The citizen’s guide to Article 5, labor mobilization edition
This is the part of an occasional series on the current implosion into Article 5, the section of the US constitution that provides for a complete rewrite.
This organizing project at CUNY illustrates what needs to be done in every union in the country:
The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) is an American Federation of Teachers local (2334) representing some 25,000 full-time faculty, part-time faculty, professional staff, graduate employees, lab technicians, and more. We are part of a single bargaining unit that negotiates a single contract, and are by far the largest union at the City University of New York (CUNY), the country’s largest urban college system. …
… When I arrived at the CUNY Graduate Center, the union chapter had been defunct for years and there was no formal union presence in the building. A long-time leader of a different chapter, who happened to work in the building, helped orient me to the union. …
… In 2015, our union president announced a strike authorization vote for the whole PSC-CUNY bargaining unit, something that had not happened in our union since 1973. We had been working under an expired contract since 2010 with no raises in that time. Striking is illegal for public sector unions in New York state (though voting to strike is not), so the action sent a shock wave through the membership.
In the month before the vote, and during the 10 days of the vote itself, we built more leaders than before or since. Our small crew scrambled to consolidate all rank-and-file activists, however marginally engaged, and to make the vote something every member or fee-payer would know about.
We covered the building entrance all day long for the 10 days of the vote, which gave new rank-and-file leaders a chance to develop and test skills. We spoke with 1,000 members, agitating about state and city funding for the CUNY system and explaining that a big strike vote would build bargaining power for adjuncts and graduate employees.
Ultimately more than 10,000 PSC-CUNY members across the system participated, with 92% voting to authorize a strike. We ultimately settled without striking and gained 10% raises for everyone in the bargaining unit. Some 1,500 adjuncts also won three-year appointments, ending the semester-to-semester hiring insecurity they had faced. Many adjuncts and graduate employees were understandably frustrated with the across-the-board percentage increase — such raises inevitably exacerbate inequality in a wall-to-wall union, and adjuncts continue to earn just over $3,000 per course taught.
Read the whole thing, it is a GREAT case study on how to revitalize a union.
There are many, many reasons that American political culture has become so degraded, the erosion of organized labor has to be chief amongst them. It is much easier to fool and cheat workers if they have no way to express their collective voice. Rebuilding the labor movement must take the highest priority. Efforts such as the one linked above show us the way.
But to my point, our society is imploding and taking our 18th century constitution with it. At some point in the not too distant future we will almost certainly see Article V invoked and a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Before that happens we need a revitalization and mobilization of the American left. Electoral organizing, while crucial, will not, by itself, be sufficient. We will have to mobilize every part of civil society to work towards a new political model. This series is an attempt to find practical examples of that happening.