On Monday about 1,000 protesters picketed outside Baruch College where CUNY’s Board of Trustees held a meeting. The mobilization, led by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), a union that represents faculty and professional staff members at CUNY, demanded that adjunct faculty members receive $7,000 per course, rather than the $3,200 minimum they currently earn based on a recently expired contract.
Part-time professors from Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, turned out en masse and were met by crowds belonging to other unions, including the city’s teachers’ union and the United Auto Workers, some of the others even coming all the way out from Cascadia’s office workers’ OPEIU Local 8. All of these energized folks, in the tradition of Gandhian labor leader César Chávez, decided to organize for the sake of reliable jobs and against the modern day American insanity of shrinking labor unions.
Chávez’s indefatigable organizing spirit (last year I read Jacques Levy’s masterpiece, Autobiography of La Causa) encourages union members to not be genteel, they’re better off as rabble rousers who are solidly from the left in their pursuit of education, reason, fairness to workers, etc. And while it was fun and interesting for these low-income academics to tag along with a foot-stamping, placard-waving, folk-playing crowd that also repeatedly chanted against austerity, the lesson here was that these other non-related unions, without a dog in this hunt, were cultivating alliances with as many other workers as possible. In this case the PSC (25,000 employees), and its inspiring leader, Barbara Bowen, an erstwhile tobacco pickers’ organizer with an unflagging ability to win huge concessions from employers, despite state laws that make it illegal for public employees to strike.
Dr. Bowen gets it. And if Chávez were still around today, he’d be teaming up with her in a heartbeat. Carefully and adroitly blending struggles is the only way employers will be kept in check. It’s time union momentum regained its magic. With the U.S. Supreme Court ready to deal them sharp blows, labor unions have no choice.