PSC and the campaign ahead
With the voting concluded in the contract ratification process we face what comes next: building our power outside the table, through the rank and file. The next move forward is to organize toward building enough power to leverage the larger CUNY community to demand transformative change. We must also embrace a diversity of tactics and authentically engage membership in their goals and ideas, rather than using a push for a strike as a replacement for analysis and power-building.
We present some specific suggestions about how to move ahead:
- The union must stop accepting austerity logic and framing achievements through the lens of austerity. The bargaining team won tens of millions but CUNY needs and the state can afford a billion dollars. To break out of pattern bargaining is a win only if it heralds a change in rejecting austerity logic moving forward. We must provide a counter-narrative to austerity, articulating a positive vision for the CUNY we believe in through public-facing media and policy campaigns.
- We should conduct research that enables us to identify and expose the political and financial elites that benefit from CUNY’s imposed austerity. This research is necessary to have a complete understanding of our battle’s political terrain.
- The creation of long-term “Bargaining for the Common Good” alliances with students and New York City working-class communities that rely on CUNY. This means bringing everyone to the table and incorporating their needs into our union’s vision, platform and public messaging.
- The activation of what Frances Fox Piven names as “disruptive power,” which, together with building relations and advancing a forward-looking vision, is capable of generating the urgency and leverage to step up and provide the force we need behind our demands. These could include creative workplace and public actions, escalating direct action. A strike authorization or strike readiness campaign will likely be a crucial part of this step.
- A more radical legislative strategy might include things like public actions, targeted district visits, protests outside of electeds’ offices, bird-dogging and crucially making funding CUNY an issue that all electeds have to take a stand on. A legislative strategy should center the new narrative as described above and it should be tied to other proposals such as the millionaire’s tax.
A version of this letter was read at the Special Delegate Assembly in November and republished online on Medium and Portside.
PSC President Barbara Bowen responds: Thank you, Rosa and Lynne, for the sharpness of your opening paragraph, where you rightly remind members that a call for a strike – transformative as strikes can be – should not replace analysis and the building of power.
And I agree: we must use the momentum of this contract to deepen the urgency and leverage with which our union challenges austerity. Suggestions about building power are always welcome, especially from activists as engaged in union work as both of you have been. But many of the tactics you call for are precisely what the PSC has been doing for years, and they have been critical to the successes we have had in Albany and City Hall. Direct action, protests outside electeds’ offices, targeted district visits, advocacy for the millionaires’ tax, building alliances and participating in coalitions for more revenue – all have long been part of our arsenal, as has a powerful articulation of a counter-narrative to austerity.
Defeating an entire political regime based on concentrating wealth in the hands of the rich and under-educating the poor, however, will take much more than a counter-narrative. The key, as you suggest, is expanding our power beyond our own union, large as it is. That work has also been underway, but it needs to grow, and suggestions like yours should be part of the discussion.
Not so simple
“New chairs for HEOs, campuses and RF” in the September 2019 Clarion gives the misleading impression that Scott Cally, the current chapter chair at Kingsborough Community College, won in a contested election against former chapter chair Rina Yarmish. Nothing could be further from the truth. Scott Cally ran with Rina Yarmish on her Faculty First slate and Yarmish, a longtime chapter chair at Kingsborough, is still very much a part of the chapter leadership. She currently holds the position of delegate. To characterize Scott Cally as representing a new era of union leadership on our campus would be a mistake.
Kingsborough Community College
Editor’s note: The article stated that Cally replaced Yarmish, which could be read to either mean he directly challenged her incumbency or that he merely succeeded her. Yarmish chose not to run for the chapter chair position again. In the piece, we write that Cally “was elected in a contested election, replacing Rina Yarmish,” and Yarmish was, later on in the piece, listed as an elected delegate for the Kingsborough chapter. Although this was a true account of the events, it left room for ambiguity. We regret any confusion.
The only votes counted at the Special Delegate Assembly on the memorandum of understanding were the “no” votes, which came out to 20. No one counted the “yes” votes or figured out if there were abstentions. The only other number we know for sure is the 205 delegates that signed in. The early assumption was that if 20 voted no (about 10 percent of the 205 in attendance), then 90 percent voted yes. However, we don’t know this because we don’t know how many were in the restroom or sitting on their hands, so all we could say for sure was that 20 voted no and that the MOA passed overwhelmingly.
In Clarion (November 2019), the back page article says that “nearly 200” voted for it. I’m confident that if you’d known there were only 205 people able to vote, you would have realized how that would have been possible only if at least half of the people who voted “no” also voted “yes.”
Normally, I wouldn’t make an issue of a simple little error like this, but I am very annoyed at the use of incorrect numbers in our union because they seem always incorrect in the direction that helps push a certain agenda.
Editor’s note: We’re glad that members value accuracy and precision in reporting. Clarion stands by its account of the Special Delegate Assembly on the memorandum of agreement. The chair took a “show of cards” vote at the Special DA, and because the “yes” vote was overwhelming a count wasn’t taken. Using photos and the number of delegates and alternates who signed in, we were confident in our assertion that “nearly 200” of those present raised their cards to vote yes. We believe we accurately reported the result.