Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mike Davis: The Mine has caved in

The UC strike com. asked me this morning to write a short piece on 'solidarity'*
Mike Davis
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


Anonymous said...

"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."

An elementary reflex is not a strategy.

" A strike, by matching actions to words,, is also the highest form of teach-in."

This is the "foco" theory of revolution. It is a proven failure. It is deaf and blind to the circumstances on the ground in particular localities. It does not try to reach and engage people from where they are, but believes they will see the light from the hero's bold action. This has nothing to do with the history of labor unions and strikes. It is putting the cart before the horse: strike first, organize later . . . or just assume the oprganization will happen after the strike all on its own.

The Furlough issue poisons any strike-like action led by the faculty. We have been suckered and then sucker punched, and it has been effective.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous's cart-before-horse point is fair enough, although it does little to undo Davis's root assumption about the need to learn the rudimentary social basis underlying any organizing ("shouting in unison" or solidarity of commitment).

What has put me over the top more than anything else is the extraordinary sop to UCOP by those that are supposed to represent the faculty senate.


This is the clearest and most forceful indicator I've seen that the principle of shared governance exists only as a myth and that we cannot rely on the existing organizational infrastructure to ensure that the university is run as a public institution. This is evident not only by the obvious fact that senate leaders are defending the administration against their own constituency but even in their telling and disheartening rhetorical slide from "shared governance" to "shared management." What seems so tragic (and thus serves so compellingly as a call to action), is that they don't seem to get the difference.

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