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Commentary :: Labor : Organizing : Politics
Minimum Wage Hikes
11 Feb 2014
Reposted from Cradle of Liberty

During the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama expressed his intent to sign an executive order that would raise the minimum wage for new federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. Though some very vocal pundits and politicians were outraged by the president’s decision to bypass the legislative branch to enact a wage hike, the executive order he wrote is limited to new contracts starting in 2015 and does not apply to contract renewals unless there are significant changes to the terms of the contract, such as the number of employees or type of work involved. The budget for federal contracts shrinks every year, decreasing the number of new contracts with it. So President Obama’s executive order will actually have very little impact. But the brazenness of a unilateral action to give the lowest-wage earners working for the federal government a little bump called attention to two issues that have been on the minds and placards of many in the past few years: poverty and inequality.
Click on image for a larger version

Since the economic crash and subsequent bailout of 2008, the richest Americans have seen their wealth fully recover and then expand while more people fell under the poverty line, budgets for government aid programs were radically cut, and the cost of living continued to increase. Income inequality has reached its highest level since the 1920′s and the gap is widening. Workers watched the in-fighting and obstructionist politics in government and listened to the impotent solutions offered by private employers (i.e. employee food drives, getting a second full-time job, recommending that employees return gifts to pay bills) and have grown frustrated by the inaction of those supposedly representing their interests. In recent years, there has been a dramatic surge in actions calling for fair wages. Fast food and retail workers for some of the largest employers of minimum-wage workers in the country organized nationwide pickets and walk-outs to call for a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize. There is little hope that any of this will move congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but many states have taken up the issue themselves and recently passed minimum wage increases or have submitted proposals that will be decided this year.

Last November, the Massachusetts Senate voted 32 to 7 to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2016 and tie it to the Consumer Price Index for automatic cost-of-living increases. The minimum for tipped workers, which is currently $2.63 an hours, would be increased to 50% of the minimum wage. If the bill passes in the House, the wage hike could raise the pay for as many as 600,000 workers in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts minimum wage would be the highest statewide minimum in the country, which legislators feel is necessary because the cost of living in Massachusetts is one of the highest in the country. Business owners are concerned that the increased stress on their payroll budget would limit hiring capacity, but many have agreed that reforms to the unemployment insurance system would reduce the increased costs of payroll and taxes. Even if the $11 minimum wage is voted down in the House, Raise Up Massachusetts, an organization fighting for earned sick time and a minimum wage increase, has collected enough signatures to put an increase to $10.50 on the 2014 election ballot. Recent polling shows that minimum wage increases are tremendously popular, and it’s likely that a raise to a $10.50 wage floor would easily receive the votes required to make it law.

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Minimum Wage Hikes
27 Feb 2014
McDonald Composit.png
Workers Vanguard No. 1040 - 21 February 2014 ( )

Lessons of the Unionization of Meatpacking - Fast Food Workers Need a Fighting Labor Movement

Protests in the past year by fast-food workers demanding a pay increase have highlighted the poverty-level wages and contemptuous abuse dealt out by the corporate bosses to this growing segment of the working class. The roughly four million men and women who run the grills and front the counters at McDonald’s, Burger King and other giant chains make barely $9 per hour and average about 26 working hours a week, putting them well below the poverty line if they have a family to support. In the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis, such poverty-level work accounts for three out of every five new jobs. These are also often the only employment that black and immigrant youth—and, increasingly, laid-off older workers—can get.

The workers who have joined in the fast-food protests, in some cases walking off the job to do so, understand that it is necessary to fight. Yet the hundreds of thousands of small fast-food outlets are the point in the restaurant industry where workers are the weakest. To unionize fast-food workers and win significant gains in wages and benefits poses the need to mobilize the power of workers who are strategically positioned along the supply chain that provides the frozen hamburger patties, French fries and so on to the retail outlets. And that means a struggle against the meatpacking and trucking bosses to again make those industries bastions of union power.

But this is far removed from what the labor traitors at the head of the unions have in mind. Instead, they are pursuing a strategy, announced with great fanfare at the AFL-CIO convention last September, that is a substitute for the direct organization of workers into unions. The new strategy consists of alliances with “alt-labor” organizations—community groups that organize workers outside collective bargaining—as well as recruitment to the Working America lobbying organization. Mobilizing community groups to exert pressure on the bosses can be a useful tactic, but only if it is an auxiliary to hard class struggle—a perspective that is anathema to the pro-capitalist labor tops.

The bureaucrats’ strategy is epitomized by their current campaign on behalf of fast-food workers, as well as by protests against Wal-Mart centered on the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which sponsors OUR Walmart, has repeatedly declared that it has “no intent to have Wal-mart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart.” This is part of what has come to be called “minority unionism.” Instead of seeking to win union recognition by signing up a majority of workers at particular work sites, the bureaucrats aim to win over isolated individuals at many sites. These small groups of workers bravely risk company retaliation by walking off the job to join protests like the November Wal-Mart Black Friday events that aim to shame the company. What such “strikes” do not seek to do is to shut down the bosses’ operations until they are forced to come to terms with the workers.

The premise adopted by the union officialdom is that existing anti-labor legislation is so restrictive that ways must be found to work around the laws without directly confronting them. Yet everything of value the workers movement has won has been achieved by mobilizing the ranks of labor in hard-fought struggle against the capitalists and their whole body of anti-labor legislation. The labor bureaucracy is a relatively privileged layer that long ago separated from its base, the union membership. The labor misleaders long ago renounced the class-struggle methods that built the unions, from picket lines that mean business to secondary boycotts and plant occupations. Through their support to the capitalist system and the Democratic Party, the labor bureaucrats serve to tie the unions to the class enemy and its state, which from the White House on down is not a neutral body “of the people” but an organ of capitalist rule.

Though union power in the food industry has been significantly weakened since the high point of unionization, the UFCW and SEIU service employees union, along with the Teamsters, retain footholds in the slaughterhouses and processing plants. From there to the warehouses and on to the fast-food outlets, there is a critical “cold chain” that must be maintained to prevent spoilage. Fleets of refrigerated (reefer) trucks carry the lion’s share of this produce.

Shutting down the slaughterhouses and processing plants and tying up the cold chain would quickly stop the flow of billions of dollars of profits. Mobilizing the social power of that industrial workforce could lay the basis for a drive to re-unionize trucking and the meatpacking industry and, based on those strongholds, back up struggles by fast-food workers. The history of unionization of the meatpacking industry provides a graphic example of the kind of hard class struggle that is needed to organize the unorganized and revitalize the labor movement.

Class Struggle and Multiracial Unity

The meatpacking industry was historically centered in Chicago, with major slaughterhouses in other rail centers like Kansas City and St. Louis, and was dominated by the Beef Trust with its Big Four: Armour, Swift, Wilson and Cudahy. Beginning in the late 1800s, the Beef Trust defeated attempts to unionize the massive Chicago stockyards by promoting divisions among the workers. While East European immigrants were set against Irish, German and native-born workers, what proved fatal to unionizing efforts was the racial division between white and black workers. That division was fostered by the craft unionism of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) leaders, with their hostility to unskilled labor and racist animosity toward blacks, many of whom were hired by the bosses to break strikes. As recounted in the 1985 film The Killing Floor, a key stockyard organizing drive was destroyed by the anti-black Chicago riots of 1919, which were encouraged by the packing bosses. Two years later, a strike by the AFL’s Amalgamated Meat Cutters union (AMC) was quickly crushed.

The road to a militant, integrated industrial union of meatpacking workers was paved by the Unemployed Councils organized in the depths of the Great Depression by the Communist Party (CP). The CP had been formed as a revolutionary organization inspired by the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia led by the Bolshevik Party. However, the CP politically degenerated in parallel with the consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union beginning in 1923-24. Nevertheless, American Communists retained in distorted form the beneficial influence of the Bolshevik-led Communist International’s insistence that the party actively take up defense of the oppressed black population.

In the early 1930s, the CP’s energetic defense of the Scottsboro Boys against legal lynching in Alabama won it widespread respect among black people North and South. The Unemployed Councils fought evictions of jobless workers by mobilizing flying squads to move them back in and organized mass demonstrations demanding increased relief for the unemployed. Uniting black and white, immigrant and native-born workers in common struggle, these actions brought the party authority in Chicago’s Black Belt and undercut the racist backwardness of the whites. Thus the CP acquired a base among black packinghouse workers that proved critical to later union organizing efforts, in which the CP played a prominent role.

When an uptick in the Depression economy enabled workers to raise their heads again, strikes began to break out. A successful 1933 sit-down strike by Hormel meatpacking workers in Austin, Minnesota, galvanized the stockyards and presaged the great explosion of working-class struggle in 1934 that saw victorious citywide strikes in San Francisco, Toledo and Minneapolis. Those strikes, all led by reds, laid the basis for organizing millions of workers into the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the following years.

These victories were won not by relying on government labor boards and mediators, whose job it was to get strikers back to work by pretending to be neutral arbiters, but by doing whatever was necessary to keep the bosses’ struck operations shut down. In Minneapolis, truckers led by Trotskyists, who had been driven out of the CP for upholding its founding revolutionary program, instituted flying pickets to stop scab trucks in a series of strikes that won union recognition. Organizing the unemployed to join mass picket lines, the truckers defeated scabherding police in pitched battles and defied a National Guard occupation. The Trotskyists then spearheaded a successful campaign to organize over-the-road truck drivers across the Midwest. Key to that victory was a hard-fought, five-month 1938-39 strike in the open shop stronghold of Omaha, Nebraska. Those battles opened the way for the organization of over-the-road drivers nationwide.

The struggles that forged what was to become the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) were directly inspired by the mass pickets and factory occupations in 1936-37 that brought auto, rubber and steel workers into the CIO. The CIO’s Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee won unionization through such militant actions as work stoppages on the killing floors, preventing freshly slaughtered meat from being moved, as well as a sit-down strike at Armour in Kansas City. Officially founded in 1943, the UPWA was perhaps the most integrated union in the U.S., with a history of fighting for the rights of black people. That history holds crucial lessons for organizing the open shop South, where deep, vicious racist discrimination has always served to divide workers and keep unions out.

With the onset of the anti-Soviet Cold War following World War II, the capitalist rulers enlisted the tops of the trade unions in the witchhunt that drove leftists and other militants out of the unions. At the same time, the bourgeoisie instituted a series of ever more restrictive anti-labor laws that banned secondary boycotts, labor solidarity action like refusing to touch scab goods, sympathy strikes and effective picketing. But as the union battles of the 1930s showed, a determined use of these weapons of class struggle can render such anti-labor laws moot.

The Great Retreat

As part of the bosses’ postwar anti-labor offensive, the considerable gains represented by unionization of the meatpacking and trucking industries came under attack. By the early 1960s, the new Interstate Highway system enabled meatpacking companies, no longer reliant on rail transport, to move their slaughterhouses out of the urban centers into rural areas where unions were weaker. New plants were built that further broke down the butchering process to simple, repetitive “dis-assembly line” cutting steps, greatly reducing the need for skilled labor. As the old stockyards closed down, the UPWA sought refuge by merging with the AMC.

In the same period, the ruling class set its gun sights on the Teamsters, then the most powerful union in the country. In 1964, the Teamsters’ National Master Freight contract covered some 450,000 truckers. Today, in the aftermath of the union-busting offensive unleashed by Democratic president Jimmy Carter and liberal icon Senator Ted Kennedy’s deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, it covers only about 30,000, most of them in one company, YRC Worldwide.

In 1969, Iowa Beef Packers (later known as IBP, Inc.), one of the first of a new breed of union-busting outfits that later came to include agribusiness giants like ConAgra and Cargill, provoked a strike at its new, low-wage flagship facility in Dakota City, Nebraska, by AMC Local 222, which had recently won a certification election at the plant. After a bitter battle, the AMC tops instructed the Dakota City local to accept a contract that preserved the union but allowed the company to pay far less than the pay rate in the union’s master agreement with the Big Four. Over the next 25 years, only two contracts at the plant were settled without a strike or a lockout.

During a 1982 strike, the governor called in the National Guard to protect scabs, and a court order banned the combative picket lines set up by the union, by then part of the UFCW. We wrote at the time:

“Unions throughout the region must mobilize their ranks in mass picketing at the plant. Damn the injunction; picket lines mean don’t cross! Elementary labor solidarity demands that not one truck, Teamster-driven or otherwise, must move in or out of the Dakota City plant. Not one unionist must touch Iowa Beef products—Hot cargo scab goods!”

—WV No. 311, 6 August 1982

The UFCW tops, however, relied on an impotent petition to the governor to call off his dogs. In the end, the workers were forced to accept a 12 percent pay cut.

A subsequent UFCW organizing drive targeting more than ten IBP plants failed. IBP subsequently recognized the union only at a Joslin, Illinois, plant in 1988, where the contract was based on the drastically worsened conditions brought about by the defeat in Dakota City. IBP has since been absorbed into the Tyson Foods empire, and the Dakota City and Joslin facilities are the only Tyson beef plants organized by the UFCW.

Spearheaded by IBP’s union-busting success, the rest of the industry followed suit. In what then-UFCW International president William Wynn called a “controlled retreat,” the union bureaucrats made concession after concession. Master agreements virtually disappeared from the industry, and “by the mid-1980s, most of the gains achieved by meatpacking unions over the previous fifty years had disappeared” (Aaron Brenner, Benjamin Day, Immanuel Ness, The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History, 2009). By the time UFCW Local P-9 walked out of Hormel’s pork processing plant in Austin, Minnesota, in August 1985 to fight against demands for more crippling concessions, the UFCW tops had already allowed wages in the industry to be cut by half and speedup was brutal.

The ranks of P-9 fought with courage and determination, reviving militant tactics like roving pickets to shut down other Hormel plants. They did so in the face of an anti-union offensive launched under the Reagan administration with the smashing of the PATCO air controllers strike in 1981. But the UFCW members were betrayed by the policies of both the local and international union leaderships.

The top UFCW leadership withheld money raised for the strikers, publicly denounced the strike as “mass suicide” and actively herded scabs across P-9’s picket lines. In March 1986, Wynn ordered the union to end the strike and cut off strike benefits. The UFCW International then put P-9 into receivership. In September 1986, a contract on the company’s terms was signed by UFCW Regional Director Joe Hansen, now the union’s International president. Meanwhile, the local union leaders relied on a campaign of demonstrations seeking to pressure stockholders, consumer boycotts and the like. Their “corporate campaign” was counterposed to mobilizing trade unionists and others who had shown their support for P-9 in the kind of hard class struggle needed to beat the union-busters. A quarter of a century later, the union bureaucrats continue their strategy of surrender, most recently repackaged for Wal-Mart and the fast-food industry.

Today packinghouse and processing plant workers are driven to fight against hellish conditions harking back to the Chicago stockyards exposed by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 novel, The Jungle. Following the defeat of the Hormel strike, the company built a wall right through the factory separating the lower-skill, front-end killing floor from the processing side and “contracted” with its own shell company to run it at even lower wages with a heavily Latino immigrant workforce. With the line sped up from 750 to 1,300 hogs an hour by 2006, carpal tunnel, cuts and other injuries became routine. One part of the process caused an autoimmune disease that crippled many workers with neurological damage.

Since the late 1960s, the agribusiness bosses have consciously hired immigrants, particularly from Mexico and Central America, many of them undocumented workers. Such workers who try to organize face deportation raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.). In December 2006, I.C.E. carried out one of the largest immigration raids in its history, rounding up nearly 1,300 immigrant workers in six Swift plants, five of which were organized by the UFCW.

The previous month, black and white workers at Smithfield Foods’ pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, struck in defense of Latino fellow workers fired by the company in its war against a UFCW organizing drive. Despite I.C.E. raids, the union gained recognition at Tar Heel in 2008. This underscores the crucial need for the labor movement to champion the defense of immigrant workers and demand full citizenship rights for all who have made it to the U.S.

Industries like fast-food have become emblematic of the grinding poverty into which vast numbers of workers have been driven. What is desperately needed is to revitalize the labor movement as a fighting force. Above all, the class-collaborationist labor tops must be swept out and replaced by a class-struggle leadership. This is a necessary part of the fight to build a workers party committed to leading all the exploited and oppressed in sweeping away the capitalist order.

See Youtube - McResources - Low Wage advice from the Boss at McDonald's
Re: Minimum Wage Hikes
01 Mar 2014

GERRY PALADEN'S journey began on a small island in the Philippines where he learned the virtues of hard work and internalized a religious sensibility that shaped him as a man of strong convictions. As an adult, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Las Vegas, where he worked tending bar for a time. Seeking employment that was less offensive to his belief system, Gerry started working for Walmart as a warehouseman, eventually settling in Federal Way, Wash.

One night, a representative of the OUR Walmart campaign came to his door and told him about the work of this organization in addressing the problems faced by Walmart workers. Emboldened by the prospect that OUR Walmart would stand behind him, Gerry began to speak out to management about the wrongs that he was seeing in the workplace.

Though a reliable and diligent worker, he began to come into conflict with Walmart management over a variety of issues, mainly related to working conditions. At times, the warehouse would be uncomfortably cold. When he brought this to management's attention, he was told that they would need permission from corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., before being allowed to turn up the heat.

On other occasions, he brought to management concerns over unsafe equipment that they were being forced to operate, such as the lift jacks for moving pallets. Without a union steward to mediate such grievances at Walmart, the burden for making these complaints falls upon the individual worker. This makes it easy for management to identify "troublemakers," and harass or weed them out.

In time, this is exactly what happened to Gerry. A co-worker, seeking to curry favor with management, accused Gerry of threatening him, a charge denied by Gerry. Without hearing his side of the story, which involved an obscene gesture designed to provoke him, Gerry was terminated, after seven years with Walmart--with no recourse and no appeal. He was simply out of work.

Subsequently, Gerry became even more involved with the OUR Walmart campaign, calling attention to the low wages, unfair and unsafe labor practices of the mega-retailer, and the culture of retaliation against employees, even after they have been fired. Gerry is himself under a restraining order initiated by Walmart, prohibiting him from trespassing on Walmart property anywhere in the country. This includes parking lots, which are owned by Walmart at many shopping centers, thus hindering him from even shopping in other stores not owned by Walmart.

Gerry recently spoke to at his home in Federal Way.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AFTER GETTING fired by Walmart, you might have just moved on. But you decided to fight in the OUR Walmart campaign. What led to that decision?

I TOLD my boss that it was wrong to fire me, and that I had done nothing wrong. I am an honest man and only tell the truth. And it's not just about me. Just last weekend I was in Arizona to support a 63-year-old woman who had been fired.

Walmart doesn't care about its workers whether they are here or in Bangladesh. They just care about money. If you change Walmart, you change the world.

WHAT KIND of changes are you seeing since becoming part of the OUR Walmart campaign?

FOR ONE, they have purchased new equipment where I used to work. Everything has been replaced.

AND HOW has the campaign changed you?

I FEEL good, because I fight for right. I am fighting for other people, too. I am fighting for the truth.

YOU ARE under a restraining order. Are there other ways Walmart is retaliating against employees who stand up?

WELL, THEY change the schedule all the time, so you are often working where you don't belong. And they make you work overtime one month and cut your hours the next. That's not right. They say, "Save money, live better," but it's not for the workers. They don't live better.

WHAT ARE the next steps in your struggle with OUR Walmart?

I WILL continue to speak out. And we will continue to build support in the community. I have a number of different places to go like churches and other community organizations to spread our message.

SOME HAVE said that Walmart goes into smaller communities and crushes the small businesses. Then they turn on their own workers. What is your experience?

WALMART IS trying to control the world. The small businesses have to pay taxes, but Walmart gets breaks with the promise of jobs. But they destroy the jobs which already exist. That's not right. That's why I'm here.

SO WHAT can people in the community do to support this struggle?

CUSTOMERS SHOULD be going into the stores and telling management that they are aware of the unfair treatment of the workers. Walmart is very responsive to customers, but doesn't care about the workers.

IT SOUNDS like this is not about you, but about something more.

THAT'S RIGHT. It's not about me. I'm concerned about other workers--about those who work in sweatshops in other countries. I'm a human being. I'm not just fighting for myself. I'm not selfish, like Walmart, but care about millions of other workers around the world.

THE BLACK Friday protests seemed quite successful in late November with thousands of people demonstrating around the country. What is next for the OUR Walmart campaign?

NOW WE are trying to educate the workers. And there was a movement to strike in Arkansas. But Walmart was blaming the unions for trying to stir up trouble--which was a lie. We need to build an organization in Walmart that will stand up for the workers.

IS THERE anything else you would like people to know?

I NEED people to support us. I can't do it myself. We are up against the biggest corporation in the world. We need people to educate their communities. We need them to tell about the low wages and unfair labor practices and the retaliation against workers. We need them to speak out and tell the truth about what Walmart is doing.

See Youtube - We Can't Make It Here Anymore - by James Mcmurtry
See also:
Re: Minimum Wage Hikes
02 Mar 2014
college inc.bmp
Minimum Wage College Teachers - Food Stamps and Section 8

by Noam Chomsky via Skype on 4 February 2014 to a gathering of members and allies of the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, PA. Prof. Chomsky’s remarks were elicited by questions from Robin Clarke, Adam Davis, David Hoinski, Maria Somma, Robin J. Sowards, Matthew Ussia, and Joshua Zelesnick. The transcript was prepared by Robin J. Sowards and edited by Prof. Chomsky.

On hiring faculty off the tenure track

That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.

This idea is sometimes made quite overt. So when Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more. That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.

That’s one aspect, but there are other aspects which are also quite familiar from private industry, namely a large increase in layers of administration and bureaucracy. If you have to control people, you have to have an administrative force that does it. So in US industry even more than elsewhere, there’s layer after layer of management—a kind of economic waste, but useful for control and domination. And the same is true in universities. In the past 30 or 40 years, there’s been a very sharp increase in the proportion of administrators to faculty and students; faculty and students levels have stayed fairly level relative to one another, but the proportion of administrators have gone way up. There’s a very good book on it by a well-known sociologist, Benjamin Ginsberg, called The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011), which describes in detail the business style of massive administration and levels of administration—and of course, very highly-paid administrators. This includes professional administrators like deans, for example, who used to be faculty members who took off for a couple of years to serve in an administrative capacity and then go back to the faculty; now they’re mostly professionals, who then have to hire sub-deans, and secretaries, and so on and so forth, a whole proliferation of structure that goes along with administrators. All of that is another aspect of the business model.

But using cheap labor—and vulnerable labor—is a business practice that goes as far back as you can trace private enterprise, and unions emerged in response. In the universities, cheap, vulnerable labor means adjuncts and graduate students. Graduate students are even more vulnerable, for obvious reasons. The idea is to transfer instruction to precarious workers, which improves discipline and control but also enables the transfer of funds to other purposes apart from education. The costs, of course, are borne by the students and by the people who are being drawn into these vulnerable occupations. But it’s a standard feature of a business-run society to transfer costs to the people. In fact, economists tacitly cooperate in this. So, for example, suppose you find a mistake in your checking account and you call the bank to try to fix it. Well, you know what happens. You call them up, and you get a recorded message saying “We love you, here’s a menu.” Maybe the menu has what you’re looking for, maybe it doesn’t. If you happen to find the right option, you listen to some music, and every once and a while a voice comes in and says “Please stand by, we really appreciate your business,” and so on. Finally, after some period of time, you may get a human being, who you can ask a short question to. That’s what economists call “efficiency.” By economic measures, that system reduces labor costs to the bank; of course it imposes costs on you, and those costs are multiplied by the number of users, which can be enormous—but that’s not counted as a cost in economic calculation. And if you look over the way the society works, you find this everywhere. So the university imposes costs on students and on faculty who are not only untenured but are maintained on a path that guarantees that they will have no security. All of this is perfectly natural within corporate business models. It’s harmful to education, but education is not their goal.

In fact, if you look back farther, it goes even deeper than that. If you go back to the early 1970s when a lot of this began, there was a lot of concern pretty much across the political spectrum over the activism of the 1960s; it’s commonly called “the time of troubles.” It was a “time of troubles” because the country was getting civilized, and that’s dangerous. People were becoming politically engaged and were trying to gain rights for groups that are called “special interests,” like women, working people, farmers, the young, the old, and so on. That led to a serious backlash, which was pretty overt. At the liberal end of the spectrum, there’s a book called The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the 2013_1104cho_Trilateral Commission, Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, Joji Watanuki (New York University Press, 1975), produced by the Trilateral Commission, an organization of liberal internationalists. The Carter administration was drawn almost entirely from their ranks. They were concerned with what they called “the crisis of democracy,” namely that there’s too much democracy. In the 1960s there were pressures from the population, these “special interests,” to try to gain rights within the political arena, and that put too much pressure on the state—you can’t do that. There was one special interest that they left out, namely the corporate sector, because its interests are the “national interest”; the corporate sector is supposed to control the state, so we don’t talk about them. But the “special interests” were causing problems and they said “we have to have more moderation in democracy,” the public has to go back to being passive and apathetic. And they were particularly concerned with schools and universities, which they said were not properly doing their job of “indoctrinating the young.” You can see from student activism (the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movements) that the young are just not being indoctrinated properly.

Well how do you indoctrinate the young? There are a number of ways. One way is to burden them with hopelessly heavy tuition debt. Debt is a trap, especially student debt, which is enormous, far larger than credit card debt. It’s a trap for the rest of your life because the laws are designed so that you can’t get out of it. If a business, say, gets in too much debt it can declare bankruptcy, but individuals can almost never be relieved of student debt through bankruptcy. They can even garnish social security if you default. That’s a disciplinary technique. I don’t say that it was consciously introduced for the purpose, but it certainly has that effect. And it’s hard to argue that there’s any economic basis for it. Just take a look around the world: higher education is mostly free. In the countries with the highest education standards, let’s say Finland, which is at the top all the time, higher education is free. And in a rich, successful capitalist country like Germany, it’s free. In Mexico, a poor country, which has pretty decent education standards, considering the economic difficulties they face, it’s free. In fact, look at the United States: if you go back to the 1940s and 50s, higher education was pretty close to free. The GI Bill gave free education to vast numbers of people who would never have been able to go to college. It was very good for them and it was very good for the economy and the society; it was part of the reason for the high economic growth rate. Even in private colleges, education was pretty close to free. Take me: I went to college in 1945 at an Ivy League university, University of Pennsylvania, and tuition was $100. That would be maybe $800 in today’s dollars. And it was very easy to get a scholarship, so you could live at home, work, and go to school and it didn’t cost you anything. Now it’s outrageous. I have grandchildren in college, who have to pay for their tuition and work and it’s almost impossible. For the students that is a disciplinary technique.

And another technique of indoctrination is to cut back faculty-student contact: large classes, temporary teachers who are overburdened, who can barely survive on an adjunct salary. And since you don’t have any job security you can’t build up a career, you can’t move on and get more. These are all techniques of discipline, indoctrination, and control. And it’s very similar to what you’d expect in a factory, where factory workers have to be disciplined, to be obedient; they’re not supposed to play a role in, say, organizing production or determining how the workplace functions—that’s the job of management. This is now carried over to the universities. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has any experience in private enterprise, in industry; that’s the way they work.

On how higher education ought to be

First of all, we should put aside any idea that there was once a “golden age.” Things were different and in some ways better in the past, but far from perfect. The traditional universities were, for example, extremely hierarchical, with very little democratic participation in decision-making. One part of the activism of the 1960s was to try to democratize the universities, to bring in, say, student representatives to faculty committees, to bring in staff to participate. These efforts were carried forward under student initiatives, with some degree of success. Most universities now have some degree of student participation in faculty decisions. And I think those are the kinds of things we should be moving towards: a democratic institution, in which the people involved in the institution, whoever they may be (faculty, students, staff), participate in determining the nature of the institution and how it runs; and the same should go for a factory.

These are not radical ideas, I should say. They come straight out of classical liberalism. So if you read, for example, John Stuart Mill, a major figure in the classical liberal tradition, he took it for granted that workplaces ought to be managed and controlled by the people who work in them—that’s freedom and democracy (see, e.g., John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, book 4, ch. 7). We see the same ideas in the United States. Let’s say you go back to the Knights of Labor; one of their stated aims was “To establish co-operative institutions such as will tend to supersede the wage-system, by the introduction of a co-operative industrial system” (“Founding Ceremony” for newly-organized Local Associations). Or take someone like, John Dewey, a mainstream 20th-century social philosopher, who called not only for education directed at creative independence in schools, but also worker control in industry, what he called “industrial democracy.” He says that as long as the crucial institutions of the society (like production, commerce, transportation, media) are not under democratic control, then “politics [will be] the shadow cast on society by big business” (John Dewey, “The Need for a New Party” [1931]). This idea is almost elementary, it has deep roots in American history and in classical liberalism, it should be second nature to working people, and it should apply the same way to universities. There are some decisions in a university where you don’t want to have [democratic transparency because] you have to preserve student privacy, say, and there are various kinds of sensitive issues, but on much of the normal activity of the university, there is no reason why direct participation can’t be not only legitimate but helpful. In my department, for example, for 40 years we’ve had student representatives helpfully participating in department meetings.

On “shared governance” and worker control

The university is probably the social institution in our society that comes closest to democratic worker control. Within a department, for example, it’s pretty normal for at least the tenured faculty to be able to determine a substantial amount of what their work is like: what they’re going to teach, when they’re going to teach, what the curriculum will be. And most of the decisions about the actual work that the faculty is doing are pretty much under tenured faculty control. Now of course there is a higher level of administrators that you can’t overrule or control. The faculty can recommend somebody for tenure, let’s say, and be turned down by the deans, or the president, or even the trustees or legislators. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it can happen and it does. And that’s always a part of the background structure, which, although it always existed, was much less of a problem in the days when the administration was drawn from the faculty and in principle recallable. Under representative systems, you have to have someone doing administrative work but they should be recallable at some point under the authority of the people they administer. That’s less and less true. There are more and more professional administrators, layer after layer of them, with more and more positions being taken remote from the faculty controls. I mentioned before The Fall of the Faculty by Benjamin Ginsberg, which goes into a lot of detail as to how this works in the several universities he looks at closely: Johns Hopkins, Cornell, and a couple of others.

Meanwhile, the faculty are increasingly reduced to a category of temporary workers who are assured a precarious existence with no path to the tenure track. I have personal acquaintances who are effectively permanent lecturers; they’re not given real faculty status; they have to apply every year so that they can get appointed again. These things shouldn’t be allowed to happen. And in the case of adjuncts, it’s been institutionalized: they’re not permitted to be a part of the decision-making apparatus, and they’re excluded from job security, which merely amplifies the problem. I think staff ought to also be integrated into decision-making, since they’re also a part of the university. So there’s plenty to do, but I think we can easily understand why these tendencies are developing. They are all part of imposing a business model on just about every aspect of life. That’s the neoliberal ideology that most of the world has been living under for 40 years. It’s very harmful to people, and there has been resistance to it. And it’s worth noticing that two parts of the world, at least, have pretty much escaped from it, namely East Asia, where they never really accepted it, and South America in the past 15 years.

On the alleged need for “flexibility”

“Flexibility” is a term that’s very familiar to workers in industry. Part of what’s called “labor reform” is to make labor more “flexible,” make it easier to hire and fire people. That’s, again, a way to ensure maximization of profit and control. “Flexibility” is supposed to be a good thing, like “greater worker insecurity.” Putting aside industry where the same is true, in universities there’s no justification. So take a case where there’s under-enrollment somewhere. That’s not a big problem. One of my daughters teaches at a university; she just called me the other night and told me that her teaching load is being shifted because one of the courses that was being offered was under-enrolled. Okay, the world didn’t to an end, they just shifted around the teaching arrangements—you teach a different course, or an extra section, or something like that. People don’t have to be thrown out or be insecure because of the variation in the number of students enrolling in courses. There are all sorts of ways of adjusting for that variation. The idea that labor should meet the conditions of “flexibility” is just another standard technique of control and domination. Why not say that administrators should be thrown out if there’s nothing for them to do that semester, or trustees—what do they have to be there for? The situation is the same with top management in industry: if labor has to be flexible, how about management? Most of them are pretty useless or even harmful anyway, so let’s get rid of them. And you can go on like this. Just to take the news from the last couple of days, take, say, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank: he just got a pretty substantial raise, almost double his salary, out of gratitude because he had saved the bank from criminal charges that would have sent the management to jail; he got away with only $20 billion in fines for criminal activities. Well I can imagine that getting rid of somebody like that might be helpful to the economy. But that’s not what people are talking about when they talk about “labor reform.” It’s the working people who have to suffer, and they have to suffer by insecurity, by not knowing where tomorrow’s piece of bread is going to come from, and therefore be disciplined and obedient and not raise questions or ask for their rights. That’s the way that tyrannical systems operate. And the business world is a tyrannical system. When it’s imposed on the universities, you find it reflects the same ideas. This shouldn’t be any secret.

On the purpose of education

These are debates that go back to the Enlightenment, when issues of higher education and mass education were really being raised, not just education for the clergy and aristocracy. And there were basically two models discussed in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were discussed with pretty evocative imagery. One image of education was that it should be like a vessel that is filled with, say, water. That’s what we call these days “teaching to test”: you pour water into the vessel and then the vessel returns the water. But it’s a pretty leaky vessel, as all of us who went through school experienced, since you could memorize something for an exam that you had no interest in to pass an exam and a week later you forgot what the course was about. The vessel model these days is called “no child left behind,” “teaching to test,” “race to top,” whatever the name may be, and similar things in universities. Enlightenment thinkers opposed that model.

The other model was described as laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure. So an educational program, whatever it may be, a course on physics or something, isn’t going to be just anything goes; it has a certain structure. But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education. One world-famous physicist, in his freshman courses if he was asked “what are we going to cover this semester?”, his answer was “it doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.” You have gain the capacity and the self-confidence for that matter to challenge and create and innovate, and that way you learn; that way you’ve internalized the material and you can go on. It’s not a matter of accumulating some fixed array of facts which then you can write down on a test and forget about tomorrow.

These are two quite distinct models of education. The Enlightenment ideal was the second one, and I think that’s the one that we ought to be striving towards. That’s what real education is, from kindergarten to graduate school. In fact there are programs of that kind for kindergarten, pretty good ones.

On the love of teaching

We certainly want people, both faculty and students, to be engaged in activity that’s satisfying, enjoyable, challenging, exciting—and I don’t really think that’s hard. Even young children are creative, inquisitive, they want to know things, they want to understand things, and unless that’s beaten out of your head it stays with you the rest of your life. If you have opportunities to pursue those commitments and concerns, it’s one of the most satisfying things in life. That’s true if you’re a research physicist, it’s true if you’re a carpenter; you’re trying to create something of value and deal with a difficult problem and solve it. I think that’s what makes work the kind of thing you want to do; you do it even if you don’t have to do it. In a reasonably functioning university, you find people working all the time because they love it; that’s what they want to do; they’re given the opportunity, they have the resources, they’re encouraged to be free and independent and creative—what’s better? That’s what they love to do. And that, again, can be done at any level.

It’s worth thinking about some of the imaginative and creative educational programs that are being developed at different levels. So, for example, somebody just described to me the other day a program they’re using in high schools, a science program where the students are asked an interesting question: “How can a mosquito fly in the rain?” That’s a hard question when you think about it. If something hit a human being with the force of a raindrop hitting a mosquito it would absolutely flatten them immediately. So how come the mosquito isn’t crushed instantly? And how can the mosquito keep flying? If you pursue that question—and it’s a pretty hard question—you get into questions of mathematics, physics, and biology, questions that are challenging enough that you want to find an answer to them.

That’s what education should be like at every level, all the way down to kindergarten, literally. There are kindergarten programs in which, say, each child is given a collection of little items: pebbles, shells, seeds, and things like that. Then the class is given the task of finding out which ones are the seeds. It begins with what they call a “scientific conference”: the kids talk to each other and they try to figure out which ones are seeds. And of course there’s some teacher guidance, but the idea is to have the children think it through. After a while, they try various experiments and they figure out which ones are the seeds. At that point, each child is given a magnifying glass and, with the teacher’s help, cracks a seed and looks inside and finds the embryo that makes the seed grow. These children learn something—really, not only something about seeds and what makes things grow; but also about how to discover. They’re learning the joy of discovery and creation, and that’s what carries you on independently, outside the classroom, outside the course.

The same goes for all education up through graduate school. In a reasonable graduate seminar, you don’t expect students to copy it down and repeat whatever you say; you expect them to tell you when you’re wrong or to come up with new ideas, to challenge, to pursue some direction that hadn’t been thought of before. That’s what real education is at every level, and that’s what ought to be encouraged. That ought to be the purpose of education. It’s not to pour information into somebody’s head which will then leak out but to enable them to become creative, independent people who can find excitement in discovery and creation and creativity at whatever level or in whatever domain their interests carry them.

On using corporate rhetoric against corporatization

This is kind of like asking how you should justify to the slave owner that people shouldn’t be slaves. You’re at a level of moral inquiry where it’s probably pretty hard to find answers. We are human beings with human rights. It’s good for the individual, it’s good for the society, it’s even good for the economy, in the narrow sense, if people are creative and independent and free. Everyone benefits if people are able to participate, to control their fate, to work with each other—that may not maximize profit and domination, but why should we take those to be values to be concerned about?

Advice for adjunct faculty organizing unions

You know better than I do what has to be done, the kind of problems you face. Just got ahead and do what has to be done. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be frightened, and recognize that the future can be in our hands if we’re willing to grasp it.
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