Sunday, August 10, 2014

On "loyal opposition"

I have changed the lede to my blog to read "One voice of loyal opposition to the UIC United Faculty Union."  I'd like to explain that a bit.

First of all, I say "one voice" because mine is not the only one nor do I necessarily speak for anyone who dissents from some or all of what the UICUF is doing.  It is possible that some very committed members of the union, who would never think of abandoning it or its principles, might disagree with some of what it is doing.

Second, I'll explain what I mean by "loyal opposition." I mean that as long as the UICUF doesn't do anything I deem unconscionable or that I disagee with strongly, I will remain a member and cheerfully allow my dues to be automatically deducted.  Of course, because the contract includes a "fair share" provision, I don't have much of a choice.  But if fair-share were ever invalidated, my position would remain the same.  I also believe that keeping one's membership gives the union a certain legitimacy it would not otherwise have.  It is one thing to claim x number of dues-paying members.  It's quite another to claim x-n number of dues-paying members and n number of members from whom dues must be taken against their will.  To be clear, I have yet to see a dues deduction (or any of the promised raises).

What qualifies as "unconscionable" or criteria for "strong disagreement"?  I don't know and it can be subjective, but here are the most likely candidates:

  • The union might choose to demonize those who criticize it as "anti-union" or "anti-student" or "scab."  I can understand if certain members of the union engage in such shenanigans, but if the union officially does, or if it refuses to disavow such shenanigans, then I might construe its action/inaction to be official endorsement.  I don't expect the union to take an official position disavowing every instance some hotheads make a precipitous statement.  But if a pattern of demonizing people becomes prevalent, then the union would have a duty to reaffirm its main principles.  (To be clear, I don't think this is a current problem with the union.  Just a potential one.)

  • The union or its affiliates might adopt a position on political issues outside its role of representing its members, or it might adopt a position on a political issue I disagree with very strongly.  I won't here and now state what those are, mostly because some of my views are probably not shared by a majority of my union members and I don't wish to make the blog a forum to discuss them unless the union makes them a question of union policy.
  • The conflict of interest that I believe is inherent in the union, which represents tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty, whose interests are sometimes opposed, might become more real than theoretical.  I look at my tenure-track colleagues as true colleagues, and they haven't given me reason to think they are anything but fair, even more than fair, to people in my position.  But if an issue develops that sets our interests against each other, and the union cannot handle the conflict of interests in an equitable manner, then I may need to reconsider my union membership. 
  •  The union might explicitly endorse its members' providing the case for the union to students, outside of properly educational purposes.  It is one thing, for example, for an instructor in a class on labor relations or government or numerous other topics to discuss the issues surrounding the UICUF.  It is quite another for an instructor to take advantage of a captive audience to present the case for the union.  To be clear, when a contract is up for negotiation, it's fair for instructors to alert students to the possibility of a strike, or to very briefly explain what the union is asking for.  But I will say that some of the messages from union organizers during the last strike and lead-up to the potential 2nd strike seemed to suggest making the case to students during class time.  And anecdotally, I knew some members who encouraged their students to attend the pro-union rallies.  To me those examples are very close to the line and go over it.  If that becomes official union policy, I cannot support it.

Third, if the question of re-certification comes up, I shall have to reconsider my membership.  As I understand it, the "card check" procedure for certifying the union means that simply by signing a card and becoming a member, one has "voted" in favor of certification.  If that is also required for re-certification, then I will have no choice but to reconsider my membership.  In that case, I am in somewhat of a bind.  I may believe that I owe a certain "loyalty" to the organization that is there to support my interests while it officially supports me.  But if I come to the conclusion that I no longer want it to support me, then I must formally disaffiliate myself from the union, instead of merely voting not to re-certify.  I haven't made up my mind whether I will disaffiliate when/if the time comes.  (And I may no longer be faculty member by that time, either, if the university is not able to renew my contract.  So the question then would be moot.)

Fourth and finally, "loyal opposition" means to me not an incessant criticism with the goal to undermine.  It's too easy to find fault.  I mean it as criticism, but with a goal toward helping the union improve its message and its operations.  (I also want to give the union kudos when I see it doing something well.)  I suggest that if the union wishes to represent its members well, it ought to listen to those who may be ambivalent about it.  No one dissenter probably shares all or most of my concerns, but any given concern of mine might be shared, and the union might do well to learn of them.

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