Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Convention Highlights (circa 1976, 1980)

Rather than subject myself to the banalities of the 2004 conventions, I've managed to catch some of C-SPAN2's coverage of past conventions. I really want to see the 1964 Republican Convention, where I can see my hero Barry Goldwater in action, though since they're already up to 1980, I'm guessing I missed it.

If you haven't already seen it, you should read Gerald Ford's acceptance speech in 1976. The parallels to 2004 are eerie - all of this talk about partisan division and rancor, about Democrats making the country's defense system weaker, crowing about recent economic success, and pushing for new tax cuts. About 80-90% of this talk could be recycled for 2004, and a good portion could even be used by Kerry.

In 1980, I noticed that as Reagan spoke, Bush 41 and his wife, were, naturally, seated nearby, watching Reagan speak. To my amusement, I noticed the 43rd president and his wife sitting behind him, both looking quite young with stylishly 70's hairdos. Bush 43 looked like Sonny from The Godfather. He and Laura were seated at such an angle that you wouldn't actually notice them unless you knew to look for them, but they are directly behind Bush 41 and Barbarba.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Can't Keep a Good Quasi-Union Down

The brave graduate proletariats at Tufts aren't going quietly into the sunset, though I have it on good authority that there's "no chance" that the Tufts administration will recognize or negotiate with ASET, especially not now that the NLRB is saying they don't have to. Perhaps some good can come of this, and ASET members will return to graduate government, and try more non-coercive forms of persuasion.

But perhaps not. Here's what they wrote. Note that it's barely rewritten from Columbia's GSEU's statement on the ruling, with just the final paragraph changed. Same set of talking points from the UAW?

Another observation: why is it always "partisanship" when it says one is wrong, but it's "political courage" when it's narrowly decided in one's favor? As if it makes you right or wrong either way...

Subject: NLRB rules Grad Students not Employees
From: Grad Student
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2004 22:24:36 -0700 (PDT)
To: asetufts@yahoo.com

On July 15, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate student employees at Brown University are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act. The Board ruled that graduate students are not employees and are not entitled to join a union and exercise collective bargaining rights.

This recent decision, breaking 3-2 along party lines, overrules the unanimous bi-partisan 2000 NYU decision granting graduate student employees in the private sector collective bargaining protections. The Republican appointees of the Board found that graduate students working as Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and Proctors are not employees because their relationship to the university is primarily educational rather than economic. In its decision, the Republican majority rejected the precedent set in the NYU case and the decisions reached by multiple Regional Labor Board Directors. Instead, it pointed to outdated decisions from the 1970s, ignoring the realities of academia today.

In a forceful dissent, the remaining two Board members challenge the assertion that the 25 year old precedents invoked by the majority, despite being out of touch with the current realities of the academy, are appropriate guideposts to this new decision. Pointing to it’s radical departure in policy, the dissenting opinion notes that “until today, the Board has never held that graduate teaching assistants are not employees under the Act and therefore should not be allowed to form bargaining units of their own.” The dissenting opinion goes on to argue that “the majority’s approach, minimizing the economic relationship between graduate assistants and their universities, is unsound. It rests on fundamental misunderstandings of contemporary higher education, which reflects our colleagues’ unwillingness to take a close look at the academic world.”

It’s deplorable that the Labor Board, after a 2 year delay in coming to a decision, should issue such a clearly political decision in the middle of summer, when most graduate employees affected are away from campus. Now, thanks to Tuft’s appeal, we join hundreds of thousands of other workers in this country whose rights are being whittled away and denied by the Bush appointed Labor Board. Despite this recent ruling, we must continue to fight for our rights to democratically join a union. As the dissenting opinion observes, “the developments that brought graduate students to the Board will not go away, but they will have to be addressed elsewhere.” With or without the NLRB, there’s nothing to stop Tufts from bargaining over those issues, including wages, benefits, and workload, that are important to us as graduate student employees.

We urge you to read the decision at http://www.nlrb.gov/nlrb/shared_files/decisions/342/342-42.pdf

In the coming weeks, you will be hearing more about how we can move forward to reach our goal of collective bargaining for Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and Graders at Tufts.

the union for graduate student employees at tufts

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The "Pro-Sodomy" Candidate

Awesome... apparently Michael Peroutka's campaign (he's the Constitution Party candidate, and a raving fundamentalist) is upset that Michael Badnarik is winning one of those useless online polls. This email showed me that I'm actually supporting the "pro-sodomy" candidate. Sweet! Badnarik should adapt that as a campaign slogan. Pro-Choice, Pro-Capitalism, Pro-Sodomy: Michael Badnarik.

Peroutka 2004 wrote:

8028 Ritchie Highway
Suite # 303
Pasadena, MD 21122
(877) MAP-2004
Contact Us | Unsubscribe

July 20, 2004

Dear Friends of the Constitutional Republic,

Please visit www.BusinessReform.com right now and take the poll, "Who will you most likely be voting for this election?" The pro-sodomy Michael Badnarik is winning the poll conducted by this Christian magazine. Please make your voices heard by participating in this poll and sending this email around to others who will vote for Michael A. Peroutka.

Thank you.

For God, Family, & the Republic,

Scott T. Whiteman

Friday, July 16, 2004

More on the State of the Union

Still no word from ASET (the Tufts Unionistas), their website looking undisturbed since December last year, and the Brown proto-union's webpage is now given over to, I kid you not, a page of porn links. There's just the Columbia proto union page I already linked, so far as I know.

Yet if you see the UAW press release about this ruling, you'd think grad students were up in arms nationwide, agitating for their God-given right to a compulsory labor union. As the press release has it: “We’re more determined than ever to organize, to improve teaching and learning conditions on campus.” said [Sheyda] Jahanbani, a PhD candidate at Brown who has worked as a teaching assistant in the University’s history department. Yes, so determined to that we've let the website die and suffer the ignoble fate of becoming a page full of links to porn.

The union movements at many of the affected schools are dormant, if not dead entirely. The Tufts union, ASET, had so little support from the student body that the only major action they could organize after the election was a futile phone-call campaign, in which primarily union activists unaffiliated with Tufts called President Bacow for a three-hour period, demanding he drop the now-successful NLRB appeal.

Second, the UAW press release, like most of the other pro-union propaganda, gives one the impression that it's an us-vs.-them, graduate proletariat-vs.-administration bourgeois struggle out there in academia. The reality is that many grads want no part of a union, and the propriety of such a union for academia is not made any more real whether a majority of those who show up to vote see it or not. A very likely scenario is that, say, 1000 grads may find themselves mandatory members (or more precisely, mandatory donors - you don't have to "join," but either way you are required to pay the membership fee) of an organization they find repugnant to their values, just because 250 (of 450 who were there to vote) voted yes in a union election held years before their arrival at that particular school. But it's not any better even if the election is reheld every few years, and even if a clear majority prefers the union. It's the minority who would prefer to study and work without the interference of the United Auto Workers whose academic freedoms, freedom of association and freedom of contract are imperiled by mandatory unionization, with its one-size-fits-all contracts. To name only one example, here at UW, I would've liked to have had the choice to get almost $15,000 in pay for TA work instead of only 2/3 of that, plus health insurance that I will rarely, if ever, need. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need, indeed.

I hate to make this personal, but then, this is a blog, so that's probably par for the course. But one that that really rubs me the wrong way is the utter groupthink that unions inspire. Maybe that's what's needed in isolated economic contexts, e.g., in a small town with only one factory to offer jobs, in the early stages of capitalism, where the social pressure to conform is the only force holding together a strike that means the difference between enough pay to feed a family and wanton starvation. But it's certainly not appropriate for academia, where no one is starving and very few even have families. (And I won't even get into whether it's responsible to start a family if one's only means of support is a TA income, where some people get off thinking that such irresponsiblity imposes a burden on other grad students...)

It bothered me immensely to see ordinarily rational people so gung ho about the recent strike at UW, or at least willing to submit to the judgment of the collective over their own personal objections. Where was the independent thought, and the courage to stand up for what one thinks is right? Where did this Bush-like "You're with us or against us" attitude come from? It's okay if you disagree - just offer me something resembling an informed argument. With some notable exceptions, I found very little.

If there is any more damning problem of unions in graduate school, I do not know it - that the social atmosphere of unions is utterly inconsistent with the cultural climate of individual freedom of expression and thought that makes a graduate education possible.

More pro-union reaction from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, is here in pdf form. He says fairly predictable things about the travesty of "workers" being denied a basic human right to unionize, evading the real issue the ruling answered about whether graduate students actually qualify as employees in the sense of the 1935 Labor-Relations Act. There's some stereotypical Bush-bashing too. Why does all the evil in the world seem to emanate from George W. Bush to these people? I'd think the NLRB board members themselves had a much larger direct hand to play in the final decision than anyone else. (To continue this tangent - I don't remember conservatives trying to link all the evil in the world to Bill Clinton. Once in a while, you'd see people linking a Janet Reno blunder to Clinton, but in general, people were held accountable for their own actions and words. Joyceline Elders was crucified for her own unpopular ideas; she wasn't held up as "yet another example of the Clinton administration's disregard of the American people," or some such.)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

NLRB looks beyond the union label

Before hitting the sack tonight, I wanted to note, in passing, the NLRB's ruling that graduate students, at private universities, have no right to unionize under the 1935 Labor-Relations Act.

While I take this as good news, and certainly realize that this was the only position possible for the NLRB, I find myself somewhat disappointed in this outcome. I think I would have been far more satisfied had the votes been counted, and the UAW found itself roundly defeated at Tufts, Brown, and Columbia. But then, the law is the law, despite what “living constitution” and legal realist-types believe. Even if the UAW had found itself so crushingly defeated, their precedent would have allowed them to try again and again, as union activists have at Yale and the University of Minnesota.

So all in all, this is fabulous news. The NLRB ruled on the precise principle I argued all along - that graduate students are essentially students, not employees (in the sense the 1935 Act implies), and that their relationship with their university is primarily educational, not economic. (Can you name another job where the vast majority of work done is for one's own education, where far more time is spent learning than working for others, and where the term of "employment" is limited until one receives the degree they applied to receive in the first place? Where one applies to be accepted into a program, but doesn't submit a resume for a job interview?)

I've yet to hear anything back from Tufts by way of a reaction, either from anti-union people or the Unionistas themselves, but Columbia's proto-union has a website that has apparently been updated since December, and they already have a reaction up. They sound fit to be tied. And fortunately for me, they also have up a copy of the actual ruling (albeit only in PDF), which is quite nice indeed.

I wonder – was the 2000 decision, which was actually on the regional, not national, level – agreed upon across party affiliation? Watch me be wrong on this, but I think that by 2000, after eight years of Clinton appointees, they were able to be unanimous about a lot of issues because they were all Democrats by then.

Labor Board Says Graduate Students at Private Universities Have No Right to Unionize
New York Times - July 16, 2004

National Labor Board Strikes Blow for Academic Freedom by Disallowing the Forced Unionization of Grad Students: NLRB returns to long-standing precedent preserving First Amendment freedom of association of university teaching assistants
National Right to Work Press Release - July 15, 2004

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I agree! Sorta!

I agree with the bulk, and spirit, of this piece on the differences between Kerry and Bush. My only disagreement here is that the Bush-Haters annoy me far more than Bush himself, so in that sense, I sort of lean closer to Bush. I'm also not nearly so negative on Iraq, although I was never really a supporter of the war, and I'm more reluctant to blame Bush for Abu Ghraib. Then again, I agree with this comment from the piece too (thank God for third party candidates like Badnarik, relieving me of the difficulty of having to choose!):

Kerry doesn't owe anything to the religious right, and you can't blame him for the torture at Abu Ghraib. Other than that, he's not much of an improvement. Yet I find myself hoping the guy wins. Not because I'm sure he'll be better than the current executive, but because the incumbent so richly deserves to be punished at the polls. Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally.

- from "Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush: And nine reasons why Kerry won't be much better", by Jesse Walker, Reason Online, July 13, 2004 - linked here.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

If you haven't already heard...

I'm in Vancouver from June 30-July 10, for the objectivist's Summer Seminar and Advanced Seminar. Because I'll be very busy every day, and because internet access here is tricky at best (or just too damned expensive), I won't be terribly super-connected until I return to Madison.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post my observations about this place when I get back. So far, my main impression is just that it's a weird, wacky place. It'd be different if I were in Germany, where you expect things to be very different. Canada is deceptively similar to the US - aside from the Canadian flags everywhere and the Canadian money, on the surface it looks the same. In some ways, it really is. But it's just similar enough to where when a difference arises, that difference feels disproportionately freaky. I don't know that I can quite explain it just yet.

I'll respond to my comments hopefully soon, though don't be surprised if it's not until over a week from now.