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Vol. 55, No.2 March 23, 2011
JUDGE BARBARA BY HER OWN WORDS
“It's not antilabor to demand the best of union leaders. In fact, it's a responsibility of the labor movement to demand the best of their leaders.”
So spoke our Dear Leader, Barbara Bowen, in a January interview with the New York Times. Perhaps the time has come to apply Bowen's own words to her performance as leader of the PSC.
Today, the Dear Leader is in Albany, along with an unrevealed number of New Caucus supporters, to—she seems to hope—get arrested for criticizing Gov. Cuomo's policies. Absurdly positioning her anti-Cuomo activism as an ideological descendant of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s protests, the Dear Leader claims to believe that only through her civil disobedience will our state's Democratic governor change the trajectory of New York's economic policy—which, she claimed in an e-mail last week, has been on the wrong course since the Great Depression.
The likelier outcome of Bowen's play-acting as a 1960s radical, of course, is to decrease Gov. Cuomo's sympathy for the PSC. And, we know, the State Senate won't bail out CUNY, since the Dear Leader refuses to speak to Republicans.
Maybe declaring war on the Cuomo administration is the only way to protect the well-being of CUNY employees, although it's worth noting that union leaders with far more political savvy than Barbara Bowen haven't embraced her extremist tactics.
But, before taking such a radical and potentially devastating step, why didn't Prof. Bowen consult the faculty whose interests she supposedly represents? Myriad sites are available to conduct secure on-line surveys. Surely PSC members could have been polled as to whether they considered it a good idea for the union leadership to risk arrest (for reasons only tangentially related to CUNY) and perhaps permanently alienate the Cuomo administration in the process. Given all the rhetoric we hear from the Dear Leader about her “democratic” approach and “grassroots” support, such an approach would have seemed an obvious choice.
Yet instead, CUNY faculty have had this extraordinarily important choice forced upon them, without any consultation at all. And unlike union supporters in Wisconsin, we don't have the option to recall Barbara Bowen and her New Caucus flaks.
IS TODAY A SNOW DAY?
Beyond the wisdom of the PSC's declaring war on Gov. Cuomo, did any of the Dear Leader's advisors consider the optics of this “let's-play-act-as-‘60s-radicals” event?
The last we looked, Wednesday is a class day at CUNY, and PSC members are paid to teach students in New York City. How will the spectacle of CUNY professors spending a class day in Albany—to protest what the professors see as the country's wrong-headed post-1929 economic policies—make the public more sympathetic to us? The reverse would seem more likely to be true.
A Sunday e-mail from the Dear Leader conceded that “you are responsible for covering your work responsibilities at CUNY—but don't forget to check with colleagues, who may be able to help.” In other words, the leader of CUNY's faculty union seems to concede that CUNY profs can take a day off to engage in a political protest, and simply have another professor, someone presumably without their specific expertise, step in and teach their classes. Is she really suggesting that such an approach wouldn't rob our students out of one day of quality class instruction—instruction for which they have paid? It seems that the Dear Leader's concern with “the poor and people of color” stops as soon as putting them first might inconvenience her.
And what about what we're actually paid to do after today—teach CUNY students? The PSC Solidarity Committee just sent around a missive suggesting that PSC members should use class time on April 5 not to teach the students the course content for which they paid but instead to run a “teach-in” about “Corporate America's unprovoked assault on working people.” How will the spectacle of CUNY professors using class time to protest what the professors see as the country's wrong-headed post-1929 economic policies make the public more sympathetic to us?
Finally, an even more troubling rumor: we hear that at the last Delegate Assembly meeting, the Dear Leader told DA members to “bring your classes” to her “let's-get-arrested-for-no-reason” protest. How will the spectacle of CUNY professors pressuring their students to protest what the professors see as the country's wrong-headed post-1929 economic policies make the public more sympathetic to us?
“It's not antilabor to demand the best of union leaders. In fact, it's a responsibility of the labor movement to demand the best of their leaders.” At this stage, we no longer expect the “best,” but we'd settle for a mediocre performance from the leaders of the PSC.
Sharad Karkhanis, Ph.D.