The UC strike com. asked me this morning to write a short piece on 'solidarity'*
1331 33rd St San Diego CA 92102
Many years ago in the faded Art Nouveaux splendor of a Gorbals (Glasgow) pub, I met a man who told me an extraordinary story about his grandfather, a coalminer who had been killed in a pit disaster before the First World War. A methane explosion, followed by a roof collapse, had trapped his grandfather and his mates deep in the mine, where they were eventually asphyxiated. When rescuers reached their tomb days later, they found a final, defiant message chiseled into the coalface: 'God save our union.'
The spirit of these doomed Scots miners isn't easily replicated in rational choice models of social action. Nor can simple economic calculation explain the fervor with which Lancashire cotton workers, whose wages depended upon Southern cotton and the British domination of India, supported Lincoln and later Gandhi. Likewise, from the 1934 San Francisco General Strike to Justice for Janitors in the 1980s and 1990s, California working people have repeatedly translated their passion for justice and dignity into the slogan 'an injury to one, is an injury to all.'
The labor and civil rights movements, to be sure, aren't fairy tales, and the heroic moments are often counterbalanced by the petrification of militancy into leaden bureaucracy and the selfish calibration of seniority. Solidarity is too often an orphan. In our case, there are disheartening examples of the tenured strata ignoring the recent picket-lines of catering workers, secretaries, lecturers, and students.
UC faculty, indeed, are much like the residents of Jonathan Swift's city of Laputa: distracted by their departmental micropolitics and the distribution of FTEs while they float on a cloud above the existential distress of K-12 and community education. The Senate faculty also must share responsibility with the Regents for the system's transformation into a vast machine for the transformation of public research into corporate profit. Most UC campuses now more resemble gated communities than public temples of learning.
A lot of us have complained about this situation for years, but our discomfort has seldom moved us to action. But the challenge is now epic-historic: equity and justice are endangered at every level of the Master plan for Education. Obscene wealth still sprawls across the coastal hills, but flat-land inner cities and blue-collar interior valleys face the death of the California dream. Their children - let's not beat around the bush - are being pushed out of higher education. Their future is being cut off at its knees.
The September 24 strike movement, in my opinion, is most important because it defends non-tenured employees and demands public disclosure of the Regents' secret diplomacy. It is an elementary reflex of a progressive, humane consciousness: an antidote to the staggering selfishness and elitism of Andrew Scull and his Gang of 23.
A strike, by matching actions to words,, is also the highest form of teach-in. This seed of resistance, of course, will only grow to maturity through cultivation by unionized employees and students. They are the real constant gardeners, and hopefully branches of a unified fight-back will quickly intertwine with the parallel struggles of CSU, community college, K-12 and adult-education workers.
The strike also provides a bully pulpit to counter the still widespread belief that the UC system has a unique dispensation and can once again negotiate its own special deal in Sacramento. Many of our colleagues are simply in denial. This time around, the first-class passengers are in the same frigid water with the kindergarten teachers and community college janitors.
The 24th is the beginning of learning how to shout in unison. And whatever the outcome, it at allows us write our beliefs on the coalface.
* UPTE/CWA has voted to strike U.C. on September 24