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Thoughts On this 3903 Strike

We're around 60 days into this strike, my third strike in this local, and all of the assessments and experiences of the past strikes are as acute as ever. The particular details change with each strike but the general facts remain the same. The particular details: in 2008/2009, at the beginning of the crisis, the Bargaining Team was close to the employer whereas the Executive tried to push a radical agenda; in 2015 the Executive was reactionary and the general membership went on strike against the conciliatory will of its leadership; now, in 2018, the Executive and Bargaining Team are united in their will to struggle against concessions and only the usual reactionary suspects, members who do not walk the lines and have backwards politics, are attempting to undermine the strike. The general facts: the strike is still limited by economism, the lack of an external revolutionary movement that possesses hegemony have means that trade-union consciousness will remain the norm even in the most radical strikes, but strikes are still sites of possible political intervention.

Let's be clear: strikes are moments of class struggle but not necessarily moments of revolutionary class struggle. That is, they are class struggle insofar as the line between workers and bosses (the latter representing capitalism) is drawn, and a worker can understand their interests as a worker in regards to a particular job site. But they are not necessarily moments of revolutionary class struggle because they remain within an economistic framework that can only be challenged by an external political movement. In the case of my union local this economistic framework was challenged in 2015 when militants in the Maoist milieux attempted to connect it to broader concerns with the Joint Strike Committee, which failed to produce a red union caucus but was still instrumental in temporarily pushing the strike beyond its economistic boundaries. And now in 2018 we challenged it with an occupation that attempted to be a site of radicalism but, because it was in the heart of academic Marxism, was immediately reclaimed by reformist elements. Economism and opportunism are strong; it is difficult, without a fully consolidated counter-hegemony, to build a red union movement.

So without the perspective that I'll likely develop when this strike is finished, here are some highlights of this latest round of economistic class struggle…

1. The initiation of a coalition occupation that could have been a foundation for proletarian students to unite according to their interests. I discussed this situation in the previous post: the Revolutionary Student Movement was the principle force in a coalition that occupied the Senate, the weird Trotskyite group called Fightback tried to get involved but pissed off everyone involved including the union, and something interesting was coming out of this experiment. It is interesting how strikes open up these adjacent opportunities that can express a politics that goes beyond the logic of the strike. Visiting the occupation in its early days, when graffitied hammer and sickles littered the room, was something to witness. But alas in a University like York the buzzards circle the moment anything politically exciting manifests: there are a whole host of more establishment political organizations, and graduate students looking for a project to command, that are looking for something to co-opt.

2. The defeat of the above coalition by opportunists who got involved, used identity opportunism to their advantage, and are now running this occupation into the ground. So some graduate students parachuted into the occupation on the second day, united with the more liberal members of the occupation, and worked hard to isolate the radicals, bringing in more social dems to rig the democratic assemblies. When the union's Strike Committee was informed by two undergraduates who were targeted and harassed by these undergraduates, they passed a motion that demanded the graduate students (who were union members) engage with a resolution process. Unfortunately the Strike Committee was harassed by these graduate students and their clique (the identity opportunism was wild, the red-baiting where the one graduate student raved about the RSM as a "Maoist cult" mind-boggling), and the potential of the occupation was jettisoned down social democratic avenues. Not surprising considering the affiliation of these graduate students: Socialist Project members pretending they were independent and using Maoist conspiracy theories to push the same old revisionist crap the Socialist Project has been pushing since the days of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly. Oh well, struggles in coalitions are always acute and since our consciousness defaults on political opportunism, it is always difficult to defeat the opportunists in these spaces. The Trotskyites were easy to expel because they were so openly vile in their practices. These other revisionists, though using the same red-baiting tactics (whereas Fightback complained about "Anarcho-Stalinists" these opportunists complain about "Maoist cults") they were able to manipulate identity politics to their advantage. That is, it is not identity opportunism to point that women of colour are being harassed; it is identity opportunism to harass women of colour and then use other women of colour to say that your harassment was a-okay. Beneath this there is a political line that is obscured, and that is the point.

3. The poisonous pit of vipers that is one particular union list serve. On the contract faculty list serve a small but vocal group of high seniority members who do very little work for the local spend all of their time waxing eloquent about how the strike is being run by lunatic militants. Desperate to end the strike and get back to work, refusing to understand how all of their benefits exist only because of union militancy, these snakes shit on union militants and flaunt their high seniority. At the beginning of the strike they were complaining that anti-scab policies were akin to measures in Nazi Germany, doubling down when they were informed of how offensive and backwards this comparison was. Now they are demanding that contract faculty drop out of the strike and go to binding arbitration, imagining that a benevolent arbitrator will give them everything they want without struggle. As much as I despise the discourse that the employer uses to claim that contract faculty aren't worthy of tenure because they are failed academics, this minority of anti-union assholes are unfortunately proof of this claim––but since they
argue precisely what the employer wants, I'm sure they will be welcomed into the camp of academic officialdom.

4. The red-baiting of myself and other militants connected to this local. The employer released a report claiming that the reason they refuse to bargain with the local is because it is filled with irrational militants who won't bargain according to the rules of bourgeois fair play. I was named, among others, as proof of this claim. Never mind the fact that most of the people they named are no longer in the local, let alone the leadership. Never mind the fact that I'm just a rank-and-file member walking the line and outside of the Executive and Bargaining Team. Never mind the fact that the article they cite of mine also argues that unions are not revolutionary parties. The red-baiting is clearly an escalation where they are hoping to isolate us from public opinion, and isolate radicals in the local from members such as the snakes mentioned above.

5. Claims about "toxicity" associated with picket lines, such as mine, that demand escalation. I happen to like my line, and enjoy everyone on this line regardless of their difference of opinion, but apparently my line is the most toxic because union militants there have little patience for people who do not walk the line. For example, we have individuals who show up to our line and punch in but disappear without putting in even half the time of a single shift. People who walk the lines and dedicate themselves to the strike rightly have a problem with this behaviour and have sometimes confronted it, though maybe not in the most productive ways. The weird thing with CUPE 3903 is that, once some people get wind of this and complaints about internal union confrontation, the wildest assumptions are immediately asserted: oh it's some act of racist or misogynist targeting because that is what must be going on within the union whenever there is a problem according to people who haven't walked the lines or been there when these controversies exploded. But let's be clear: I picket captain a lot and have to deal with these complaints about unfairness everyday, and this is a bizarrely formulaic way to read what's going on. The truth is that there are people of a variety of backgrounds and genders (we do have a multicultural and multi-gendered union) on both sides, and more marginalized picketers complain about the unfairness of those who don't walk the line than the supposed marginalized targets. Sure I got a white dude complaining that a woman of colour is punching in and then leaving, but he's not the only one complaining. But also I got a woman of colour complaining that some white dude punched in and left, coming to me with the same white dude that was supposedly the toxic white supremacist. Look: everyone of all races and genders who walk the lines regularly don't have patience for anyone who doesn't pull their weight. That's not toxic, that's the sense of a rank-and-file member's notion of fair play.

All in all these points should lead to one conclusion: we need to create a Red Caucus within this local to consolidate radical members around a politics that is both attentive to problems of identity but does not allow identity opportunism to undermine the political line. We have witnessed the ways in which this opportunism has been used in 2008/2009 and 2015, but a politically consolidated group within this local might be able to deal with these problems in a consistent and coherent manner. Having been in this local for far too long I've witnessed the same problems repeating: the same identity opportunism, the same parasitical social democracy, the same revanchism, the same red-baiting. We deserve something better, and the association with a broader class politics, since in three years from now we might be on strike again.