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Home » Clarion » 2021 » June 2021 » Activism in the streets, power at the contract table

Activism in the streets, power at the contract table

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Majumdar looks back

Nivedita Majumdar, former PSC Secretary
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Nivedita Majumdar wants members to know that although she has stepped down as PSC secretary after two terms, the lifelong activist and trade unionist isn’t going far. When she returns to her post as an associate professor of English at John Jay College, she expects to be an active rank-and-file member, continuing the battle against austerity she waged as a principal officer and, before that, as a chapter chair and delegate.

ACTIVIST

“It is a matter of deep satisfaction to me that the period of my six years as principal officer was arguably among the most eventful and exciting periods in the union’s history,” she said. “First, we did not just survive, but thrived after the ugly, reactionary attack on the union movement in the form of the Janus decision in 2018,” said Majumdar, adding that even since the Supreme Court ruling forbade the collection of agency shop fees by unions, PSC membership among full-timers has remained at about 95%.

She also took pride in the union’s strike authorization vote in 2016, in the face of the no-strike language of the New York State’s Taylor Law. “It was a mammoth task to organize our 27,000 members for the vote, around half of whom had contingent employment. But we took on the task because of the university’s failure to make an acceptable economic offer after five years without a contract,” Majumdar said.

“More than 1,000 PSC members were trained by union staff and leaders to hold one-on-one conversations with members, to listen to their perspectives while both assessing and promoting strike readiness. Conversations with members were complemented with chapter meetings, organizing department chairs to commit to non-retaliation should their colleagues strike, and working with CUNY students to organize support for a possible strike. In the strike authorization vote, 92% voted ‘Yes,’ risking personal financial loss and heavy penalties to their union,” she said.

Majumdar told Clarion that while she is proud of many of the contract gains under the previous administration, she hopes that the administration under Barbara Bowen set a standard for militant unionism that goes beyond contract fights.

“We’ve always believed that the source of our strength is not skillful negotiations in the boardroom – though that is certainly necessary – but the power we amass through organizing and fighting on the streets and on campuses,” she said. “Union stalwarts like Mike Fabricant helped expand our power through coalitions with civic groups and bodies that share our vision of an egalitarian and robust university and city. CUNY Rising is a product of that vision and will have a lasting impact on our future struggles. Under Barbara Bowen’s leadership, the union tested the outer limits of what a single union can achieve in a hostile political climate. A more fundamental transformation of our work conditions will require a class-wide movement.”

BACK IN THE FIELD

Majumdar looks forward not just to union activism at the local level but returning to her academic work. She recently wrote The World in a Grain of Sand (Verso), a “critique of dominant culture theories from a broadly Marxist perspective.”

“I’m very excited to go back to teaching and developing new courses,” Majumdar said. “It feels really great to have spent six years in central leadership and to now return to chapter work. The organic connection of rank-and-file activism and leadership is the strength of our union, so it is wonderful to be actually doing both.”

Looking back on the experience, she voiced optimism for the new leadership, but offered some advice about the tough roads ahead.

“I witnessed firsthand the back-breaking work and the vigilance it takes to cost a contract because every decimal point carries the potential of changing some lives,” she said.


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