black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristóbal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.

“Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized, oppressed minorities resisting and saying, ‘Enough!’ He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak. Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable—this is Marcos.”

The Zapatismo maxim of mandar obedeciendo – “to rule by obeying,” encapsulates that emancipatory approach in another form.

“The National Indigenous Congress describes the guiding principles of this power as ‘To serve, not be served; to represent, not supplant; to build; not destroy; to propose, not impose; to convince, not defeat; to come down, not climb up,’” Laura Carlsen explained in the Introduction to “The Speed of Dreams,” a book featuring select writings from Marcos. “The principles of organization aim to develop grassroots leadership that is ‘horizontal, rotating, collective, inclusive, flexible, representative, plural gender-equal and non-partisan.”

Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzellini proposed a “secret rendezvous with history and the present,” characteristic of Zapatismo resonance, which courses through the multitude of movements and puts the democratizing impulse in context.

“Our movements are the shouting of ‘No!’ The ‘Ya Basta!’ The ‘Que Se Vayan Todos!’” Sitrin and Azzellini wrote. “They are our collective refusal to remain passive in an untenable situation. And so we pull the emergency brake, freeze time, and begin to open up and create something new.”

They emphasized the “historical consciousness of the role of past generations” in relation to construction of “emancipatory paths” – forged while “caminando preguntamos,” or “walking, we ask questions,” as the Zapatista notion of dialogue and reflective action has it.

In relation, Marcos insisted that “people without a past can have no future.” He once wrote that the powerful “look with disdain and repugnance at our past,” and juxtaposed Zapatismo with attempts to extinguish the past thusly:

“What matters is our eldest elders who received the word and the silence as a gift in order to know themselves and to touch the heart of the other. Speaking and listening is how true men and women learn to walk. It is the word that gives form to that walk that goes on inside us. It is the word that is the bridge to cross to the other side. Silence is what Power offers our pain in order to make us small. When we are silenced, we remain very much alone. Speaking, we heal the pain. Speaking, we accompany one another. Power uses the word to impose his empire of silence. We use the word to renew ourselves. Power uses silence to hide his crimes. We use silence to listen to one another, to touch one another, to know one another.”

Juan Ponce de León, described “Traveling Back for Tomorrow” in the Editor’s Note for “Our Word is Our Weapon,” another book with selected writings from the Zapatista’s public intellectual.

“Marcos manages to create a mirror where we can recognize the feature of our own concerns,” de León wrote. He entreated readers: “We must come to understand that each battle won for human rights and democracy is a battle won for all of us, that beneath the mask of our own personal struggles, we are all Marcos.”

What we are doing as graduate students appears worlds apart, but by prefiguring a “world where many worlds fit,” it is not so different. We struggle against exploitation and lack of participatory decision-making. Our union actively opposes the devaluation of graduate assistants and the denial of our dignity due to institutional structures and the pitfalls of concentrated power.

Activists in GAU likewise aim to lead by obeying, traveling down the difficult path of addressing injustices that would otherwise seem insuperable to those of us beleaguered by strenuous work assignments, tough coursework and mounting debt. We strive do this by reflecting upon the complexities of our situation, in dialogue with the University community – and beyond.

Our own not-so-secret rendezvous with the oppressed past and the contemporaneous now relates to what labor activist Bill Fletcher Jr. described as “a new unionism,” sensitive to the deprivations and desires of the community.

This new unionism remains simultaneously sensitive to the multifarious legacy of struggle waged by wage-earners.

That storied history runs the gamut. It includes the fight of the “factory girls” in Lowell, Mass., who inveighed against wage servitude during the height of the Industrial Revolution, wrote and published a class conscious monthly magazine and generally thought it intuitive that those who worked in the mills should own them.

A historicity of worker resistance recognizes the 1894 Pullman Strike, carried out in response to precipitous wage reductions.

This working people’s history recalls vividly the work of labor activist Cesar Chavez, who told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in November 1984, just a few months before launching the longest grape boycott ever, his “one dream” was “to overthrow a farm labor system in this nation that treats farm workers as if they were not important human beings. Farm workers are not agricultural implements. They are not beasts of burden to be used and discarded.”

And, of course, a narrative of desire for productive, creative and mutually self-determined human doing cannot overlook each and every graduate student who has rejected obsequious subordination to repressive demands. This story of education-as-praxis recounts all the graduate assistants who have stood up for themselves and others in similarly vulnerable, precarious conditions.

Indeed, the recent history of related struggle has been overtly pedagogical, in more ways than one.

The Chicago Teachers Union strike in September 2012 offered “a stunning rebuke to the forces of privatization and corporate education reform,” Robert Barlett explained.

Teachers in Mt. Olive, Ill., channeled the spirit of Irish-American schoolteacher and labor agitator Mother Mary Jones, who is buried in the town’s Union Miners Cemetery, when they went on strike to protect the quality of education in their district this December. They reached a settlement to ratify their contract and returned to classrooms before the end of the year.

The Zapatistas also engaged in dialogue after their 1994 uprising.

“The question remained how to formally engage with existing structures of power,” David Graeber wrote in “The Democracy Project” regarding Zapatista tactics. “The solution was to engage in formal negotiations for a peace treaty—they came to be known as the San Andrés Accords—which would rather than compromise the newly created structures of local-level democracy, instead provide a reason to legitimate, develop, and expand them, since Zapatista negotiators (who were selected as recallable delegates by their communities) insisted that every stage of negotiations was subject to comprehensive democratic consultation, approval, and review.”

Democratizing public pedagogy continued thereafter. Alicia C.S. Swords provided examples of how and when the movement co-constructed meaning and re-configured social power:

  • A May 2013 Hemispheric Conference Against Militarization in San Cristóbal to educate people about the effects of global militarization on Chiapas
  • An “Other Campaign” and bottom-up “listening tour” in response to politicians’ usual speaking tours
  • Collaboration with the Alianza Cívica-Chiapas (Chiapas Civic Alliance) to organize workshops and educate municipal authorities about how to learn from their constituents (“rule by obeying”)

Further, Zapatista-delegate popular referenda (consultas), an autonomous public education project, raised awareness about indigenous rights while building relations with other movements and organizations “through recognition of their mutual struggles, losses, and possibilities for healing,” Swords also documented.

Flowing like the water of the river that beats the sword,” thousands of Zapatistas reemerged publicly, again, and marched in silence to be heard on Dec. 21, 2012, the day the Mayan calendar ended.

And around 1,500 activists came to Chiapas this past summer to participate in the escuelita, or Zapatista Little School.

Building on past encuentros, the Freedom School, as it was also known, articulated a democratizing public pedagogy.

“Democracy is at any moment, at every level of our life,” the Zapatistas explained.

They said they do not beg or accept crumbs. They do dialogue and listen, however.

“We are armed,” Zapatistas confessed to Little School students, “our weapon being our words, our thinking and our hearts.”

When GAU delivers our intent to bargain, we will enter into the process attentive to expressed wants and needs of graduate assistants. We do not face the same situation as indigenous rebels in Chiapas, but the resonance of Zapatismo can inform our praxis. Our goal for the New Year is to enlarge the democratic sphere within the University. In lieu of a formal communiqué at this juncture, we rather want to give language to the labor advancing workplace democracy so that we – and everyone else – might one day soon have a say in major decisions in proportion to the degree to which we are affected. This is our ¡Ya Basta! – a cry for dialogue that respectfully recuperates the past with an eye on the year(s) ahead.

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis. To find out more about other pedagogical projects associated with the Zapatistas click here.

Get to Know a Steward: Jennifer Haegele

For the fifth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Jennifer Haegele, steward for the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and co-steward for Morris Library, several questions about her life, the criminal justice system, Foucaultian genealogical conceptions of disciplinarity, under-utilized aspects of library services and the dynamics of co-stewardship.

Jenn

GAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us where you are from, and what brought you to SIUC?

Jennifer Haegele: I was raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After receiving my Bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I initially came to SIUC to pursue a master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice but ended up achieving a double major in CCJ and Geography and Environmental Resources. As of May 2013 I have been working on my PhD in CCJ.

GAU: Why are you pursuing a doctoral degree in Criminology & Criminal Justice; that is, what about the field interests you?

Haegele: Although my current degree is in CCJ, I have always strived to develop an education that encompasses the use of information technology, computer science, and geospatial information systems to analyze various topics in criminology, criminal justice, and disaster planning. This is because my primary area of interest for research includes the use of geospatial analysis, agent-based modeling, remote sensing, and geovisualization to analyze terrorism, natural disasters, and the psychological behavior of offenders and police officers.

GAU: In her book, “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander points out that there are more black men “today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850.” She also notes, “About 90 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense in Illinois are African American.” Given your Criminal Justice background and knowledge, what is your assessment of these statistics, and is this a problem that union activism could help address, if only partially?

Haegele: Race in the criminal justice system is not one of my areas of study, but that is an accurate statement of statistics that African Americans are overrepresented in our criminal judicial system. Unfortunately, I do not believe that “union activism” would be able to address the issue because unions are meant for institutional change not individual change. Although targeting drug offenders is an institutional issue, it is not a racial institutional issue. Therefore, the criminal justice system will not stop targeting drug offenders because drug offenders are not “one size fits all.”

GAU: In his genealogical critique, “Discipline & Punish,” French theorist Michel Foucault called the prison “an apparatus for transforming individuals,” that functions as “a rather disciplined barracks, a strict school, a dark workshop,” “rendering [bodies] docile,” much like other mechanisms in the social body. Foucault suggested the prison possessed a “double foundation – juridico-economic on the one hand, technico-disciplinary on the other,” and that it came to appear as “the most immediate and civilized form of all penalties,” and “‘natural’, just as the use of time to measure exchanges is ‘natural’ in our society.” Does that analysis in any way describe the present day prison or criminal justice system, or is it very much off the mark in the contemporary context?

Haegele: I am not well versed in the prison system but I do know that our prison system has changed drastically from its original inception. Yes the prison system is still used as an “apparatus for transforming individuals,” however, prisoners are no longer confined to their cells in solitude to think about what they have done and “repent for their sins.” Prisoners are now grouped together in blocks, receive visitations, make phone calls, watch TV, and play games and sports with each other as a means to keep them occupied during their incarceration.

GAU: Turning the page, if we may, what is it like working as a Research Assistant in Library Affairs?

Haegele: My position entails maintaining the Geography Information Services (GIS) department within Geospatial Resources. As GIS is a true passion of mine I naturally love the position in general but the people I work with (and work for) make my time spent there even better!

GAU: In thinking about your two stewardship positions, the popular books-for-prisoners campaigns come to mind. These initiatives seems to have had a resurgence of late, and have featured prominently in other movements. For example, The People’s Library of Occupy Chicago coordinated donation efforts for books for jailed dissenters. Are these sorts of initiatives important, and can unions help improve them in any way?

Haegele: There are several initiatives that are important for offenders, like the books-for-prisoners program that you mention, as they are meant to help provoke knowledge and prevent idle hands for inmates. However, inmates do not have unions to fight for their rights as prisoners, changes for inmates happen as various situations arise. Unfortunately, I am not sure as to whether a union for prisoners would benefit them.

GAU: In your informed opinion, as someone familiar with library organization, is the Dewey Decimal System overrated?

Haegele: I am not familiar with DDS so I have absolutely no idea.

GAU: What little known aspect of Morris Library should graduate students start taking advantage of more?

Haegele: Graduate students should take advantage of the writing center. Students know that the writing center is there to help them critique their papers, but many graduate students do not know that they also help with theses and dissertations and that they even have workshops designated for them.

GAU: In an essay discussing the ethos of “street librarianship,” Alycia Sellie, CUNY Graduate Center faculty member and Electronic Resources and Serials Management Librarian at Minas Rees Library, wrote that “we must be critical of proprietary systems that are costly and hard to use—from Blackboard to Facebook. We need to use alternatives to the technological giants, and we should talk not just about how to use a tool or a resource but how to understand its structure and how it works (or doesn’t). We have to acknowledge the world beyond our university or our stacks, and not remain in digital ivory towers. We should invite the messiness of an unjust world into our work and confront the contradictions. We have to make it ok that not everyone feels immediately comfortable with technology, and that there are still many socioeconomic factors that create real barriers.” Sellie added: “What could unite radical librarianship and the digital humanities as movements is a larger investment in social justice and information accessibility. Even if libraries or dh [digital humanities] haven’t been explicitly committed to socioeconomic justice in the past, I believe that an investment in these issues would be a uniting step that we could take together.” She has also discussed the benefits of trying to include alternative media materials – like underground newspapers, zines, union weeklies and other radical publications – in libraries. What do you make of Sellie’s ideas?

Haegele: Sellie has a valid point that a lot of content, despite being digital, is not free to the public. Although this can be seen as an issue, the issue is being looked at one-sided (i.e., as the public who has to pay). The issue must also be looked at from other points of view such as the writer or owner who needs to be paid so they can live, the university or library that procures the media for their patrons, or even the student or individual who pays through their fees to access the library that has the media they seek. Trust me, I would love to have all the articles I need for my research be free but that’s not something that’s going to happen anytime soon. Its like asking iTunes to be free.

GAU: As anyone who has checked out the Who is My Steward? page on the GAU website knows, you and Lyndsey Hanson are our co-stewards for Morris Library. Is there any deep-seated steward rivalry lurking there with loads of pent up mutual animus festering between all the catalogs and call numbers? Or, conversely, does the dual stewardship foster stronger union solidarity?

Haegele: Haha, I am new to the Steward game by a couple months and have only met Lyndsey once. But when I did meet her she had a great personality and seemed to take interest in my studies as I did hers. Even if I had known her longer than I have, I doubt there would be any rivalry. As graduate students, we definitely don’t have time for that!!

GAU Presents: The PHD Movie

GA United will be hosting a screening of the wildly popular PHD comics movie January 23, 2014 at 5 p.m. in the Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library.

 

PHD Movie

PHD Movie

The PHD Movie is the independently-produced live-action adaptation of the online comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper. Filmed on location at the California Institute of Technology, the movie follows four graduate students and their struggles with teaching, love and getting their research to work.

http://www.phdmovie.com/
http://phdcomics.com/comics.php

Labor expert Robert Bruno

Published on 11/25/2013 by the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

Robert Bruno is a professor of labor and employment relations at the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. In an interview with News Bureau business and law editor Phil Ciciora, Bruno, also the director of the Labor Education Program in Chicago, discusses the movement to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour.

A recent Gallup poll indicates that more than 75 percent of Americans approve of increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour. Is $9 per hour enough, or should it be even higher?

Read more, click here.

Student Loan Debt and the Class of 2012

Published December 2013

According to a new report from the Project on Student Debt, 71 percent of college seniors who graduated last year had student loan debt. The average debt for those who borrowed in 2012 totaled $29,400. The average debt increased an average of 6 percent each year from 2008 to 2012.

Read the full report here.

Check out an interactive map with state-by-state data here, which shows that the average debt in Illinois in 2012 was $28,028, and that the proportion of those with debt stood at 64 percent.