"More than machinery, we need humanity."
Pirates, here’s a guest post from our comrade Emily Drabinski, a librarian & faculty member at LIU Brooklyn here in NYC. The LIU Brooklyn faculty, who are unionized, have been locked out — unprecedented in high ed — since Monday. Which happened to be Labor Day. [cross-posted at Medium]
Locked out! But we won’t back down
Four days before classes began — those days we usually use to prep for the new semester — the faculty at Long Island University-Brooklyn was locked out by management. It was an aggressive act, equal parts enraging, terrifying, and sad. For me, a librarian, faculty member and secretary of LIU Faculty Federation, it feels like a betrayal, really, worse than when we went on strike five years ago. Here is what it’s been like on the ground, condensed from my blog which I’ve kept from the beginning.
Two days before the lockout
Our negotiating team was told about the lockout last night and since then it has been non-stop. We have two more days of access to our offices and email, and I am trying to communicate as much and as often as I can until the clock stops. I have applied for a bullhorn permit, told the police to bring barricades to our upcoming rally, sent the president’s contact information to a thousand people, answered queries from faculty that range from, “Does the lockout mean we can’t use the parking garage?” (yes) to, “Wow, will I be without health insurance?” (yes) to, “What can we do to help?” That last question is the hardest. Overthrow global capitalism? Reduce corporate power in higher education? Replace my lost wages? We’ll be out in the streets next week, and I’m guessing I’ll put in some donut orders.
The night before the lockout: Money and power
Implementing this lockout must be costing the university an awful lot of money. They had to advertise for, recruit, hire, and process paperwork for a ton of replacement workers to “deliver services” in our classrooms. They had to give all these scab hires ID cards and give them tours of the library. They calculated individual lost wages for each faculty member and coordinated to send targeted emails to each one of us threatening us with big scary personal numbers. Every single faculty member is receiving an overnight FedEx copy of the email that went out yesterday notifying us of their intent to lock us out. This at a place that can’t keep the third floor of the library from flooding every time the HVAC turns over with the season.
They will surely lose tuition dollars as parents rightly pull their students from a campus in disarray. All to resist paying another quarter percent to full timers, many of whom are currently working for 20 percent less than their counterparts at the other LIU campus, LIU-Post, on Long Island? Maintaining a $75,000 fund to offset health care costs for adjunct faculty? That’s peanuts! WTF! This is not about money, this is about power. This is about breaking the union, making collective bargaining a sham.
First day locked out: brute power vs collective power
The #liulockout has so far meant many things, and many of those have to do with affect, something I might write about in a theoretical way if I was currently being paid to be a scholar and a teacher, but instead am experiencing acutely right now. This is terrifying.
We talk a lot about privilege in my circles, and the way that privilege insulates people like me from encounters with raw, brutal power, how terrifying and total it is, how people in power can make the difference between living and dying in instants. This is one of those encounters with brute power and its capacity to overwhelm and kill you on a whim.
I live a pretty privileged life, I walk about the world as someone who really belongs in it. The police really do want to protect my well-being and my property, and with each passing year of accumulated middle class wealth, the entire economic system seems invested in ensuring my leisure class pursuits of marathoning and working toward medallion status on my preferred commercial airline. Until it doesn’t. It’s a different thing to know in your body what that means. I am learning a lot this week.
I am also learning a lot about organizing. I love my job, I need my paycheck, I want to get back to work. Our power is collective power, and we build collective power by organizing. That turns out to mean sending a lot of email, calling people on the phone, making lists of people willing to send a lot of email and call a lot of people on the phone.
It’s pretty social work, I feel like I’m making a lot of new friends and connections, and it has been amazing to realize how many friends and connections I already have. The librarians have come through the way librarians always do, sending cash for donuts, spreading the word, calling and texting to make sure I know they have my back. I am not alone. Our members are not alone. Management has power, but so do we.