The following letter was written by a graduate student in Political Science at UCLA. He is a member of neither the Administration Caucus (USEJ) nor AWDU, but felt compelled to write the following critique of the incumbent AC/USEJ leadership and their persistent drive to keep active members disengaged from the decision-making channels of the union. This answers a number of questions we raised earlier about why the AC/USEJ leadership is so intent upon running non-workers to represent workers. As the author of the following letter writes,
All USEJ cared about was keeping AWDU students out of power.
We urge you to read on…
Why I Can’t Support Current UAW Leadership
I have tried to stay out of the union politics until very recently. As a budget-cut activist at UCLA I have been lucky enough to work with people from the reform slate Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) as well as the incumbent United for Social and Economic Justice (USEJ), each side of the proverbial union fence. I saw two sets of friends disagreeing over strategy, not what members should have but how they should go about getting it. But things have changed. I can no longer let my friendships get in the way of a political analysis and facts. A recent set of discoveries about the USEJ slate as well as a personal experience with a current USEJ candidate forces me to come off the sidelines.
Make no mistake; I’ve had problems with the incumbents. Like many, I was unhappy during the contract negotiations when the union would tell us one day that what UC management offered was inadequate and then, almost overnight, tell us that the same offer was wonderful. It seemed like the real discussion was taking place behind closed doors. Did they want us to be unhappy? The offers were an insult. Did they want us to quickly go and vote “yes?” The offers were a heroic victory. This made me sympathetic to AWDU, but not enough to publicly side with them, that is until I looked a little closer at this election.
I heard some of the local candidates for USEJ have already graduated and that some are staff. So I checked into it and it seems true. At least two or three of the USEJ statewide and UCLA candidates have graduated or are staff. One is even a teacher under the AFT contract. USEJ seems to be running people with no direct stake in the workplace against actual graduate students. USEJ is running staff, whom elected leadership are presumably supposed to oversee, in what seems to be a conflict of interest, simply because it is possible for staff to also be members and therefore “technically” eligible. Considering that many of these positions have been vacant for years, USEJ seems motivated purely by the desire to keep AWDU out. What is more troubling is an experience I had with a USEJ candidate.
A few weeks ago I was asked by Sayil Camacho to run on the USEJ slate. She explained that they needed somebody from PoliSci, presumably because a PoliSci student would deliver the large volume of PoliSci votes. When I said that I had too many other commitments, she told me that was OK because they just needed my name for the ballot and I could resign after the election. All USEJ cared about was keeping AWDU students out of power, students who had tried to work with current leadership to make the union more responsive but have been stonewalled to the point where their only recourse is elections. My friendship with Sayil prevented me from seeing what was obvious then, but in a troubling display of behavior from somebody with pretenses to leadership, that friendship seems to have ended with a click when Sayil “defriended” me and other activists for not being sufficiently pro-USEJ. USEJ saw no problem using me as a tool to manipulate members out of their vote, allowing them to think I would represent them when USEJ knew I’d never serve a day. I am left wondering, how many times was this pitch made? How many of their candidates actually intend on serving? It is clear that elections are an obstacle and an inconvenience for USEJ. They are scared of members and scared of democracy. My personal experience is a direct testament to that. I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me, but it did, and I think you should know about it.
I have come to believe that this election pits graduate students, with a vision of a democratic union making powerful interventions into budget politics, against professional union staff, with a vision of members as a naive and dangerous mass that must be managed and contained. What’ worse is USEJ wants to end the debate before it begins. Their official blog says “too much time has been spent infighting,” but a slate that is at least in part the voice of non-graduate students and staff has no business telling members to censor themselves. In fact, USEJ sites don’t allow visitors to comment on content, unlike AWDU sites, meaning all communication must take place privately under the control of USEJ. Heaven forbid rank and file members leave a critical comment or do anything other than pay dues and show up to vote as instructed. USEJ embodies the kind of unionism that has overseen the collapse of the American middle-class for fifty years. Indeed, months ago when I asked friend, leader, and USEJ candidate Jorge Cabrera why the union opposed the reformist members during the negotiations, he explained to me that AWDU was too idealistic to understand how conservative members really are, a view I am not totally unsympathetic to given my experience as an activist. Still, I thought that during this election members would be treated like adult human beings and would get to choose between different strategies. Instead, USEJ is adopting the rhetoric of AWDU and preventing that debate from happening. USEJ strategy both as leaders and candidates is one of manipulation and dishonesty, and though we’re not given the courtesy of being treated like adults, the choice of strategy is still ours.
Department of Political Science