Ben Boyce


SSU strike was a one-day wonder

Posted on January 30, 2024 by Ben Boyce

The one-day labor win for the faculty, adjuncts, post-doc fellows, counselors, and librarians at the planned week-long strike at California State University (CSU) is probably the best unexpected political news for 2024, so I’m banking it. I had planned to write a PMC column urging my fellow citizens to join the SSU faculty at the picket lines.

The party was already over when I announced the end of the strike on my weekly radio show, ‘Deconstructing Media,’ on KSVY 91.3 FM (Wednesdays, 3-4pm). I never even got around to revisiting my old grad school alma mater at SSU to walk the line with my former professors. 

The chancellors and trustees of CSU, who had been playing hardball at the bargaining table with the delegation from the California Faculty Association (CFA), were quick to recognize that it was a mistake to call the CFA’s bluff. The union was unified and rock solid. Day of the strike, no one was in the school. Even the students came out to cheer on their teachers.

The CSU management thought that they would do what academics have traditionally done: write angry letters to the campus paper, fall into disarray over internal conflicts, and collapse. Did not happen. 

It’s clear from their public statements that the SSU management expected the strike to fizzle out. That institutional careerist fear factor is what has reduced the academic class from once being the intellectual and moral leaders of their region into being subordinated civil servants in a dead-end job that pays poorly and is no longer respected as a cultural institution. 

That expectation was clear from a statement in the PD prior to the strike. “Jeffery Keating (spokesman for SSU HR department) announced Wednesday that the Rohnert Park campus would be ‘open and operational’ from Jan. 22-26, the days of the planned strike. While ‘Classes have not been canceled during that period, and we do not intend to cancel any classes,’ he wrote, ‘Individual faculty members might decide to strike that week, which could result in individual classes being canceled.’’’ 

Had the solidarity not held, all of them, especially the adjuncts and post-docs who will probably never have tenure, would have committed a career-ending mistake. That’s the essence of union solidarity. We must trust our fellow workers. If it works, we win our modest demands. If we lose, the careers that we spent decades cultivating can be erased by the bureaucrats who hold all the real power at the university.

There’s more to this story than you’ll likely hear on MSM. The CFA has formed a bridge organization, Academic Labor Relations (ALR), based at UC Sacramento, to assist academic leaders in building up their organizing skills and provides deep training and legal advice to do the hard prep work necessary to create a robust union that can stand up to the Chancellors, Trustees, and campus management.

The ALR is teaching the same suite of organizing techniques used to great effect by UAW to instruct CFA leadership through this collaborative relationship. UAW, under Sean Fein, has been remarkably effective in galvanizing the labor movement in the auto industry and now in academic work. 

One of the domains of the labor market that UAW (United Auto Workers) has entered is university teachers and instructors to form UAW (United Academic Workers). UAW is the union for the other major academic federation in the state, the University of California (UC) system. 

The UC system, which is known for the premier tier schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, and University of San Diego, which does most of the research and confers prestigious advanced degrees, had a major strike in 2022 under the direction of UAW, which set up the groundwork for the big win at the CSU system by CFA. Sean Fein and his hard-core crew of dedicated union activists are teaching the teachers how to fight back. And it’s working!

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