CUNY Workers Fight for Better Conditions, Against Union Misleadership
Friday, December 22, 2017 at 9:12AM
Challenge_DesafĂ­o

NEW YORK CITY—The contract for the professors and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) expired on Thursday, November 30. The differemce in he response of a small group of CUNY employees in the Bronx versus the leadership of the union (the Professional Staff Congress, PSC) that represents them serves as a lesson for all workers. While small, the Bronx event was organized to happen on the day the contract expired and was militant and pro-worker. It provided a glimpse at the potential that our class possesses.
The union leadership, on the other hand, planned an event for December 4, and though much larger, was poorly organized and much less militant. Union leadership, no matter how progressive it may seem and no matter how big a crowd they can turn out, is leading us to disaster. They are leading us to passivity and to accepting, rather than fighting, the terrible conditions that we face. Working-class actions organized and led by the communist ideas of Progressive Labor Party, on the other hand, can help equip us for bigger and more militant fights ahead.
Antiracist Rally on Campus
The union chapter at the Bronx campus had been organizing for the rally since the previous semester. Our fallen comrade Lenny Dick and other PL members and friends on campus advocated for the rally on the day the contract expired as a throwback to historical periods when working without a contract did not happen. Unfortunately, the working class is in a dark period of history where working without a contract has become the rule, rather than the exception and we wanted to honor our militant, communist-led past. We also planned our rally to happen on campus, where not only our fellow union members, but also students could see and hear the rally.
The campus, and CUNY as a whole, is predominantly Black and Latin and the attack on workers is also a racist attack on students. This message was made by many of the speakers at the rally and we got support from many students, including one who stopped and helped pass out literature. Other speakers highlighted the terrible working conditions faced by many PSC members, including some who have not gotten contractually obligated raises. Not only do we have to fight for a new contract but we have to fight even just to get what we’re entitled to! A speaker also asked about the chant “No contract, no peace,” and whether we as workers are prepared to carry it out. “Are we ready to strike?”, “Are we ready to truly disturb the peace?” he asked. We finished the rally with a march around campus, where shouts of “The Workers United, Will Never Be Defeated!” echoed off the buildings.
Passive Union Misleadership
Meanwhile, the leadership of the PSC betrayed its intentions from the very beginning. Instead of organizing for a rally on the day of the contract expiration, they waited until the following Monday. Previously, when union leadership was more heavily influenced by communists and socialists, even working beyond the contract expiration would be unthinkable, much less waiting to have a demonstration. Secondly, they marched the many hundreds of PSC members who did show up to a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting. Instead of appealing to the workers of New York, they kowtow to the lackeys and servants of the ruling class. And at the same time, they build illusions among union members that the CUNY Board gives a damn about us. The march and rally were poorly organized and did not take advantage of our numbers. There was no picket in front of the board meeting. Instead, marchers were gathered into pens and stood around, listening to droning speeches from union leadership.
What militancy was present came from the crowd and perhaps the best moments were when the chant “7K or Strike!” repeatedly drowned out the leaders’ speeches. The chant refers to the contract demand that adjunct professors, the most poorly paid and highly exploited faculty members – who are also disproportionately Black and Latin – get paid a minimum of $7,000 per course (the current average is around $3,200 per course). As they proved in the previous contract fight, the PSC leadership is afraid of this militancy and very noticeably did not take up the chant themselves.  Instead, they offered the weak and pleading, “7K, No Delay.”
The contrast between these two events could not be clearer. One was small, but reflected the type of fight that we need to make: a timely demonstration, appealing directly to other workers and students and linking together the ways that capitalism affects us all. The other was larger and louder, four days too late and characterized by dead-end politics and passivity.
Plants Seeds of Revolution
Ultimately, as workers we have two choices: one choice is to go along with the union bosses and the smooth-talking politicians, the celebrities and religious figures. The big crowds, the media coverage, and the fancy signs can seduce us. We can believe them when they promise a better life.
But underneath the glitz and the glamour is just capitalism, with its racism, exploitation and imperialist war. The big crowds are made up of workers, with righteous anger at the terrible conditions that we face around the world, but the leaders on stage are capitalists of one stripe or another, who never call for an end to this murderous system. Instead, they are always about trying to make capitalism a little better for a few workers. This can never lead to liberation for our class and is a deadly trap for all workers.
The other option is to be in these struggles, but with our eyes open to the limits of what union leadership can bring us. We need to be in struggles like the bigger one, led by the PSC leadership, in order to make them like the smaller one, led by rank-and-file members with a communist and revolutionary ideas present.
Ultimately, we need to turn these union protests into places where the bankruptcy of the bosses’ system is made sharp, where union members can clearly see the limits of union leadership that asks its members to do nothing but beg politicians and CEOs for what we should be militantly demanding. We need to make these protests places where the communist ideas of the PLP can take root and grow in the minds of workers.

Article originally appeared on The Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party (http://www.plp.org/).
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