Someone I know has proposed a meeting or conference or something for the weekend after next, here’s my notes on what I plan to say.

Introduction

I’m Nate. Here’s a few things about me that inform where I’m coming
from. I work as a graduate employee at the U. Prior to become a grad
employee, my background professionally is in the professional social
justice and labor milieu and politically in anarchist and libertarian
communist circles. I’m currently a member and volunteer organizer with
the Industrial Workers of the World. I take it as a starting point
that no one ever gets paid to make a political difference in the
world. People can make a difference ethically, but that’s another
matter. I want to run through some ideas and proposals here for the
purposes of discussion. All of these could be unpacked further. Some
focus on academic work because that’s what I do at the U, but not all.
I’m going to try to be brief because I’d rather have a discussion with
the other people in the room than listen to myself talk.

Ideas and proposals

1. No more academic exceptionalism

2. More attention to the ways that academic jobs work as jobs.

3. Criticism of the myths that help keep academic jobs working – like academic exceptionalism, meritocracy, and teaching or writing as radical – and the institutional realities operating locally and across the industry – like tenure, merit pay, fellowship and other funding distribution, and university accounting practices.

4. Someone needs to write the history of the graduate employee unionization attempt and we should discuss it publicly, critically. Here are some starting hypotheses for debate: the UE shouldn’t have agreed to take on the campaign and the campaign shouldn’t have been an election drive.

5. More attention to the labor movement today and historically in our industry and analogous workers. Ideally this should become part of the workplace culture.

6. More attention to the ways that academic jobs link with other jobs as part of a supply chain.

7. More deliberate attempts to build relationships across job classes and across campuses and schools among those without the power to hire and fire – graduate employees and clerical staff at the U, graduate employees and adjuncts at the U, MCTC, MCAD, Metro State, etc.

8. More deliberate thought about ways to exercise power and build organization – to do both at the same time because the two can only meaningfully be done at the same time – here where we work. This also means admitting that some of us don’t know how to do this – despite whatever political or theoretical or disciplinary acumen we may have – and that currently we’re not as organized and not as powerful as we should be. By thought I do not mean theorizing or writing or teaching or any of the other things that we get paid for. I mean practical and organizational activity conducted on our time off work (and time on the clock stolen back from our employer by using that time in ways which could get us in trouble if we got caught), as with every other instance of workplace organizing. We should consider a few options related to this point, such as attending workplace organizing trainings, reading up on the relevant laws and court cases, starting a newsletter and circulating pamphlets, starting organizational projects like flying pickets and grievance committees, and seeking out examples of these that we can learn from and network with. A more simple starting point would be to map which units have local informal or formal organization and which don’t. Those which are organized should begin to network on a face to face basis and set concrete goals and timelines for improving our lives at work. We should also formulate demands we want on a unit by unit basis and in common with other units. For graduate employees, I’d like to see an end to the fees at the beginning of the semester and better health insurance.

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