Union members meet

By James Anderson

The union for graduate assistants at Southern Illinois University Carbondale held its spring semester general membership meeting February 26, and activists presented on issues ranging from bargaining to officer elections and health insurance initiatives.

Bob Velez, president of Graduate Assistants United, told members that because of winter break and other difficulties “harmonizing schedules,” the GAU bargaining team had not met with the administration’s team for almost three months.

“We’ve raised the issues we want to raise,” Velez said, “but we haven’t crafted any language at all.”

He added both teams are now considering negotiating together after normal working hours or on the weekend in order to decide on language and work toward a new contract agreement.

Velez reminded those in attendance of the “indirect” benefit graduate student workers derive from union membership.

“The biggest benefit, especially during bargaining, is when the administration sees activity,” he said. Graduate assistants “don’t get anything through administrative benevolence,” Velez said, and more membership and participation means “a little more clout at the bargaining table.”

Kevin Taylor, the GAU vice president for communications, told members officer elections would be held earlier this year. Instead of taking place during finals week like last year, Taylor said, elections for the four elected union positions this semester would be on April 8 in the Student Center and April 9 in Morris Library.

Amanda Barnard, the vice president for graduate school affairs with the graduate professional student council, explained the status of health insurance transition at SIUC.

Barnard was one of three students on the six-person taskforce committee that recommended a new student health insurance plan for the university.

The plan proposed by the taskforce committee, a gold level Aetna plan, would include aspects of health care not currently enjoyed by students, Barnard said, including: preventative care like screenings and physicals; pharmacy benefits with a typical $10 co-pay; free birth control; and removal of limits on the amount of physical therapy and mental health visits a student can have.

She said the deductible would stay the same at $100, and the maximum out-of-pocket cost would remain $1,000. The plan would increase the cost of health insurance by about $148 per semester, said Barnard, who has so far served two years on the taskforce committee that recommended the plan.

The administration has already acceded to the plan and recommended it to the Board of Trustees, she added. The Board of Trustees will be formally presented the plan at their next meeting on March 19. Students will speak at the meeting, and a postcard campaign in support of the plan is underway, Barnard said.

Multiple graduate assistants at the membership meeting signed postcards in support of better health insurance to be delivered to the Board of Trustees.

“All the other major Illinois state universities already have an ACA compliant health insurance plan in place,” Barnard said, referring to the Affordable Care Act and the obligations institutions have to meet the legislation’s standards.

Natalie Nash, the GAU vice president for membership, mentioned that March 19, after the Board of Trustees meeting that day, the union has planned a re-screening of the PhD comics film. Nash encouraged graduate assistants to also come out for a happy hour at Pinch Penny Pub on March 28.

She went on to explain the principle of fair share, a requirement that historically has helped union’s remain strong. Fair share refers to the contractual provision providing that every person working in a position covered under a collective bargaining agreement pay dues to their union as a fair share of the costs that union takes on to institute workplace protections, garner employees better labor conditions, secure benefits and obtain higher wages for workers.

“How it works at SIU, is if we at some point get more than 50 percent of GAs on campus to join our union, then all the GAs on campus will pay fair share dues,” she said. “That’s just to go toward paying those services rendered from the union and getting those bargaining benefits.”

Fair share money cannot by law be used to support political candidates, Nash added, assuaging common – but misguided – concerns. The Illinois Public Relations Act stipulates fair share dues “shall not include any fees for contributions related to the election or support of any candidate for political office.”

Graduate assistants raised questions at the meeting about potential signs of union solidarity against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s recent executive order prohibiting public sector unions from requiring fair share payments. Some mentioned coordinating solidarity actions against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s stated intent to sign so-called “right to work” legislation.

Recently, Walker implicitly compared pro-union activists in Wisconsin to ISIS, an organization in the Middle East the US has bombed. He also said he will sign, if given the opportunity, the “right to work” bill which just passed the Wisconsin state senate and is moving to the state’s Assembly for approval.

Termed “right to work,” the present-day meaning deviates radically from the mid-nineteenth century meaning of the phrase, which referred to society’s responsibility to allow everyone meaningful work under decent conditions with adequate remuneration. The present-day legislation, advanced in Wisconsin and favored by Rauner in Illinois, aims to undermine collective bargaining by allowing workers to opt-out of paying costs for union representation.

John Flowers, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at SIUC, said GAU’s Legislative and Political Action Committee, which he chairs, would be open to facilitating a solidarity campaign with other workers against any anti-union legislation.

Sandy Kim, chair of the GAU grievance committee, said LPAC should spearhead that project.

Kim also addressed her grievance work. Recently, she said, sick leave has been a recurring point of contention between graduate assistants and the university.

“We all get sick leave,” she said. “We get four hours. So it’s not a lot, right, but it’s a class that you teach, or discussion sections or four hours of office time.”

Kim said she has helped GAs resolve issues with the university regarding contested sick leave. She said she also regularly fields questions from GAs about the number of hours they are contracted to work, and she has helped see through to arbitration a long-pursued grievance against the English department at SIUC. The grievance pertains to the department’s practices of requiring GAs to work for two weeks without pay.

Grievance work helps you learn the contract really well, Kim said. Anyone who is detail-oriented could be a tremendous asset to the committee, she added.

Taylor, who also serves as chair of the union’s communications committee, said there are plenty of ways to get involved. That could entail volunteering for one of the union committees, putting academia-acquired skills to work or taking on union tasks to learn new things “because it makes you a human being to diversify,” he said, as members in attendance ate free Quatro’s pizza provided by the union.

Taylor referenced the “self-taught,” and “resume-building, on-the-job work,” he has performed since getting actively involved with the union in early 2014 and helping revamp GAU communications.

Anyone interested in running for office or getting involved, he said, can send an email to gau.siuc@gmail.com.


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

General Membership Meeting, Thursday, Feb. 26 at 5pm

GMM 2-26-15

On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise Redux: Desires and Prospects

By James Anderson

In his testimonial, “Days and Nights of Love and War,” Uruguayan-born writer Eduardo Galeano recalls discovering his love for writing after release from a hospital following a near-death bout of malaria.

Since, as stated before, “Valentine’s Day offers a special opportunity to reflect on love – unrequited, political and otherwise,” it is thus the perfect time to contemplate the implications of Galeano’s words.

“I thought I knew some good stories to tell other people, and I discovered, or confirmed, that I had to write,” Galeano wrote. “I had often been convinced that this solitary trade wasn’t worthwhile if you compared it, for example, to political activism or adventure. I had written and published a lot, but I hadn’t had the guts to dig down inside and open up and give of myself. Writing was dangerous, like making love the way you should.”

With language real and raw, he described consciously committing himself to the act.

“That night I realized I was a hunter of words,” he added. “This is what I had been born for. This was going to be my way of being with others after I was dead and this way the people and the things I had loved wouldn’t die.”

He claimed writing required he get his “feet wet” and invoke desire.

This meant a need to “provoke myself, tell myself, ‘You can’t do it, I bet you can’t,’” he recollected. “And I also knew that in order for the words to come I had to close my eyes and think intensely about a woman.”

More than mere thoughts, intense feeling surely provided Galeano inspiration. Affect undoubtedly filled the pages of his works.

Other authors have similarly shown how words convey passion in radical politics, challenging’s previous distinctions. Boundaries between writing, adventure and radical politics dissolve in the realm of desire. They re-materialize as one with words printed on a page and concepts communicated on a screen.

Parisian Poetics of Lost and Unrequited Love

It is often wise to defer to the French in matters of romance, and France has long been a hotbed of radical politics. Writers and radicals in France throughout history have been amazingly adept at coupling these passionate exercises.

Poet Alphonse de Lamartine, for example, garnered immense popularity focusing on the fleeting moments of human happiness associated with earthly love.

As Mary Frances Dorschell noted, Lamartine met a young married woman, Julie Charles, at lac du Bourget in 1816. The two purportedly fell into “a platonic love,” although the boundaries surrounding their actual intimacy remained opaque. They planned to meet again the following year. Charles, dying of tuberculosis by 1817, could not keep the lover’s pact.

In his poem “The Lake,” Lamartine laments the ephemeral quality of human love like theirs. He implored our unforgiving world to immortalize their mortal bond.

“And let everything that one hears, or sees, or breathes,” Lamartine epistolized in his verse, translated from French, “Say out loud: ‘They have loved!’”

He yearned for the transitory nature of time not to snatch away his human happiness.

“O time! suspend your flight; and you, propitious hours,” he wrote, “Suspend your too quick course.”

Using his oratory powers, Lamartine rose to prominence during France’s February Revolution in 1848. As part of the Second Republic government, he would later be complicit in squashing subsequent struggles waged by Parisian workers that year.

German poet Heinrich Heine also happened to be in France in 1848, slightly removed from the uprisings.

His poetry, critical of Prussia’s autocratic regime, infuriated King Frederick William IV and forced Heine into exile in Paris, where he witnessed the insurrections from a distance.

Not confined to anything narrowly political, plenty of Heine’s poetry addressed issues of the heart. He was especially well-versed on unrequited love.

“The joy that kissed me yesterday,” Heine remarks in his poem “Kitty,” “Has disappeared already; Long years ago I found it so: True love is never steady. Oft curiosity has drawn/ Some lovely ladies toward me; But when they looked deep in my heart/ They left, and then abhorred me.”

He ended the verse with exception.

“Some have grown pale before they went,” he wrote. “And some with laughter cleft me; But only Kitty really cared—She wept before she left me.”

Prussian-born journalist Fanny Lewald met Heine in France during the year of continental revolutions. She wrote about coming to see him in a sanatorium on the Rue de l’Oursine outside Paris.

Like Lamartine’s love Julie Charles, Heine suffered from tuberculosis. It affected his spine, confining him to the bed much of the time. Yet, Lewald recounted, his doctor said Heine had been writing for hours that day and the day before she visited.

“I realized how interested I was in him, how grateful for all the hours of immense reading pleasure I owe him,” Lewald wrote. “I would have been so happy to have known or done anything that would give him relief, distraction, or joy. Because I always saw him as a young man in spirit, I do not want to give you any picture of his bodily suffering. He is somewhat crippled and complains bitterly about this condition, which has robbed him of the use of his eyes to the extent that he can write only a little and cannot read at all.”

When he spoke of writing in front of her, Heine said it had become impossible – but for reasons unrelated to his condition.

“Oh, I can’t write any more,” he said facetiously. “I can’t, because we have no censorship! How can a person write without censorship, if he has always lived under censorship? All style will cease, all syntax, all good habits. When I used to write something stupid, I would think, ‘The censor will strike or change this’; I relied on good censorship. But now I feel quite unhappy, unfocused. I keep hoping it is really not true and censorship still exists.”

Louis Blanc, Language and Labor: Ideological Inversion over Time

Another revolutionary in Paris in 1848, Louis Blanc, was tangentially part of the provisional government that replaced Louis Philippe’s July Monarchy and abolished censorship after the February Revolution.

Blanc advocated a top-down socialism, facilitated by the state. But, the author of “The Organisation of Labour,” also supported communal living and “social workshops,” envisioned as producer cooperatives. Those worker-controlled organizations should be funded by the state, Blanc thought. The government would support cooperatives to eliminate economic competition, which could theoretically put an end to authoritarian structures of the state.

Neither the provisional government nor the Second Republic gave Blanc the chance to implement his ideas. Instead, he established the advisory Luxembourg Commission. Bereft of state power or funds, under Blanc’s auspices the Commission still created the first workers’ congress and served as a forerunner to the Russian soviets.

With odds against him, Blanc would be marginalized by the government. Soon enough, workers repudiated him for his complicity with state power. Blanc, “with his dark eyes and shining white teeth,” historian Priscilla Robertson explained, “was only a bit taller than a dwarf,” and his love was largely unrequited.

Nevertheless, Blanc defended the “right to work,” or “droit au travail,” a popular working class campaign at the time. Back in 1848, it meant the right to employment for all who wanted it, with fair wages and decent conditions guaranteed.

Joseph Varga, an assistant professor of labor studies at Indiana University, analyzed the ideological inversion of the “right to work” phrase over time. The meaning of the maxim changed in the US around the time the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was passed. Coeval with the legislation, Varga suggested, concentrated power renewed concerted efforts to undermine workers’ rights, mutilating the language of labor.

Mark Gius, professor of economics at Quinnipac University, explained how in its new incarnation, “right-to-work” refers to laws prohibiting “unions from compelling workers to join unions in order to secure employment, hence greatly reducing the ability of unions to organize and retain members.”

Showing no love for labor, some 24 states have passed present-day versions of the “right-to-work” laws. Occasionally using another euphemism, “employee empowerment zones,” Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner supports today’s distorted version of “right-to-work,” reframed by the UAW and others as the “right-to-work-for-less.”

Passion for Women in History and the Radical Imagination

Women have perpetually been hit hardest by the kind of untrammeled capitalism epitomized by present-day right-to-work legislation. Historically, women have hit back the hardest too.

In nineteenth-century France, women were at the forefront of working class causes.

In her book “Revolutions of 1848: A Social History,” Robertson revealed how this radical politics incited passions of all sorts.

Insurrectionists in Paris, Robertson documented, erected more than 1,500 barricades throughout the city streets on February 24, 1848. After Parisian radicals released prisoners from the Château d’Eau, they burned the military post down and continued their rebellion against the monarchical regime.

“As the fight moved from the Château d’Eau over to the Palais-Royal a woman led a band of fifty people to the attack,” Robertson wrote. “She was dressed in a chemise and a skirt, with stockings which fell spirally about her legs. Her brown hair fell to her waist, and her shoulders, arms and most of her breast were bare. As men rushed up to embrace her she brushed them off, for all her ardor was devoted to the revolution.”

Love, unrequited and intensely political, found personification in female Parisian revolutionaries throughout history. They sparked the radical imagination.

John Merriman, professor of history at Yale, wrote recently about how one speaker at a meeting of women in May 1871, as the Paris Commune was underway, emphatically stated those “workshops in which you are packed will belong to you; the tools that are put into your hands will be yours; the gain resulting from your efforts, from your troubles, and from the loss of your health will be shared among you.”

Despite the lack of total economic transformation, women improved their status immensely in the Commune of 1871.

“Indeed, the solidarity and militancy of Parisian women, who had suffered such hardship during the Prussian siege, jumps out as one of the most remarkable aspects of the Paris Commune,” Merriman claimed about the short-lived reorganization of Parisian society. “Women, taking pride in their role as citoyennes, pressured the Commune to attend to their rights and demands and pushed for an energetic defense of the capital.”

Denouncing predominant working conditions as one aspect of “bourgeois authoritarianism,” women like Élisabeth Dmitrieff remarked the labor “of women was the most exploited of all in the social order of the past.”

She supported the right to employment, an end to economic competition and the equalization of wages for all male and female workers.

“Dmitrieff cut quite a figure,” Merriman explained. “She wore a black riding costume, a felt hat with feathers, and a red silk shawl trimmed in gold. A police description put her at about five feet, three inches tall, with chestnut hair and gray-blue eyes. Léo Frankel was probably but one of the Communards who fell in love with her.”

She was not the only Communard to stimulate desire.

Louise Michel, for example, decried the situation wherein a woman “bends under mortification; in her home her burdens crush her. Man wants to keep her that way, to be sure that she will never encroach upon his function or his titles. Gentlemen, we do not want either your functions or your titles.”

Michel and other militant Parisian “women were more concerned with economic and social reforms than achieving the right to vote,” Merriman documented.

Both revolutionary and reform measures ended in reaction. Forces at Versailles crushed the Commune in late May, killing thousands. Michel made it out alive and later led the first May Day marches in France.

French writer Victor Hugo, famous for heart-wrenching accounts of love lost and unrequited, dedicated his poem “Viro Major” to Michel.

Hugo also authored the novel “Notre-Dame de Paris,” which tells the story of the hunchback Quasimodo and his classic case of unrequited love.

In the novel, when Esmerelda, a beautiful Gypsy street dancer, is led off to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down on a bell rope to rescue her.

Esmerelda, however, never loves Quasimodo. She cannot get past his deformed appearance, which frightens her.

His love, unrequited as it was, never faltered. Quasimodo is later unable to save Esmerelda from being hanged, but he lies down beside her body where it had been thrown after execution, eventually dying of starvation.

The novel’s author weaved these narratives of unrequited love with stories of social injustice.

Past and Present Struggles, Future Possibilities

With works like “Notre-Dame de Paris,” Hugo demonstrated conditions of possibility for posterity. At present, struggles for social and economic justice can coincide with love, unrequited, political or potential.

The recent shift to a tuition-based and student debt-financed model at universities throughout the US introduced a market mentality and new disciplinary mechanisms into higher education, with all the severing of social bonds that entails.

Yet, as one stunning union militant pointed out during the two-day strike across the University of California system last April, campus can be – and historically has been – an intersection for struggles against the university’s own institutional violence.

As Eduardo Galeano no doubt understood, love often animates those struggles and the writings that enliven them. The collective challenge is to stay attentive to liberatory prospects, activate untapped potentials and realize latent desires.


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.





Coffee Hour, Feb. 15 @10am