UCLA GSA officers call on UAW leaders to resume elections

3 May

http://gsa.asucla.ucla.edu/briefing-room/news/2011-05-03/gsa-officers-call-uaw-leaders-to-resume-elections

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5 Responses to “UCLA GSA officers call on UAW leaders to resume elections”

  1. Brooks May 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    Wow, it’s nice to see some activity from UCLA GSA, coming out in support of AWDU no less! This is an excellent opportunity to point something out about recent activisty campaigns we might remember in UCLA history. Last year the incumbent GSA was thrown out by a campaign of chipper young activists out of the professional schools using almost exactly the same rhetoric against a seasoned and productive leadership that AWDU has leveled against UAW 2865, that it was undemocratic, bureaucratic, and torpid. Well, though I’m looking forward to the GSA’s upcoming trips to SeaWorld and Catalina Island, I remembered I hadn’t heard from them for quite a while. I decided to check out the “Initiatives” section of the UCLA GSA website. Lo and behold, it hasn’t been updated since last June:

    Initiatives:
    Page Last Updated: June 17, 2010 – 2:32am by GSA Webmaster

    Funding/Fees
    Page Last Updated: June 17, 2010 – 2:23am by GSA Webmaster

    Housing
    Page Last Updated: June 12, 2010 – 12:23am by GSA Webmaster

    Sustainability
    Page Last Updated: June 12, 2010 – 12:22am by GSA Webmaster

    Quality-of-Life
    Page Last Updated: June 12, 2010 – 12:22am by GSA Webmaster

    Educational Resources
    Page Last Updated: June 12, 2010 – 12:22am by GSA Webmaster

    Shared Governance/Transparency
    Page Last Updated: June 12, 2010 – 12:21am by GSA Webmaster

    Diversity
    Page Last Updated: June 12, 2010 – 12:21am by GSA Webmaster

    In fact, these pages all look like the initiatives of the former administration. The point is that this rhetoric kills during an election, but has next to nothing to do with running a serious administration or showing leadership that will actually get something accomplished for students. God I hope I’m wrong, and that GSA has some really neat website somewhere where they explain all the strides they’ve made for students this year.

    Forgive me for being afraid that the AWDU hot air balloon will similarly float away after dismantling a successful administration.

    • Jason Ball May 3, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

      We’ll be sure to update the website soon so you can see what we’ve done. We can even make a page that says “Accomplishments” if you like. Though as none of us are running for reelection we’d just as soon focus on our projects while still in office. To your core point, however, there’s a false analogy between GSA and UAW 2865, the organizations are fundamentally different in design and intent. The real power of student governments is the power they have to suppress criticism and advance the agenda of administration. There is little to no legal power within these student governments, and their purpose, ultimately, is to function as part of the division of labor of administrative tasks on campuses and to provide the veneer of credibility to campus policies. That is, “student representation” on bodies that have no student power is generally subsumed under the heading of “input” and rearticulated as “this policy was designed in conjunction with student input.” I applaud student governments that manage to work productively within this framework without reifying the power structure of the campus or perpetuating the myth of student power through student government, I am not sure that I would disagree with critiques that said our GSA could do more, and certainly I can’t fault you in either case as we haven’t been on top of congratulating ourselves. Point being, there is tremendous power in the union as compared to student governments, and it is no wonder that the network of hundreds of the most active student leaders in the UC have focused their energy on the union of late. The GSA slate was a small group with a lot of experience and good intentions that was extremely limited by its intentional focus on issues rather than structure, and its lack of a power base built on organizing and rooted in departments. AWDU is a network that is composed of the most politically active graduate students of every campus, and it should be noted, the natural power base of the union in any scenario, and successful precisely in that their campaign does not exist in the nebulous realm of emails, blogs, and rhetoric, but in meaningful workplace relationships. The analogy is then also false not only in that GSA and UAW 2865 are not easily comparable, but in that the logic of involvement for participants is completely different as well

      Jason Ball
      Communications Director, GSA

      PS – Don’t you really enjoy the ability to have an open, pubic discussion on these AWDU sites? You don’t get that elsewhere. I think others may believe this to be a fairly minor difference between the slates but I would disagree with that.

      • Philippe Marchand May 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

        Hi Jason,

        I can’t engage in partisan discussion as a UAW 2865 election committee member and I have no knowledge of the GSA at UCLA, however you raise interesting questions on the power and limits of GSAs, and what their relationship should be with the union (for full disclosure, I am currently a staff person at the UC Berkeley GA and will be an officer starting July 1).

        I must say first that both types of organizations have a distinct reason to exist: the GSAs represents students as students, while the union represents them as workers. Also, GSAs don’t only do advocacy, they also organize and fund graduate student life on campus. In any case, I’ll focus on the advocacy function of both organizations in what follows…

        I agree that the union has the advantage of having an enforceable contract with the administration that is negotiated between the two parties seen as equal.

        GSAs, even when independent from the administration, don’t have the same position of strength because all advocacy efforts they spearhead have to be either outside the system (I mean protesting, public campaigns) or purely advisory inside the system (e.g. through their appointments of student representatives on campus committees).

        So what is the power of GSAs in terms of advocacy? I think by having representatives on campus committees and by meeting regularly with administrators, GSAs often can find out about policy and budgetary changes affecting graduate students before everyone else. If the GSAs and union reps. can maintain a good working relationship on every campus, there are obvious benefits in terms of gathering and sharing information, and also having two different routes for individual students to be involved in external issues (state, federal, etc.) in which both organizations do lobbying.

        In short, I think the union and GSAs need to work together, and act in concert on issues on which they can both agree, and have a mutual respect that’s based on an understanding of their distinct but important roles.

        Philippe

  2. Brooks May 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Thank you Jason for a thoughtful response to my jab, an Philippe for an equally constructive reply. I look forward to hearing about what UCLA GSA has accomplished.

    My point is that the AWDU vision of structural reform has lacked substance. My point is about the campaign rhetoric and whether it’s gotten us anywhere except at each other’s throats. Your letter is a part of this rhetoric, and it is frighteningly successful. A lot of students like the way it sounds, and in fact it makes structural change sound easy. In order to do this they’ve had to make the union sound broken and obviously in need of fixing. This is dangerous rhetoric because it doesn’t help students work together within structures whose capacity we build together over time. The anti-bureaucratic rhetoric is scary because it’s these systems that help us survive as an organization from year to year. The success of the AWDU campaign varies independently of the success of the union, and it’s disturbing to me how powerful the rhetoric has become and how it has encouraged to throw the baby out with bathwater. I do not think students have been encouraged to think concretely about constraints and possibilities of the union as an organization, because part of this is recognizing that the union as it exists has already in a sense solved problems that are endemic, namely how to achieve consistent progress despite a ruthless opponent and a very shifty student membership. AWDU has planted the notion that the current organization is corrupt, and that they can usher in something that won’t be. I think that trivializes what the union is up against, in terms of the UC as an adversary but more importantly what we can expect in terms of substantive goals and strike capacity. I expect if AWDU wins the union will operate exactly like it did before, sans a lot of seasoned organizers who feel dragged through the dirt because of this campaign. AWDU’s policy page is still completely about internal reform, as if the only thing keeping us back is the enemy within. We shouldn’t play this two party game with student governance. We need student-to-student compromise so we don’t loose our knowledge of what works while we plan for bigger and better things.

    I also think, perhaps with Phillipe, that you are wrong that there isn’t power in GSA. I’m a member of the Sociology GSA at UCLA and one thing we do every year is program assessment through surveys. That is power if we learn how to use it. Students have two lives, and two organizations to reflect that. We struggle within and against the university. This should be a time for a strategic partnership between GSA and UAW, how do you think we can make that happen?

    PS USEJ doesn’t have a board because we are trolled enough as it is. But I am grateful for the opportunity to have the conversation.

    • Zach May 5, 2011 at 1:09 am #

      While it is all well and good to advocate building change over time, there is a rather simple point that one should note.

      Independent of whether one agrees with AWDU, its platform, its message, its campaigning, its members, or anything else about it, one change has occurred in union organization very rapidly that did not occur at all during the past decade of ‘building change over time.’

      What change might that be, you may ask? Well, none other than the fact that someone has run for office for every elected position in our union for, as far as I know, the first time in its history (excepting, of course, steward positions, but since filling those would require 240+ individuals UC wide, perhaps we can give that more time).

      This is, in itself, remarkable. It is also no secret why this has occurred. During a decade of uncontested leadership, for whatever reason, the administration caucus (now USEJ), was not able to fill these positions (I’ll avoid any speculation about whether this was a problem of ability or will). It seems somewhat inapt to characterize as either ephemeral or utopian what is, quite simply, the filling out of our union’s extant leadership structure.

      Now, the very act of contestation and participation by hundreds of members across the campuses has, seemingly instantaneously, filled out our elected offices. One might think this to be magic, but one might also consider it to be a product of democratization. Clearly, there are people interested in working in and through our union (and I’ve corresponded and worked with dozens of them over the past few weeks, forging relationships across the state).

      Perhaps the leadership had trouble finding them before now, but presently they’re banging at the doors, driving up and down the coast organizing and meeting with each other, and rearranging their lives in order to ensure a fair election so that someone can take office. Many of them are even ‘seasoned’ union organizers and scholars.

      So I’m not quite sure why one should confine oneself to previous constraints and possibilities when the fact of a contested election has already altered the conditions of possibility – and as such, what is in fact possible – for our union’s organization. In not too much time we will have 70+ people, from both caucuses, plugged in to the union. There’s certainly a chance that they will all then avoid their responsibilities, or face a leadership unwilling to work with them (that’s certainly the experience of some members of the union with our present leadership.)

      That may even be the impression Brooks gets from talking with the candidates on his slate. If so that’s unfortunate. It’s not the impression I get working with the people in AWDU. So much the worse if they lose, I suppose.

      So in the end it’s hardly a matter of ‘ushering in something that won’t be’ – the ushering is over, the audience is almost seated – we’re just waiting for the elections committee to start the show. What has been ushered in most certainly will be, at least temporarily – it’s just a question of whether, how, and for what it will be used.

      The answers to those questions will likely determine whether the real change that has happened persists, or fades away. I prefer not to preclude the chance that all these people who have been organizing for the past few months around our union are not going to stop. To do so would seem to me to be a terrible dishonor to our fellow workers.

      -Zach

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