Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why make my reservations public?

It's been about a week since I've launched this blog and I have yet to make more than an introductory post or explain exactly what my reservations are about the UICUF, its proposed contract, or the strike actions it has recently engaged in and might in the near future engage in. One reason for the delay is laziness. But another reason is that I'm having a hard time answering for myself the question of whether this is the proper forum to make my objections known.

I recognize one point of view that a union, in order to function properly, must present a united front to the management with which it negotiates. According to this view, any dissensions or differences of opinion are to be resolved in intra-union dialogues and not in public discussions. Simply by stating my reservations in a public blog, I am weakening that public front, at least to the extent that people read this blog and believe my claim to be a member of the union. The administration, as a "side" in this dispute, might use my expressed reservations as a way to drive a wedge among and divide the union's members.

For the record, I don't think anything I've written in the first post or shall write in this (second) post really undermines the union. The mere recognition that some union members have reservations is not an union shattering proposition. I also believe it's possible that the union could benefit by making some of its deliberations more public. At least I'm not prepared to dismiss that possibility out of hand. I do believe that some people's ambivalence about public unions and unions in general rests on the belief that unions sometimes operate as quasi-secret cabals that work against the interests of the public or third parties. My own view is that that charge sometimes had merit, albeit not in such an extreme way as the word "cabal" suggests. But even if it doesn't, a true public conversation, in which objections as well as statements of support are voiced, might help advance the cause.

Now, if I wanted to undermine the union's efforts entirely, I would have no hesitations about this blog, other than the prudential concern that I might be found out and therefore make enemies of people who are now my friends. But truth be told, for all my reservations, there are real problems at UIC and in higher education in general. And enough members of the faculty, presumably a strong majority, believe the union is the best, or at least a good, mechanism to address those problems that I'm wary of undermining their efforts. And for all my reservations, which I haven't disclosed on this blog yet, I also harbor a sneaking suspicion that I might be wrong and that the union and its proposed contract might work generally to improve things and that the strike actions, while not desirable, are reasonable tactics to achieve the union's ends.

Why, then, a public blog and not, say, internal discussions with union members? Well, I have discussed my concerns with a few union members. The few people I have spoken with have listened to my reservations carefully and respectfully even though they disagree.

But I feel that a larger conversation is needed. And frankly, I'm afraid to make my objections, or the extent of my objections, known generally. To speak up in person to a few people is one thing. To speak up on one of the union or faculty listservs of which I'm a member is quite another. As a very new and also contingent faculty member, I simply don't feel comfortable raising my objections in a quasi-public forum in which I must identify myself and in which people who exercise something like a supervisory role over me would see I don't support their union. That's not to say that anyone has given me any real reason to believe they'd retaliate. But their position is not disinterested, either.

Ideally, the union would have a way for people to comment anonymously or pseudonymously in some discussion forum that is limited to union members. The problem in that case would be how to do so while ensuring that only union members are participating. (That, of course, is a problem with this blog. Any reader has to take my word for it that I am who I say I am.) I'm not quite sure how the union could do this, especially at a time when most of its resources are devoted in what, we all hope, are the final stages of contract negotiations.

For the time being, then, I will limit myself to general observations about the union and about some of the things I witnessed from the two-day strike that took place in February.  I do bring a measure of skepticism to these observations.  There were some discomfiting aspects especially about the strike and the rallies that attended those strikes that need discussion.  But it was not all discomfiting.  I learned much from the union supporters and am now generally more inclined to be favorable to their cause or see things from their point of view than I had been before participating on the picket lines.

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