Drawing on first-hand experience, Matthew Evsky* shares a recent history of student and labor organizing at and around the City University of New York (CUNY), including the Adjunct Project, Campus Equity Week, the CUNY Time Zine, Occupy CUNY, and the Free University of NYC. He delves into the complex relationships between students, contingent faculty, the broader faculty union, and the confusing processes of university exploitation. The emergence of Occupy CUNY burst into a week of action with a student sit-in that was violently repressed by campus security. Although seeing undergraduate organizing as the driving force behind a revival of campus activism, Occupy CUNY connected radicals with each other and built supportive direct relationships across divisions of workers and students. Emerging from a working group on radical pedagogy, the Free University of NYC has enabled people to transform classrooms into spaces of radicalization.
In this interview, Joe Grim Feinberg shares his experiences with a radically democratic union, Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago. Rather than waiting for recognition from the state, they have thrived by getting together as workers, declaring themselves to be a union, and organizing to improve their working conditions. Joe praises the IWW’s strategy of organizing a union for all workers that, if followed consistently, de facto leads to an anti-capitalist approach. Such a strategy faces many limits, as grad students are habituated into academic professionalism, which goes against the idea of industrial unionism. Instead of professionalizing for individual insertion into the capitalist rat race, academics can take pride in what they do through organizing and taking control of the production process. Continue reading
An Interview with Marianne Garneau
(co-author of “Snapshots of the Student Movement in Montreal”)
Against a kind of activist-y, spectacular politics, Marianne Garneau argues that US students and workers can learn from the Quebec model how to organize our power as a class. Quebec students have kept their tuition low because they’ve historically had a vibrant, militant student movement, one that is willing to strike and directly disrupt, and not wait for the leadership of the business unions. The organizing model is to create directly democratic bodies—department-by-department assemblies—that know how to leverage our power to fuck up the business of the people who are screwing us over, whether they’re our educators or our employers.
Dr. Anna Feigenbaum gives her thoughts on radical teaching and organizing within and beyond the university. Against education that tries to transmit radical politics to students, she recommends an approach that starts with students’ experiences and works with them through the difficulties and challenges they face—and witness—in their everyday lives. Revolutionary pedagogy can be embedded in art and creativity, engaging students through playful, reflexive and collaborative projects. Rather than getting caught up in puritanical self-flagellation over what cannot be achieved, struggles can be seen from a more ecological perspective, one that works both inside and outside institutions simultaneously: chiseling the university’s walls while building cooperative alternatives.
by Sutapa Chattopadhyay
[i]t’s increasingly difficult to define what, substantively, it means to be a thinker of the Left
(Castree and Wright 2005: 6)
Not too long back I read two articles on anti-austerity protest and Quebec student strikes that were published by ClassWarU, and a few others, mostly by activist student scholars. Almost all the articles and interviews that have been published so far in this website pertinently point out the urgent need to employ alternative pathways to connect people, participation and place. There is little to no doubt that the question of happiness and wellbeing is overwhelmingly difficult to answer, as it is ensnared by the laws of neoliberal capitalist accumulation, under continuous and progressive expropriation to the creation of hierarchies and hegemonies (through continuous division of labor along sex, race, class, religion, education, and nationality) to constant production of all forms of social exclusion. The poor and middle classes have shouldered the heaviest burdens of the global political obsession with austerity policies over the past five to six years. In the United States, budget cuts have forced states to reduce education, public transportation, affordable housing, health and other social services. In Europe, welfare cuts have driven some severely disabled individuals to fear for their lives. Austerity is still the order of the day and the struggle against austerity is an all-class war orchestrated in plazas, universities, parks, streets, squares, or any public places that we can think of. This article holds my deep reactions on academic exploitation at the crossing point of other kinds of exploitation that have burgeoned as a response to neoliberal capitalism. Continue reading
Drawing on his extensive research on the history of universities, Mark Paschal debunks mystified views of higher education. Instead of relying on overly sophisticated theories that are tough to popularize, Mark recommends focusing on what attracts people to universities: opportunities to make better lives for themselves. We can create autonomous universities with a kind of vocational training more in line with historical materialism than the humanities—to learn skills for taking over empty buildings and holding down city blocks for radical causes. To connect such organizing with the informal networks that already exist in marginalized communities, rather than presuming that the knowledge and skills gained in universities can be useful in struggles, learn others’ modes of communicating and ask questions about how we can be useful. Since the fucked-up-ness of the capitalist university-prison-industrial complex can seem overwhelming, rather than merely trying to illuminate the problems, we need physical interventions that demonstrate viable alternatives. To inspire a mass exodus from universities, we must continue to struggle within existing institutions—such as through strikes and occupations—while we create autonomous universities that force the dominant ones to confront their own limits.
Summary — This interview explores such questions as: How can leftist movements be built across social divisions on campuses? What can we do to break radical theory out of its capture in academia? Can we create institutions that are embedded in movements and that provide alternatives for radicals who get stuck in precarious academic life?
by Sutapa Chattopadhyay (Maastricht University)
Today, frankly our universities are transformed into knowledge-for-profit-enclosures, as primarily ‘branded’ universities are sold-out to the policy elites (techno-scientific foundations, business consortia and multinationals) for the progress of scientific research, on which intellectual property rights are placed that exclude most people from its benefits. This is the reason we must connect with ecosocialist, ecofeminist and anarchist strategies, as these alternative theories and praxis can undo the rigid, hierarchical, authoritarian, hegemonic and provincial university education system toward a non-hierarchical, egalitarian, emancipatory knowledge locus.
Summary: From the wilderness of adjuncting to university occupations and the Quebec student uprisings, professor Alison Hearn (U. of Western Ontario) discusses how we can create organizing grounds in the ruins of universities. The classroom presents possibilities for connecting pedagogy with organizing, while grappling with the tensions of context, faculty authority, and student resistance. Rather than falling into either authoritarian or hippy-dippy, de-professionalized modes of teaching, Hearn talks about how an ethically responsible approach can escape the academic capitalist rat race and build relationships across divisions of workers and students.
Summary: Tim shares his experiences of militant research with university workers and students, making disOrientation Guides, and the importance of starting from your own position for building solidarity. Reflecting on the Queen Mary Counter/mapping project and community-based cartography, he discusses the challenges of map-making collectively, as well as the benefits of the process for building a plane of commonality for struggles. Against the individualizing and recuperative functions of academia, he shares some thoughts on how we can better traverse the tensions our movements face across the boundaries of universities and communities.