Anonymous

May 12th, 2020


This organizer has requested to remain anonymous in their interview.  They were hired as a “salt” by the UAW and were involved in grad student organizing from 2012 to 2016.  In this interview, they describe their experience working under the recently elected AWDU party (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) and the political culture within the UAW.  They were interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

Ok, so just get started, can you give a little information about what your involvement was with grad student organizing?

Sure. I was involved in UAW 2865 at UC Berkeley and I was an undergrad, so I was a tutor and like tutors are part of the grad student union as well, and they hired me as like a “salt” to try to organize the tutors because the tutors had essentially no union presence at all. And I was like friends with the activisty members of the union prior to this so they kind of encouraged me to become a tutor and do that part of the work. And so I got hired by them part time for a while, I think probably like one year. And that was it.

OK. Yeah. And I just want to know a little bit more about like the different contracts that were struck with the UC, because I recently got into contact with someone else at the UAW about acquiring the contract negotiations. And yeah, he was talking about, like, how there are different ones for tutors, postdocs and academic researchers. Do you know a little bit more about, like, why there was like individual contracts for each group?

The postdocs are a whole separate local. They’re 5810 and they are separate partly because they just do totally different work, like they’re, they don’t teach, or like it’s when they are doing the GSR (graduate student researchers) job, they are not teaching. I realize that many of the same people work as GSIs (graduate student instructors), but in the GSI role, they’re not teaching and they have a lot of different things that they would focus on because they’re actually generally making a lot of money. They’ll make like 80 or 90 thousand, especially in the hard sciences, and are seeing this more as a career stepping stone, so it’s just like a different realm. That’s my impression of why it’s a separate local. I think it’s also a separate local because they did not like the politics in UAW 2865. And like I know that they were separate locals prior to this, but I think there is a real division between the political climate in those two locals, and that’s probably part of why it stayed separate. UAW 2865, most of the leadership is very consistently from humanities, even though most grad students are in science and engineering, and the GSR union is much more representative of the that. For tutors, we had a separate contract because tutors generally worked only a couple hours a week and were undergrads, not grad students, and had different demands as well, like really wanted a flexible schedule, more so than wanting sick days, for example.

Ok, cool. And what made you want to get involved with, like, student organizing?

Well, I was a socialist already and thought it would be good, and I was working as a tutor already anyways, also, and I wanted to make my workplace better.

Was it like people reaching out to you involved?

Yes, I mean, I was already friends with a lot of the leadership of that local. So I was just kind of hearing about it as it happened. Yeah, they encouraged me. They’re like, you sure you should apply for this job.

OK, and so what exactly was your role as an organizer?

Technically, what I was supposed to do, just act as a “salt” like, sign up new members from the tutors, try to get there to be like some interest in joining the union, and maybe ideally, I think they were hoping like some sort of a movement of tutors demanding whatever thing they wanted.

Did you feel like there was a lot of involvement, like from the other tutors that you recruited and signed up?

Some. I was, they they hired, like three of me. The other two were in humanities and I was in math, and it wasn’t, like, I would say out of the three, it did the best job, and I’m not saying that to brag like that was not really disputed because I signed up actual members and the others didn’t. But it’s hard with the math majors because they weren’t really super interested in it for the pay; it was more like, “we want to do this experience. It looks good on our resume. We want flexible hours. We’re only working four hours a week anyways”. You wouldn’t necessarily do that job if you were just looking for money because there were jobs that would have much more regular hours that you could apply for. So the union, and the union approached things like the leadership from a way that really turned people off. So, for example, they were like really gung ho of like, tutors need to be paid more, and like, just would not hear the tutors did not care if they were paid more and that this was not a relevant demand or, “tutors need to be salaried so they have sick days!” and they didn’t want to be salaried or have sick days. We liked having flexible schedules. And you can’t have, like, sick days and flexible schedules because if you want to change your hours every week, it doesn’t, you see what I’m saying? Like, there’s not a good way to write that into a contract. And people were fine with that. And then they would, against my advice, do things like host a union pizza party and let the bosses come in. And so tutors would show up and their boss was at the union meeting they had showed up to, and so, unsurprisingly, they were terrified and never wanted to do anything related to that again.

Mm hmm. Yeah. So when you say that you gave them advice in regards to, like the, what the tutors wanted, did you guys like, did you meet with, like the upper members of the union about, and like discuss those issues?

Within my local, yes. The whole thing was just being planned at the Berkeley level.

Mm hmm. And so I know that you were organizing between 2012 and 2016 is that right?

No, I think it was. 2010? No, I’m sorry. Give me a sec. Yeah, that’s right, ok, yeah, you’re right, you’re right.

That’s okay, it was a long time ago.

I’m like, what year did I…? OK. Yes. That’s it. 2012 to 2016.

So I know you were working when AWDU, like the AWDU party was in power, so how did you feel, like it, like how did you feel working under them was?

I originally joined because I was friends with like all the AWDU members through other political organizing, so I came in being like OK, these are clearly, you know, the right people, and then they would just say really dumb sh** like, sorry, but for example, they would literally say, “we’re joining the union because we want to take the unions’ dues and use it to do political work”, like, political work unrelated to the union. For example, like supporting, there was a big Black Lives Matter movement at the time, and I was totally a fan of that and like participated a lot and helped to organize within Berkeley. But I didn’t think it was correct to join the union to take the dues and direct it over to something else. When a union in itself is like a social service, a service that stands up for workers and for all people to have rights and to just kind of see it as a cash cow and disregard the fact that the union in itself does good work by the fact of giving workers rights I thought was really wrong, and that really turned me off. And they really would say, like, “we’re gonna take this money; we’re going to spend it on our activism stuff!”. And then, so that was my first bad taste, then they framed some guy for sexual assault, like, I cannot tell you 100 percent that it was a frame, but they would brag about the fact that they had framed it. Like this was not a, you know, under the table type of thing. This one girl said she got an email from someone who said that this guy had raped her 10 years in the past. She wouldn’t show the email to anyone. She would not disclose any further information about it. It was incredibly convenient because it was against someone who they had just decided that they didn’t like and wanted to get rid of, and so it was just extremely suspicious. And then ,just like shot down anyone who said stuff like “you don’t believe women. This is clearly, you need to believe in women 100 percent of the time, even if, like, we’re not even seeing the accusation”. So that seems super shady. And then they had this idea, like “militant minority” strategy of, “we’re gonna organize with other people who have political views similar to us”. And like, I’m a socialist as well, right, but I don’t think we should only organize other socialists in a union, because the great thing about a union and its power is that everyone’s interests as workers is united behind this organization, right, and so the goal of the organization should be to get all those people to see that, right, and to fight for these rights together, and instead, they would just kind of discard anyone who wasn’t super politically aligned with them, of like, “oh you’re-“, generally was like you’re racist and sexist, but really, it was just anyone with different political orientations, or who didn’t know things like they, they were the type where if you say “you guys” like to a bunch of girls, you would get like shut out forever, which discarded anyone who didn’t happen to have essentially a really powerful humanities education. And so they only had representation from select few humanities departments and weren’t interested in changing this, like. At Berkeley in particular, almost half of grad students are in electrical engineering. They had one rep and gave him no support. In the hard sciences, most of the departments which are bigger individually than all of the humanities combined, most had no representatives and they weren’t interested in changing it because they knew those representatives would not have the same political views as them. So they would rather have no representation at all, which I would get if we were a political party, but we’re not. We’re a union and we’re supposed to represent all workers and hear workers and hear what workers want, and so, yeah, I think that led to things like having a pizza party that led to tutors getting fired because they didn’t care about handling the actual work of a union. They were just interested in like having a rally or building a movement, and this side of thing, not that I’m against building a movement, but unions have a special power that’s separate, you know.

Yeah. Yeah, I didn’t know that-, so the tutors got fired after that, the pizza party event?

Yeah. Some got fired under different pretenses of like, oh, you know, we just, we don’t want you anymore, and one, I didn’t tell the union because he didn’t have papers, and he got fired because they were afraid that the bo-, my boss was afraid that the union would find out that they were hiring someone who didn’t have papers which we’re not supposed to do. And so, I don’t remember the exact details of this. He went to the pizza party. They didn’t like him any more because they thought he was pro union. They fired him and, like, rehired him two semesters later or something, but it just led to there being no trust in the union. Like, you wouldn’t go to a union event if, after the first one, people are fired, right?

Yeah. Would you say there was also like a lack of communication between, like the union, like, hierarchy and the other people that were involved?

Yes. Between the union hierarchy and its actual members, they really communicated only with a minority of people who they thought agreed with them politically. For example, they declared a strike, and like, I think I remember calculating, it was like five percent of grad students went on strike. And they didn’t mind that, because they hadn’t reached out or organized at all for the strike to even happen in entire departments. So their friends turned out from like anthropology or whatever, like those five departments, but like, there was no strike at all in chemistry, for example. And that was super regular, like some, a lot of people in the hard sciences didn’t even know they were in a union.

Yeah. So, also you mentioned that you were an undergrad, so I’m just curious as to what the organizing process was like while also being a full time student.

It was stressful, like getting hired by them was shockingly easy. I kept telling them, like, because I was getting paid more than I had ever been paid before, which was cool, like union jobs pay well, you know. I think I was making like 24 dollars an hour and my previous job had been like 8. And so I was like, hey, you should have like things you want me to do, but they were so intent on kind of following, you know, their own politics, which I respect, but they took it to an extreme of like, you don’t have to do the work, it’s fine if you have no results. And it kept being fine if we had no results. And like, like I told you, they hired three copies of me to do this tutoring “salt” job, and the other two never recruited a member. Like, they gave these people like thousands of dollars, and like, I like them. We were friends. I’m not saying this to say that they were bad, but just to say that this was really ineffective work. And then it was stressful because when I realized that I did not agree with what AWDU was doing, and I was the only one on campus in the leadership who thought so, so all my friends stopped talking to me, and they were all like 10 years older than me, and so it was just extremely intimidating.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So in regards to, like the community would you say it was like, pretty like isolating, and like political in people’s ideologies?

I’m sorry, can you answer that question a bit more?

So, like when you were working with people within the union and like recruiting people, because I know that you mentioned that a lot of people have a really strong political ideologies and kind of wanted to associate with the people that have the same views, so would you say it was pretty isolating in that way for other people?

Yes, definitely. Like, for example, I recruited a bunch of physics majors to turn out to one of their rallies and they came and they were excited at the beginning and then some of the leadership decided that they were going to, like, yell at the dean and throw trash at his office or whatever, which I’m not actually opposed to, like whatever, he’s a horrible dean, but it was just a bad move because it turned off all of these people that I had brought. And they didn’t care, because if you’re gonna get turned off by that, then you’re clearly a bad person and don’t deserve to be in the union. So in that sense, they were self isolating because occasionally someone outside of their political bubble would show up, but they would just get turned off like purposefully and shut down.

And were the protests that they held, like, did they correspond with the larger, like UC wide protests or were they individualized to Berkeley’s campus?

This one was specific to Berkeley, I believe. I mean, it was a ballot our dean, sorry give me a sec to try remember. OK, I’m not, like totally sure about this, but unless they coordinated something across Deans, which is possible, I think it was just at Berkeley, which is weird because they did do a lot of things campus by campus with no coordination.

So outside of like union contract timelines and stuff.

Yeah. Like lots of political organizing outside of union contracts and not unrelated always, but not using the union as a power source other than a list to turn out members to a rally.

And so since you were involved with the UAW from 2012 to 2016, what would you say was, like, the biggest, if any, like changes between that time period within like the UAW?

AWDU collapsed right when I was leaving. Like, their membership rate had just sunk and sunk and sunk, and they were doing nothing to recruit new members because they didn’t care if they did, so that changed, and then a whole bunch of other groups like them kind of sprung up across different campuses. So when I joined, it was like AWDU had just risen to power, and then when I was leaving, they were pretty much done. I think that was the main change.

Was there a new group that came into place?

Oh, there’s like a million different ones. I don’t remember the names of them. In Berkeley, it’s still AWDU people, I believe, or at least like AWDU friendly people. In San Diego, it’s like Power or something, I forget. It’s a lot of groups that are politically like AWDU, and some of them are weirder, like the Santa Barb-, no the Santa Cruz people are extremely like ultra left. Like the COLA thing they just did was an unauthorized strike that they did not consult the rest of the locals if they even wanted to do this or not, if we were willing to pay their legal fees when they did this, like if anyone else thought that was a good move. They just kind of went and did it anyways, and that’s like a continuation of AWDU type group over there, and then some are a little bit more reasonable now.

Are these AWDO-, AWDU type groups, like, organized, separate from the UAW or just like super left factions of the UAW?

Do you mean like if they have an official stance within-, like, can you clarify that question? I’m sorry.

Like, were they officially working with and like under the UAW or was it more of, like, like sort of a club organization, like outside organization?

Yeah, more club. Like, if you go to those meetings, I can’t guarantee because I haven’t been for a long time, but my experience was that you would see as many people who were not union members as who were even in the local. It was kind of like, a political organization that was infiltrating the union, is more how I would characterize, at least AWDU. And they hate UAW Internationals. They would definitely not call themselves like a faction of UAW

Ok, cool. So I thought I’ve gone through pretty much most of my questions, but the last thing I want to ask about was during 2014. I know there were protests like across UC campuses, and I know that there are 20 students that were arrested at UCSC, and I was wondering if that had any effect on, like organizing at Berkeley.

Do you mean the protest against the fee hike or the Black Lives Matter protest? Because they kind of overlapped timeline, timeline wise.

The fee hike.

OK. Those protests, even though they led to more arrests in Santa Cruz, actually started at Berkeley, and we did a ton of work for that, and I would not have called that union related. That was like a whole separate group. It began in Berkeley with something called the Public Education Coalition, which was an activist group that had many AWDU members. That’s where I knew them from previously. I did a ton of work at Berkeley for that, actually, and we organized that with mostly undergrad students since it was a fee hike that mostly affected undergrads, and then the union kind of came and was like yay, this is vaguely related to our contract, but I would not call that primarily a union campaign, the fee hike movement.

Ok. Well, I think those are all my questions. Are you okay with being cited and quoted on the website, which rather prefer being anonymous or is anonymous an option because of some I would love?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Oh, yes, that would be great because they all hate me from back then and I kind of know that.

Yeah. I want to make sure that you can speak freely. Great. And so since this is like a quarter long project, our article will probably be up like towards the end of this quarter. But I can send you an email so you can check it out after. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

No. Thank you so much for taking the time to like hear that story.

Thank you for talking with me.

For sure.

Have a good day.

You, too.

 

Kavitha Iyengar

May 14th, 2020


Kavitha Lyengar is the current statewide president of the UAW and resides on the Executive Board with nine other people.  She first took on leadership roles in the UAW in 2016 after several years of union membership. She ran for local campus leadership and then statewide leadership.  In this interview, she describes what drew her to get involved, the inner workings of the UAW, and the union’s challenges and goals moving forward.  She was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

So to start off, can you give a brief description about your position at the UAW?

Yeah, I am the statewide union president, so that means that I serve on an executive board with nine other people who were elected by members across the state. And I’m a grad student and a GSI at UC Berkeley.

Ok. So what made you first want to get involved with the UAW?

Yeah. So I got involved in 2016 when I felt like the left needed to build a lot more power to fight the forces against us. So that’s what made me get first involved. I was in my like second or third year of bad school by then.

When you say, like the forces against you, are you talking about, like, just the UC overall?

Yeah, the UC overall. But I think more importantly, in 2016, I was looking at kind of big right wing attacks on issues I care about, immigrants rights, women’s rights, economic inequality…seemed like it was going to vastly expand. And I think for us to kind of fight back against those conservative forces we need to have strong progressive institutions on the left that bring people together and to which we can have kind of real power. And so I yeah, that’s what made me first get involved, is that being involved in your union, I think is one of the most important things you can do to have kind of shared and big power.

When you first joined, were you like one of the general members of the organization?

Yeah. So, yeah, I joined my first day of grad school. I joined my union, but I wasn’t super involved or going to union meetings until,yeah, my second or third year. And then I, yeah, I started going to union membership meetings and then organizing committee meetings, and then I ran for local campus leadership before I ran for statewide leadership.

How do you feel like the overall, like, vibe of the community in terms of like being in meetings, like the people involved were?

Were? Yeah. So, I mean, right after the Trump election, a ton of people went to union meetings because we’re all, I think, looking for ways that we could come together and have kind of a way to collectivize our efforts. And since then, the unions kind of really grown over the last, now about four years, I can’t believe it’s 2020. Over the last four years, union membership has grown; a lot more stewards and leaders are involved in the union. And I think there’s a real sense among grad workers that when we come together, we can transform our working conditions. And I think we see a lot of that happening right now. We’ve seen that happen over the past few months. I think it’s a real testament to regrowing a union.

Yeah, definitely. So how do you kind of describe the UAW leadership crowd prior to, like you moving up in the ranks?

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s kind of lots of different philosophies for how graduate student unions should work and be run. I experienced a union that’s member-, that’s, that’s membership, whose membership declined for about a decade and who kind of levels of engagement were pretty low in my experience. And so, yeah, I feel like over the last few years, kind of everyone involved in the union has been really dedicated to rebuilding it and really building it up into a strong fighting union.

Yeah, definitely. Were there any changes that you like want to implement moving into your position as president?

Yeah, I mean, it’s really important to me that, like everyone knows they have a union and that they should be a part of it. And that being a part of it means not only kind of signing a membership card, that that’s a really important way for us to have collective power, but it means that there is like someone on the shop floor who identifies as a union leader, someone who is constantly talking with their friends about the union and is making sure that their friends are participating in union actions and efforts and kind of building that structure is kind of been on the top of my list of the most important things we can do, because, you know, to have a really strong and effective strike threat that can win the things we need, like an end to nonresident supplemental tuition, housing stipends, free public transit, which I think we need as part of a green new deal and abolishment of the title nine system as it currently exists. All these kind of really big, bold demands is going to take everyone coming together. And I think that takes building really serious and sustaining structures. So that’s kind of been one of my major priorities, is making sure we can build those structures. It’s also really important to me to get more international students involved in the union. It’s such a huge group of workers, are folks who come from abroad and face all kinds of discriminations in terms of visa, all kinds of discrimination in terms of tuition, like extra tuitions that folks have to pay simply based off of where they’re born. And I think it’s really important in order to fight those issues, to have lots of international students involved in the union to take those issues on. So those two have been really, those two issues have really been at the top of my mind, in addition to, I think, the third big one has been making sure that we have a real political presence in Sacramento. As you know, a public sector union, our boss’s boss’s boss is the governor of the state of California. And so it’s very, very important, particularly looking at COVID right now, that we have a strong coalition with other unions, both to fight on the shop floor, fight against the boss, but also to come together to make sure that the impacts of COVID aren’t on the backs of workers. And so making sure as a piece of that we have a plan in Sacramento to move bills effectively is very, very important.

And what would you say are some of the biggest struggles that you face trying to like get people together and organize?

I mean, I think the biggest hurdle has been just the fact that there was kind of years without structures in the union that really touched everyone’s lives. And so I think just like moving from a place where someone, like doesn’t know about the union hasn’t heard about it, no one and none of their friends know about it and none of their friends have known about it for years, has really kind of built a culture where people really don’t think of it as kind of the air they breathe or something that really matters in a daily material way. And so I think is one of the biggest obstacles is kind of rebuilding from a place of not knowing. Because I think a lot of us come to organizing because it’s, you know, part of the air we breathe for whatever reason. That’s because of the way we were raised or our ideological predilections. But it’s like something that we just think of as a common sense. And I think building that for people in places where it hasn’t been for years is really, has been quite a challenge. And then I think, you know, the other big challenge is that the University of California doesn’t want to treat us the way we deserve. Right. Like that is the other major, major, major challenge is the boss. The question is like, how do you transform the conditions of power to make the, cause the boss to care?

So right now, what are the kind of best methods are you using to kind of like, re-engage people and like we stimulate their culture of caring about the union and knowing about the organization?

Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a variety of tactics we take. I mean, running campaigns about issues that people care about I think is super, super important. And I mean, people are diverse. People care about a lot of different things. So I think it matters quite a bit to have campaigns running on housing stipends and housing issues. I mean, that’s a shared issue that clearly runs across the grad student workforce. But I also have a, we have a committee addressing issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment at the university. We have an international students committee that’s really working on these visa issues I was talking about, um, working on having kind of projects and programs that are really addressing all of those issues I think is really important so we have a way of talking to our co-workers that’s really grounded in something that folks care about. And then, you know, like raising the visibility of the union is always very, very important. And so making sure people kind of know it and see it, but I think kind of at root, the most important thing is identifying people who folks have relationships with because it’s all based on real relationships. That’s what organizing is, and so making sure that there are people who people have real relationships with, who identify and care about the union and identifying those people through kind of different issue campaigns and bringing folks into our kind of broader plan to win, I think is the whole game.

And how have you kind of seen the member engagement increase or just overall shift as your time as president?

Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve seen member engagement increase in a lot of ways. I think we’ve seen at least like and my experience at Berkeley is the most kind of specific, but I mean, over the past few years, I’ve seen more members involved and engaging in union democracy than I have in years. And, you know, we’ve seen member engagement increase in votes and in elections in the union. We’ve seen membership engagement increase in terms of like departmental engagement. We have people who identify as the union in their department and talk with their co-workers who come to union meetings regularly. And I mean, I think the kind of whole COLA movement, while really, you know, the union didn’t, um, organize the wildcat parts of it, I think is really a testament to grad workers coming together and kind of realizing our place as workers in the university and I don’t think that happens without a strong union existing and without kind of a presence of a union that helps people to think through our relationship with the employer as workers, not just as students.

Yeah, definitely, um, and so, yeah, can you give a little more in-depth information on, like, how the union is kind of working through both like the COLA movement and also COVID?

Yeah, yeah, totally. So our union has, the university filed legal charges against the union for supposedly organizing the wildcat strikes. And we have filed legal charges against them for failing to bargain with the union over cost of living issues and for unlawfully disciplining folks at Santa Cruz who were on a wildcat strike. So, you know, our union has fought for decades on cost of living issues. This is, you know, one of the reasons our union was founded in the 90s was because we hadn’t seen wage increases in years. Past living issues have been, you know, a big issue from the very, very beginning of our union. And just, you know, during our last round of bargaining, we tried to bargain over housing stipends and the university said housing stipends are student issue, not a worker issue. And that’s been really core to our nig problem in our union for a long time, is that the university likes to treat as students, not as workers. That’s how the university is justifying giving folks housing stipends at other campuses. They’re saying, oh, these, we did this for you as a student, not as a worker so we’re not going to do it through the union contract. And I mean, all of us in the union know that it’s better for it to be in a union contract. It meansbyou have rights; it means you have protections; it means that it can’t be unilaterally taken away from you. That’s why we want a union. And so there’s a really big issue with the university’s kind of position on this, that this is, my god it’s dark, that this is just a student issue. And so our kind of relationship with the kind of cost of living issues is, you know, run deep in our unions’ DNA for a long time, and right now is taking the shape of union members organizing around an unfair labor practice strike authorization vote, because given the university’s unlawful behavior, union members can decide to go on strike together. And because of the university’s failure to follow the law to bargain with the union about these cost of living issues rather than unilaterally implementing changes that we have no protections over. That’s something that’s, you know, an ongoing effort. And, you know, the kind of timelines and all the kind of plans around that totally transformed because of COVID. So the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, is bringing forth the worst economic recession I’ve seen in my lifetime. I was here, you know, have like…This is worse than 2008. And it’s, the unemployment rates are worse than the New Deal era, you know, or the Great Depression era. This is like really, really bad. And we’ve been working in coalition with other organizations across the state, across the UC, across the country, to call for no austerity, right, in the face of this crisis. We need to have fully funded public institutions. We need free health care. We need paid leaves. We need housing. We need to cancel rent. We need like, all like, it’s really laying bare all the ways in which our system is brok- is broken already. And it’s, like we need free child care, like all these problems that were like, problems before are just exacerbated now. And so I’m really looking forward to the opportunity this affords us to work together with organizations to get more bud-, bigger budgets from the state and from the federal government, to get more research funding, to tax the wealthy, to redistribute wealth in the state of California so it goes to the people who need it, so it goes to public institutions. And I think that’s really one of the major goals and opportunities we have right now, is to come together across all sectors and identities of the working class to really take on the like, right wing corporate forces that, you know, got me involved in my union in the first place.

Yeah, definitely. And can you tell a little bit more about how, like, communication is going right now, like across other collaborating organizations, but also like within the UAW in terms of like the executive board with the other members? And things like that.

Yeah. Yeah. So I’ll start from the shop floor and move up. So, you know, we have stewards in every department talking with their coworkers all the time about what’s going on. We’ve been having phone banks every day for a variety of reasons, to just like be in touch, check in with how things are going, make sure people are doing well, see if they’re having any workplace issues, and let them know about these broader efforts that we’re engaged in on a variety of levels. There’s also, you know, union meetings that happen on each campus every month, things like monthly membership meetings, committee meetings, et cetera. Our statewide leadership, in addition to our executive board, there are elected leaders from each campus who sit on joint council, that group just met last month or last month to talk about kind of how to orient our organizing efforts amidst COVID and these broader fights we find ourselves in the middle of now. And then we also have e-board that meets monthly to talk through our orientation and how we are collaborating with other organizations. I and a few other e-board members have been really involved in the UC Unions Coalition that meets every week or has been meeting every week now given COVID to talk about our shared orientation around demands of the UC, demands of the state of California, and demands of the federal government. So we’re talking about how to collaborate on federal funding like the Cares Act, but in the next stimulus round, making sure there’s lots of money for universities to get research funding, working with the state budget to make sure that the cuts to UC aren’t as deep as the state want. The latest projections I’ve seen are they’re looking at 10 percent budget cuts to the UC from its usual, from, in terms of its state funding, you know, like only, a vast, vast minority of the UC’s funding, like five to 10 percent comes from the state in the first place, but that’s going to be cut by 10 percent, supposedly. And so figuring out how we, you know, have a joint effort to push back against that, and then also really have a united front before the employer who, you know, historically, last time there was a recession, the cuts came on the workers’ backs, and that’s unacceptable. And that’s not the way we, it should go at all. And so we’ve been coordinating at that level. And then also working through coalitions with community and labor organizations across the state for kind of really bold demands around housing and full employment and health care and making sure that we have a shared strategy around like schools and communities first in the medium term, that we need to have a plan that surround reforming Prop 13 and taxing the wealthy so that we can fund things like our public schools with the moneys they deserve and having plans around the Rental Affordability Act so we can have the rent control we need so that the landlords don’t just get wealthier. So we’ve been talking about collaborating on those efforts and also organizing efforts around kind of shared corporate targets. And then we’re also, you know, in conversation nationally with academic worker unions across higher education institutions in the UAW, because the UAW represents eighty thousand academic workers across the nation. And then in conversation with workers who aren’t necessarily just academic workers, but other higher education workers at different universities about how we can have a national strategy around fighting austerity. But like that, all of that stuff only matters if the people at the gr-, on the like shop floor are participating and engaged in it, so that’s why it’s really important that we are building those structures I was talking about and having conversations with people every day to get people engaged in this fight. And so we’re currently talking about launching a big petition around not only our cost of living issues, but what it would take to have a really kind of just recovery and that that would include addressing our cost of living issues, making sure people aren’t laid off, making sure international workers don’t face xenophobia that is unmerited.

In terms of resources, how is it like organizing like these different levels of, like collaborations and organizing with, within the UAW, and also like all these outside organizations as well?

What do you mean by resources? Like how do we, like, divide energy between all of this stuff? Because like. Yeah. Yeah, totally. Right. Like the questions, like priorities and time and how we can do all these things.

Yeah.

I mean, like I said, the most important stuff is the shop floor organizing and so that’s where I think most people spend their time and effort. And there is a, kind of, smaller group of us between the executive board and the joint council who are part of these more like statewide national conversations and finding ways for our union to usefully plug in. But really, all that stuff is only meaningful if union members are really engaged and involved. So that’s where the vast majority difference time is being spent.

Yeah, definitely. Um, yeah. Well, those are all of my questions. Do you have any questions for me?

No, no, not at all. Yeah, I. Well, I guess like. So what else are you. Yeah. What are the other kind of moving parts for your like trying to do a deep dive on the history of grad student organizing?  So the way we were kind of like structuring it is we basically are going to like old newspaper articles and we also got access to the old UAW contracts so that we can kind of like point out like what advances that grad’s in organizing has made in terms of like contractual efforts and also interviewing, like old UAW members or grad students for their perspectives on, like, the fight. And also just like the inner workings of the UAW. So seeing how it’s like progressed at the years and like, well, parts of it kind of worked. What did it do that the overall, like, presentation of the information that we find is like a mix of providing a blueprint for future leaders, but also like recognizing that, like we have done all this work already, especially because organizing is definitely hard work and it’s super easy to get discouraged. But especially because, like for students that only go to school for like four years, it’s really hard to see like a super tangible change within that amount of time. So, yeah, just kind of like showing students that, like, it can be done. Like this is how much this is how far we’ve come. There’s so, so much more that we have to do. But we can get there, you know. Yeah. Have you been really good article that I like to show people? The history of our union is that S.F. Gate article about our recognition strike when we first formed our union. Six thousand out of nine thousand teachers going on strike together to win our right to unionize. And I find that to be a really kind of useful historical perspective on kind of like that type of power we have to build to really like the University of California.

Yeah, I’ll double check it out. Yeah. Yeah.  Well, thank you so much for meeting with me. And I if you like, I can send you an email and the articles up so you can check it out. Also, are you okay with being quoted in some parts of the article?

Yeah, yeah. That would be totally great. OK, perfect. Well, I hope you have a great day. Thank you. Meeting with me. Absolutely. Wants to be nice. Thank you. Bye bye.

 

Brian Malone

April 29, 2020


Brian Malone was a graduate student at UCSC who was elected into the UCSC UAW unit chair position in 2008/2009 and one of the five UAW bargaining members who organized the Vote No campaign on the 2010 contract.  In this interview, he provides critiques of the UAW, details on the structural takeover of internal party AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union), and his perspective as a bargaining member of the UAW.  Brian Malone was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.

Transcript

Perfect.

So just to kind of explain a little bit about what I’m researching. So in light of the recent color movement, we’re kind of looking into the history of grad’s in organizing, and that’s in relation to UCSB and also just U.S. wide because it is covered UC-wide due to the UAW involvement. So to start off, I just want to kind of get a feel for what your involvement was in grad student organizing.

Yeah, so. This is all so long ago. So I have tried to bring some of this back in my memory, but yeah, it is. 2008 or 2009 was sort of the beginning of the budget cuts movement. So the first sort of big cuts from the state of California to the U.S. and and that, um, and there were a number of grad-there was a grad student organizing committee at UC Santa Cruz, UCSC, where I was as a grad student, that, um, got involved with that. And there was a big sort of March 4th was the big sort of day throughout the UC March 4th, 2009. I think it was. And, you know, we shut down the UCSC campus. And and and that was similar. So I was sort of I was involved with that as a as a grad student, a member of the sort of ad hoc we called the G SOC graduate student organizing committee. But also at that point, I had. I was also the unit chair for the UC Santa Cruz UAW unit. So I think I think I was elected that in 2008 or 2009. And so that was sort of concurrent. And. Yeah.

Ok, perfect.  So I just want to know a little bit more about what made you want to get involved, like in terms of GSOC and being the chair.

It was, um, I think a couple I mean, I wasn’t I wasn’t when I came to graduate school, I wasn’t particularly politically active. I wasn’t. I didn’t have a history of activism or organizing at all. And my sort of sense was, you know, I’m just here to keep my head down. And do you know my graduate work. Right. Like, get my degree and get out. But I think a couple of things changed. And one was, I think. The with the cuts and the way those. The way things were in my department and on campus, it was just so clearly unfair that I just sort of couldn’t ignore it like this was really this…It was a crisis in a sense. And so I sort of felt like, well, I can’t you know, I’d rath- maybe I would have rather not been involved. But but but this is happening. And if I can do anything to to to to push back against this, I think then I’m going to have to try. And I think part of that came also from a really remarkable organizer who was a few years ahead of me in the history department here, Sarah Smith. And she had been unit chair before me at UAW. And she’s just I mean, she’s always just been a really good organizer and she’s very good at bringing people in. And so she’s sort of you know, she would call me as the UAW unit chair and say, hey, this thing is happening. Will you come to a meeting? Hey, will you come to a phone bank? You know? And she’s just really, she was so good at bringing people in and recruiting people. And so, you know, I went to a few GSOC meetings. I did some stuff. I realized, oh, you know, I have time. I have some energy. I can put some some effort into this. And then after a while, Sarah was like, well, you know, my term as a unit chair is coming to an end. How…why don’t you run to do that? And so I think a lot of it really was, being invited in and recruited by really good, smart, strong organizers and activists who are already here and there was already a structure in place.

Did you feel like a sense of community within like the people that you were organizing with?

Yeah, I did. I think it was a really good group. And I still remember some of those first meetings and I didn’t really know most of those people, but I didn’t feel like I was sort of on the same, like, these, I mean, these were really politically active organizers, um, I was sort of like, I’ve never done anything like this. Why, you know, why am I here? But they were just so you know, I think there was a really good energy at that point on campus, like people were excited. People were, I mean, they were upset. They were angry, but they were excited about sort of getting together and doing stuff. There were sort of you know, we came up with a sort of a good plan of how we wanted to do things and yeah, it really felt, I mean, and then later in my UAW years. Yeah, I got closer to some of those people. And I mean, I’m still you know, these are some of these people are still my friends. Like, I still, you know. Yeah. There really was a community there.

Yeah, definitely.  And so based on just some of the research that I’ve done. Yeah. I read that during, like the 2009 to 2010 contract negotiations. You were one of the bargaining members of the UAW. So I just remember that you vocalized some concerns regarding the contract. So I was kind of wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that.

Yeah. So. There’s there was partly a history there, which was the UAW at that point.  We had really significant critiques of the UAW at that point, the sort of statewide UAW. And, and I mean, I think the critiques we had is that it was a very demobilized hierarchical union, like the sort of statewide executive board, they called the shots and they weren’t particularly activists; they weren’t particularly interested in member organizing like. It was very Top-Down. It was very top down. It was very it was more business unionism type style than we would have liked. You know, it was really, and I mean, they tended to really want to focus on pay, primarily, but they weren’t even very good at that in a sense. And the interesting thing is that it really was centralized at Santa Barbara. Like, that’s where the leadership really sort of had its iron grip. Meant a lot of them came from set. And I my understanding is Santa Barbara has really changed politically since. Which is amazing. But at that time, like there was this sort of cabal or clique of Santa Barbara, UCSB powerbrokers who were running the union and, and there was a lot of friction or tension between them and the Santa Cruz people. So my predecessor, Sarah Smith, felt like her hands were totally tied in trying to organize. The grad students at Santa Cruz. So she wasn’t allowed to actually even have email list of the members. Like all emails had to come from the president of the union. And, you know, and there is a story that Sara tells that, you know, she asked she request she had no power over her own budget. And so once she requested colored paper because she wanted to make posters for an event and the president denied her request because the president was afraid that she would use the colored paper to make unapproved. Posters unapproved. I’d like it really. It was really like this top down. The president of the union controls all the messaging or the president of the statewide controls all the messaging and, and so we found that very difficult to to mobilize and organize membership. And part of the problem with that is that, you know, the statewide leadership, the executive board and I was on the executive board for a while, they really they really didn’t want to pursue the kind of contract campaign that seemed like we needed to do it, and so I think one of the big issues with that contract campaign was that. It kicked off like a contract campaign, kicked off in like mid April or something. When Berkeley was already getting out for the summer and then the primary organizing for that contract campaign happened over the summer. While all of the students were gone and off campus. And the primary pressure that we intend that the statewide bargaining team intended was to put a bunch of names on, I think they called it a report card where it sort of hear our criticisms of the U.S.. Here are the things we want. Sign this. And so I spent hours that summer calling graduate students in my unit and saying, hey, would you sign your name to this report card, you know, and find they did. And then in like July or something like I they sent me a big printed copy of this report card and I had to go to the admin building and hand it over to whoever would come out the door. And there was a photo of it. And this was what we this union thought was pressure like this is what they thought was our lever of power, and it was. Wrong. Like, I mean, it was so not helpful. You know, and so and at the table, the U.S. was saying, we don’t have any money and we’re not giving you anything. You know, we’re not, you know. Well, we’ll offer you a point. Five percent raise it or whatever. I don’t know. You know, and and there were members of the bargaining team from Berkeley and Davis and Santa Cruz who were sort of like, you know, they’re not offering us what we need. Like the salary they’re offering us doesn’t even keep up with inflation. They’re not really giving us the other things we want. And we’re not putting pressure on them like this report card thing this summer. It’s stupid. Like we’re putting no pressure here. Like, the thing we need to do is we need to start organizing strike pledges like we need to. And. And, you know, and eventually it is. It’s really important, was really important for the UAW at that point to settle the new contract before the expiration of the old one. Like, they didn’t want to ever go off contract, but in order to strike, you have to go off contract. Among other things have to happen. So but they really wanted that contract to get settled by the end of September when the contract expired. Luckily, the U.S.’s offers were so bad that we didn’t manage to settle it then. But there was still a lot of pressure, like, no, we’re not going to do much more organizing. Come on, let’s get this contract settled. You know, and I think it ended up two percent raise or something, which wasn’t. I mean, essentially with cost of living, I think it was a pay cut and and the bargaining team pushed that through and outvoted those five of us who who didn’t like that. And in the last few weeks of the campaign, when it was clear that the UAW statewide wanted to settle this contract, no matter what, we get some of the bargaining team and particularly the members from Berkeley, we’re sort of like, well, we if this happens, we have to put together a vote no campaign and we have to try and get our members to vote down this inadequate contract. And so that’s yeah, that’s how that came about. 

Did was the UAW ever conspire with why they wanted to. Why they didn’t want to go off contract?

They had this you know, they had this. They have this cliche, this thing that they would say over and over again. Now that I think about it in it, it was just this phrase that they would say that it was almost like an article of faith, like it was a dogma. And they would say over and over again, our power is at its greatest the day before the contract expires and, and no one ever actually explained why they thought that was the case, because that also seems wrong like that. I don’t see any leverage there or not the kind of leverage that you can have when you’re out of contract and can start considering work actions. Yeah, it’s it was this point of pride with them that they always settled the contract before the expiration of the previous one. And I’m not. I don’t think anyone ever adequately explained to me why they thought that is the way they had to go. I mean, my speculation, like we would speculate that they didn’t actually want to like, it’s a lot easier to do it that way. Right. Like it it’s a lot simpler. It’s more sort of structured. You know, it and it and it causes a lot less trouble. You don’t ever actually then have to be, you know, I mean, there there are some boxes that open if you go off contract, but, you know, potential problems. But you know those you can negotiate around some of those. But, yeah, I think they just I don’t think they wanted the chaos. I don’t think they want to be uncertainty. And I think I mean, I also think they really weren’t that interested in any kind of work action. Potentially.

And when you reference them as they are you kind of referencing the executive board or.

Yeah, it would be the. So the. Yeah, it’d be the executive board. It would have been the international representatives. So that paid representatives from the UAW International who to serve are tasked with keeping the our statewide local on track. And then also the bargaining team, who, again, for the most part I mean, does are the campus leadership positions on each campus, the two. And so and for the most part, the executive board and the international reps kind of decided policy. The bargaining team sort of took their, took their, took the cue from them. So, yeah, yeah, that’s the they here.

Ok, cool. And then so when whenever the contract was, like ratified between the UAW and the UC, did all the members of the UAW have to vote to approve it? What was that process?

Yeah, they did. So they had to vote. Those votes are usually pretty. Pro forma, they’re used, but they just, you know, they usually don’t even bother to put much energy into turnout because I mean by the time the bargaining team big time. By the time a tentative agreement is reached, like everyone just wants to get it approved and done with. But then in that case, in that situation, we decided that our best option, that the two Berkeley reps and the two Santa Cruz reps and the Davis rep. We decided that our best option was to try and convince them, reship to vote it down. And so we actually did run a pretty, a pretty decent Vote No campaign. And actually the majority of Santa Cruz, the vast majority, voted it down, voted against it. I even think, although I don’t remember this for sure. I think Berkeley may have voted it down majority wise. And so statewide it passed because they ran up big totals down at UCLA and the southern campuses. But it really only passed right, as I recall, like 60 percent, which is pretty remarkably low, like most of the time, contract ratification votes like 97 percent. And so, you know, we didn’t win like the no vote. No campaign didn’t win. But I think it really did show that we had some organizing power, especially at the northern campuses. I think. And I think it made a lot of people mad, like the Santa Cruz. Again, the Santa Cruz members voted overwhelmingly against that contract and then they got stuck with that contract. And I think that really made them angry. And I think similar a lot of people at Berkeley were upset. Like, wait. This is a terrible contract. We voted against it, but we got stuck with it anyway. And so I think that was. Yeah, yeah, I think that was agitational in some ways.

Was there did the UAW ever address the fact that, like, the majority is in person? Berkeley voted no.

No. No. No, I’m not positive. Berkeley had a majority, but it was close. And those numbers must be somewhere. But I know Santa Cruz was. No, I mean, they they you know, they had a press release where they trumpeted, you know, contract passes by by 20 percent, you know, because it was 60 to 40. Right. And so it was, you know, 20. You know, they had a big trumpeting press release. And they and then we all sort of ignored each other for a few months. Yeah, I mean, then we all sort of never talk to each other again. Well, because that was sort of it turned out that was the first first sort of skirmish then, because then the following year in 2011 was the UAW elections. And so all the positions, the leadership on the campus and the executive board were all up. And so the vote now was actually sort of the catalyst for a lot of us, especially in the North, to say we have to take over the union, like we have to win those seats, like we have to have a campaign. Like the next step now that we’re stuck with this contract is to change the leadership so that the next time contract comes up. We do this right.

So do you think the change in leadership kind of helped push the UAW into more progressive direction?

Yeah, I mean, I think when I mean. I think when, when, AWDU academic workers for Democratic Union. When that organization when we won the UAW elections and took over the statewide, you know, I think one thing that happened is and part of the platform was to give campus autonomy. So like campus leaders got access to their e-mail lists, like they could email their members, like they could organize their members and however they saw fit and. You know, there wasn’t as much top down messaging like, OK. This is, you know, it was so much more collaborative. Bottom up. But then, I mean, I think really clearly going into the next contract campaign, which was, I guess three years after that, four years after 2014? Yeah, I think it was. It was run totally differently. So, you know, the statewide. For one thing, bargaining was run differently. Like when I sat through bargaining in two thousand nine and 10, like the bargaining team, we would sit in a room. We would never actually go see any of the U.S. negotiators. Like like the international rep would, like come into the room and say, this is what the U.S. saying. I think we should say this. And then we will be like, yes, OK. And then he’d go back and negotiate behind the scenes, you know? It was all behind closed doors. We never actually really had any participation in it. And by the next contract, that was totally different. Bargaining was open. So opening bargaining. And it wasn’t just all the bargaining team members were there. It was any number who wanted to come could come. And I you know, I was by then, I wasn’t unit chair anymore. But they actually did hire me to organize for a couple of those quarters, and part of my organization would be organizing people to come to these opening bargaining and have the members show up and tell you see what they wanted and see the horrible things the U.S. was saying, you know? And then I think we also really organized actions on the ground. So when bargaining came to the various camp, you know, that was another thing. Bargaining used to would often take place off campus, but when audiogram bargaining, they had to come onto campus and then we would have our members show up and, you know, demonstrate outside or march, you know, and show power in numbers and show mobilization. And also, as I recall, we left that contract expire. And we I think we we had an we had several strikes. We had a U all peace strike, you know, and a part of my organizing. Then when I was on the payroll to organize, then, you know, was organizing for that strike and getting students to turn out for that strike and and not cross the picket line. And so I think we did a lot. We mobilized and organized the members. We went past contract expiration. We really made it very unpleasant for the U.S., like very unpleasant for them. And I think in the end, we got a better contract then than we would have gotten like actually, I think a really good contract, as I recall. I don’t remember the numbers, but the raises were better than than had previously happened then. My understanding then is this last contract, things kind of went bad. But I was already gone from the U.S. at that point. So, yeah, I don’t know what happened there.

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s like another thing that I’m curious about. So like, I’m going to be interviewing more like UAW members regarding that. But so I think those are the majority of the questions that I’ve had. I think one for one those. What is your opinion on the current COLA movement? And kind of like why do you think it emerged even with, like, all of our negotiations with the UAW or.

So this is from this is from a bit of a distance because, I mean, I still live in Santa Cruz, but I don’t teach it at UCSC anymore. Most of my friends and connections there have moved on. And so, you know, I’ve gotten some updates. I run into people around town sometimes. And, you know, I see stuff on Instagram. I mean, I’m all for the COLA movement. I’m excited about it. I think it’s really exciting. I think. I mean, I think. I think part of. My understanding, and again, this may be imperfect, is that the most recent UAW leadership has been a bit more cautious and maybe agreed to a contract that not everyone was very happy about. And I think one of the things that may have activated again was this sort of Santa Cruz resentment because we are such a small union or a small unit within the broader UAW. And we don’t I mean, you know, 10 years ago, we didn’t feel like our concerns were being taken seriously, like we were being paid attention to by the bigger unions. Like we just sort of got dragged along. And I think there’s there are things. I think it’s really hard to be a grad student in Santa Cruz and I imagine in Santa Barbara as well. Right. Like cost of living is terrible. It’s not, you know, even though it’s a small town. We don’t maybe sort of feel like we get the respect and prestige that, you know, the Berkeley and UCLAs do. And I think. And so I do think that. It sounds to me like dissatisfa- I mean, I think just general grad student dissatisfaction has been building at Santa Cruz is the place gets more expensive and and all of that. But I think it seems that that they felt like the UAW leadership wasn’t taking them seriously, wasn’t giving them what they needed, wasn’t bargaining the kinds of contracts they needed. And so they sort of felt like, you know, this is we’re gonna take this into our own hands, like we have to like our union isn’t going to do this for us. And so we we have to do this without the union. Yeah. But again, my sort of outside understanding.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I’m going to of jump back just a little bit. But so during your time organizing, I was just curious like because I know you mentioned like their representatives on different campuses, but in your opinion, like how involved do you think, like grad students in general were with like the direct actions of the UAW? And by that I mean, kind of like in terms of contract negotiations, like how many do you think were like invested with and like aware of what exactly was happening?

I mean, that’s a good question. That’s a hard question. I think. I think before I think in the 2009 2010 campaign, not a lot, because essentially I think, the, the sense of the the idea from the statewide was, you know, let’s ask our members to do as little as possible, essentially, like let’s let’s call them and ask them to sign a report card. And that’s really all we’re comfortable asking them to do. So I think there was a lot of deep mobilized members then. You know, it’s harder to say in the next campaign under AWDU like what that looked like, especially on other campuses, because I was mostly just focused here, you know, but but, you know, we were turning out several hundred people at Santa Cruz for various things. You know, that was about, you know, when we struck, I think half to two thirds of our unit of our unit, actually. And I’m sure it was much lower at other campuses, which are much larger. But I think the mobilization was. Higher. I mean, again, I still don’t know. You know, I think there’s still lots of graduate students who don’t know what’s going on and don’t pay attention and do sort of keep their heads down and just sort of. You know, they’re there for them, for their degree. And so they aren’t. But yeah. So I think it’s hard for me to estimate.

Ok, perfect. So I think those are all my questions. Do you have anything you’d like to add regarding anything that you talked about?

No, I think I mean, that sounds about right to me. Yeah. Are you talking to other people from that from that old time era? Who are you talking to? Or can you tell me?

Yeah. So I’ve actually, cause most of my research has been going through, like old student journals and reports and stuff. So I’ve been like kind of trying to like track down people. And there was a grad school organizer. I think he went to UCSB, but he was also talking about like concerns regarding with the UAW, my contract negotiations in 2007, I think? And that was like one of the earlier contracts. So I reached out to him and we’re going to set up an interview to discuss what happened back then, too. And then I also have a couple of interviews with, like UAW leadership lined up just to kind of see what happened on their end. Yeah. Because there’s definitely like two sides to like what every like what happened during the time. I think the main thing that, like, I want to talk was not really about like the divide, but more so how, like, both groups are kind of fighting towards the same goal, but in like different methods.

Yeah.

Ok, cool. Thank you so much for being with me.

You’re welcome. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. It’s a fun project. Yeah. So I wish you luck on it.

Thank you. And also, I was just wondering if you perchance have any access to, like, pictures of any the organizing that you did during that time, if not a while ago?

Oh, I’m sure I do know somewhere on my hard drive that I do. I could glance through some of that.

Yeah. If you have the time and you can just send some over there, be great. But if not, that’s okay too.

Ok. Yeah. Yeah.

 Ok. Well thank you for meeting with me. I have. I hope you have a good rest of your day. Thank you.