Hello, Mr. President? Meet me at camera 2. History just sent you a Hail Mary pass. Hint: FDR was a failure too, until he grabbed the chance history gave him. This would be the chance to fire Arne Duncan, stop wanking around with LinkedIn, and spend a few trillion on the people, like you promised.
Want to help? First and best–show up at an event near you. Ninety-five percent of the population is within an hour of an occupation event in the next seven days. Bring the kids. Second best, all of the occupations need money, food, and warm clothes. A campaign to raise $12,000 to start a digital occupation media outlet (the Occupy Wall Street Journal) oversubscribed overnight–with 8 days to go, they already have 150% of their target, or $18,000–but they need money everywhere else.
xposted: chronicle of higher education
mass arrests on wall street
protests spread to both coasts
police violence escalates: day five
wall street occupation day three
what are you doing for the next two months?
occupy and escalate
big brother on campus
california is burning
will occupation become a movement?
grad students spearhead wisconsin capitol occupation
the occupation will be televised
the occupation cookbook
Detained Women Assaulted and Maced
Citizen photographers captured graphic images of unprovoked police violence, including this disturbing 40-second clip of a police supervisor walking up to five captive women snapping photos and screaming “Oh my God,” pepper-spraying them in the eyes, and then darting away. The apparent justification? It seems the officer didn’t like them voicing their horror while the squad under his supervision tackled, beat, and dragged a pedestrian attempting to escape the net. One nonresisting woman, seated on the pavement, was yanked to her feet by the hair. Another woman was arrested for photographing the violence.
“I saw them take a woman by the neck and throw her to the concrete,” one witness told the ABC local affiliate, which broadcast graphic images of bloodied protesters shot with a smuggled cell phone inside a police van. “We are at One Police Plaza,” the detainee told ABC. “There’s sixteen of us in the back of a van and we’re sweating. There’s a man back here who needs medical attention. He’s bleeding from his head.”
Indiscriminate Detention; Arrests Without Charge
Many detainees were simply on their way from the nearby farmer’s market or the Strand bookstore–or en route to one of the five subway lines intersecting in the area.
Eventually at least eighty of the kettled pedestrians–apparently those who really “looked like” protesters?–were held in sweltering police vans on into the evening. Others were charged with “obstructing government administration” for chanting “let them go.” Reports suggest most were kept for at least four hours without food, water, sanitation, ventilation, or medical treatment.
These events follow Friday’s hilariously inaccurate and biased reports by The New York Times. (Which as most readers know, I’ve found, ahem, unreliable on issues affecting young people other than Yale undergraduates).
Seriously you’ll get more honest coverage at the NY Daily News, not to mention the Guardian. You can get updates at the Occupy Wall Street website and anonymous, or find allied actions in your area at OccupyTogether.
For my money, in addition to the Guardian, you’ll find some of the very best reporting and analysis by freelancer Nathan Schneider of Waging Nonviolence. Also see decent television coverage by, naturally, Olbermann and Moore.
xposted: chronicle of higher education
protests spread to both coasts
police violence escalates: day five
wall street occupation day three
occupy and escalate
big brother on campus
california is burning
will occupation become a movement?
grad students spearhead wisconsin capitol occupation
the occupation will be televised
the occupation cookbook
Zuccotti Park in the Lower Manhattan financial district has been occupied by a politically diverse group for the last three days, with participation of up to several thousand at a time. Protesters have renamed the space “Liberty Park,” to brand it as an American counterpoint to Cairo’s Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, and it has played host to general assemblies of thousands of people, hundreds of whom have slept in the park for the last two nights.
They hope to begin a sustained occupation to, in the words of two of the authors of the original call to action, “escalate the possibility of a full-fledged global uprising against business as usual.”
Taking cues not only from the so-called Arab Spring revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Iran, and Syria, but also the Spanish indignados, and anti-cuts protestors in the UK, Greece, France, and Italy, as many as 5,000 protestors converged on Wall Street this past Saturday. A march Monday morning resulted in seven arrests.
That many of these protesters are or have been students should surprise few. Yet rather than dismiss their actions as youthful idealism, it’s important to understand the role students have played in the struggle against contemporary austerity politics.
Though the language of austerity measures is often promissory, gesturing towards an alternatingly apocalyptic future (which we must sacrifice now to avoid) or a bucolic future (which awaits us after austerity ‘rights the ship,’) many cuts have targeted youth, mortgaging that future or rendering it altogether absent.
The news last year that student debt has surpassed credit card debt as the largest source of consumer debt in the United States is a function of rising costs of attending higher education, cuts to state and federal financial aid, and the growth of for-profit private industry around the student loan bubble.
This summer’s debt-ceiling compromise included an end to subsidized loans for graduate students, and in a year, it will mean that graduate and professional students will have to pay back their undergraduate student loans while in grad school, a difficult proposition for many.
This occupation is not the first on U.S. soil in recent years, and it is unlikely to be the last.
Whether and how it can attract the levels of support and involvement that similar occupations have elsewhere is an open question, but even NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg sees in the present crisis the possibility of escalating student rebellions.
Washington Post photo gallery
International Business Times article (“several thousand protesters showed up in New York’s financial district”) photo gallery
Guardian op-ed (“The call to occupy Wall Street resonates around the world”)
DailyKos: Chris Bowers
xposted: chronicle of higher education
Zach Schwartz-Weinstein’s dissertation looks at service work and service workers at U.S. universities from the mid-twentieth century to the present. His broader interests include affective, immaterial, service, and emotional labor, cognitive capitalism, flexible accumulation and neoliberalism, knowledge production, migration, labor and working class history, and 20th century U.S. cultural history. He organizes with GSOC-UAW, the union for graduate teaching and research assistants at NYU.]]>
On Saturday September 17th, movement organizers hope to funnel 20,000 protestors into Manhattan’s financial district, set up kitchens and tents, and occupy Wall Street for the next several months. Proclaiming we are the 99 percent, many of the 7,500 persons who have indicated an intention to participate are the highly educated working poor, under-employed with graduate degrees, or even fully-employed but unable to meet their education bills like this woman (see her blog and related stories),who writes, “I have a masters degree & a full-time job in my field—and I have started selling my body to pay off my debt.”After a Sept 1 test run resulted in nine arrests, Adbusters and Alexa O’Brien of US Day of Rage expect a vigorous police response, including intelligence gathering via the same social media tools that the organizers are employing, undercover participation in the event, provocation, and civil rights violations.
The Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild will provide a corps of trained observers in lime green hats and advises participants to ink legal contact information on wrists or ankles.
Want to participate? There will be co-ordinated actions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin, and a related mass demonstration October 6 in Washington DC. You can follow on Twitter and support the effort by sending donations to the food committee.
If successful, it will be the boldest project of the occupation movement on U.S. soil since the grad-student-led occupation of the Wisconsin capitol and the 2010 campus takeover and general strike in Puerto Rico.
h/t: Paul Farrell
xposted: Chronicle of Higher Education
May 17 is the 57th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and educators across the country are on the march once again.
At 1 pm EST you can catch the live broadcast from the National Press Club for the launch of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. Here in California, where teachers and activists occupied the state capitol last week, you can join a watching party on any Cal State campus. A massive coalition of educators has come together to place united political will behind a set of core principles for the coming decades.
One interesting note is the normalization of direct action across the education community and among contemporary activists, who have begun to endorse ever-bolder tactics. While we haven’t seen any massive events on the scale of Wisconsin or with the potential impact of blocking an interstate, educators, parents, and students everywhere are putting their bodies in the fray.
Another cheering point is a slow turning of the compass needle in the conversation, away from the vicious anti-teacher hate propaganda dominating the airwaves in the autumn.
Few civil rights activists and educators in 1954 could have imagined the country’s first African-American president hiring a money-changer and thug like Arne Duncan to privatize and militarize schools that are still effectively segregated in many communities across the country.
I expect that instead they probably imagined someone like Obama fighting poverty and investing massively in schools, day care, adult literacy, and public jobs creation–converting our schools into incubators of democracy, palaces of industry and the arts, and epicenters of hope.
They’d have been all the more confident if they had known he’d be the child of two professors, an adjunct law prof himself who rubbed elbows with the likes of Bill Ayers, and a cosmopolitan who attended radical activist sermons every Sunday.
So much for the myth of progress.
More prosaically: I’m curious how all of this angry teacher and parent energy will affect Obama’s choices as we move into the 2012 election season. Will he dump Duncan in an effort to consolidate the base?
Or will he keep Duncan on to demonstrate his liberal-Republican street cred among independents?
If the latter, will he exchange him for an actual educator and thinker after the election in an effort to buff a tarnished legacy? We can hope.]]>
Why so popular? ‘Cause Asus clued in to the fact that we produce content with our computers, not just consume it, and addressed that insight with a stable mobile-computing design that everyone else will scramble to imitate.
The Transformer is a $399 full-internet touch tablet, running Flash, and employs the sun-beating IPS (in-plane switching) screen technology. In seconds it “transforms” into a netbook, snapping onto a lightweight keyboard ($149).
Brag alert: last fall, I predicted this design would be the “industry standard in a couple of years.” Lenovo has a similar model coming out this summer, and it seems clear that most manufacturers will have to follow.
Especially clever is the extra eight hours offered by the second battery built into the keyboard. Early reviews offer some modest complaints, mostly about camera quality. For most Windows users or smartphone owners, the Android Honeycomb operating system will feel intuitive, do everything you expect from a Windows netbook, and produce content compatible with your desk machine.
With the events in Japan, current backorders may not get fulfilled until June. Which will be good for all of those manufacturers stuck with tablet-only configurations. Watch for prices of machines that can’t accept a clamshell keyboard to tumble into the sub $300 range, but students, teachers, and parents should resist the temptation to buy.]]>
On March 22, a prominent group of education bloggers agreed to provide statements loosely organized on the theme of “why faculty like me support unions.” Unexpectedly Stanley Fish, a career-long opponent of faculty unionism, joined them. “I recently flipped,” he confessed,”and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.” In particular, it turns out, it was reading new Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer’s Riley’s assault on faculty bargaining rights in that newspaper you find under your door in cheap motel rooms:
What Riley fears is that if colleges and universities were unionized, teachers with far out, discomforting ideas couldn’t be fired. It’s hard to imagine a better argument for unions (and also for tenure)…. Riley makes no bones about it. Letting the unions get a foothold “could . . . make the environment more left leaning.” The message is clear: keep those unions out so that we can more easily get rid of the lefties.
There are layers of irony in Fish’s conversion on the road to Damascus, but it’s hard to argue with his reasoning: one of the lessons of Wisconsin is that academic unionism is one of the few effective bulwarks against ideological cleansing.
Framed as a dialogue between Walter Benn Michaels and himself, the piece is particularly worth reading for Michaels’ withering replies to Riley’s psychic channeling of Ayn Rand. After circulating the usual unfounded canard of faculty laziness, Riley quotes the chief executive of SUNY Buffalo comparing unionization to “belonging to a herd.” In reply, Michaels observes that his own department is amidst a union card drive and ranked in the top 20 nationally:
It’s the hard-working ones who want the union most. Why? Because we think that the people who actually do the teaching and the research should have more of a say in how the teaching and the research gets done. [S]ince when does having a voice in what happens in your own workplace count as belonging to the herd? The president of Buffalo, despite the fact that Buffalo is itself unionized, apparently thinks that rugged individualism consists in shutting up and doing what management tells you to do.
As you’d expect from someone who describes his view as the product of a “flip,” Fish’s contributions to the dialogue lack nuance and context: it’s hard to imagine that Fish has suddenly discovered that most faculty are a lunch bucket crowd, some of whom qualified for food stamps on the wages he paid them while whacking down a monster salary as dean.
In Fish world, faculty unions used to wear a black hat; now they wear a white one, and his realization came about because of what he saw on tv: a dastardly governor twirling his mustaches and tieing a virginal faculty to the railroad tracks. Only the white-hatted union can save the innocent now!
The reality, as anyone who has actually spent any time in the academic labor movement can tell you, is very different: faculty unions have many flaws–and nearly all of them are the flaws of the membership themselves.
The lessons of Wisconsin and Ohio, at least in part, underscore just how seriously faculty and their unions have blundered–how we as a profession have been selfish, foolish, mean-spirited and short-sighted. All the ways, in short, that we haven’t been any better than Stanley Fish but rather, quite a bit like him, or at least striving to be like him, cheerfully shooting hoops and piloting his Jag down the freeway while the academy burned.
Our Unions Are Not Heroic (Because We Aren’t)
So why do I support faculty unions despite their many imperfections? You could say that I’m a critical supporter of American unions generally: they reflect our virtues–too often expressed at the eleventh hour–as well as our flaws. Our unions are often the final barrier against unsafe roads and hospitals, ersatz education and filth in our food. Unions represent all of us, not just those who pay dues into them. A democratic society cannot exist without vigorous democracy in the workplace.
On the other hand, union memberships have failed to live up to their own ideals for most of my adult life–thirty years now. Faced with the difficult challenges of a politically reactionary era–such as hostile regulation, outsourcing, forced volunteerism, and perma-temping–union memberships in every walk of American life have taken the path of least resistance, securing the benefits of older workers and selling out the young.
The members of education unions have been no exception. Faculty represented by the big education unions have turned a blind eye to the hyper-exploitation of student labor, the conversion of jobs to part-time and volunteer positions, the outsourcing of staff and the hostile regulation environment governing collective bargaining in private schools.
But blaming “unions” for the failings of their membership is like blaming the hammer for smashing your thumb. It’s not the hammer’s fault if it’s idle while you’re sitting in front of your television instead of helping mend your neighbor’s fence.
I support unionism the way a carpenter supports tool use. Unions can be misused or neglected by their members, but they’re indispensable to the job of democratizing and diversifying our workplaces, maintaining professional integrity and autonomy, and sustaining high standards in teaching and research.
The current crises in Wisconsin and Ohio have many lessons for faculty in higher education and their unions. I’ll just put forward five for now:
1. Tenure must unite the faculty, not divide it. The single most corrosive faculty myth to emerge since 1970 is the ludicrous notion that tenure is a merit badge for faculty with research-intensive appointments. The biggest reason higher education unions are powerless is that we’ve allowed administrations to cast the overwhelming majority of faculty on teaching-intensive appointments out of the tenure system: “Oh, they’re not real professors, they teach in a less prestigious university/just undergraduates/in the lower division/community colleges.”
Compare this pathetic, near-total collapse of professional identity, much less of solidarity, to the response of police and fire unions in Wisconsin, who defied the governor to support other public employees not even in their own professions–even when he exempted their unions from the axe.
2. Maximize the movement, not the revenue. Organizing graduate students and nontenurable educators would have made perfect sense in terms of sustaining a labor movement in education. But education union staff operating unapologetically under “revenue maximizing” principles have been slow to invest in the movement’s future, scoffing at the paltry “return on investment” of organizing folks already so poorly paid. (Which explains the inroads made by UAW, AFSCME, and SEIU among the nontenurable.)
Ditto for private schools affected by Yeshiva: the big unions have made a few challenges to this decision–all in all, a weak and sleazy piece of judicial activism that only passed 5-4 because of swing voter Stevens, who apparently hadn’t yet had enough of what he later called “on the job training.”
Today, Ohio public-campus faculty are facing Senate Bill 5, a bitter plateful of the fruit of the major unions’ failure to confront Yeshiva. Having shrugged off the decision when it applied only to private campuses, the unions are in a far weaker position to contest the application of its principles to public faculty in any U.S. state–ginning up already not just in Ohio and Wisconsin, but Alaska, Florida, and beyond.
Things could have been very different. Addressing the hostile regulation environment of private campuses is similar to the situation of organizing in right-to-work states: it would have required much more effort and involved much smaller economic returns, but it would have paid off in solidarity, sustaining a broad-based union culture in the academy, which in turn could have led to a legislative solution… which would have prevented the present specter, of a domino effect, with “monkey see, monkey do” application in one state legislature after another.
3. “It’s a great job if you can afford it” and “I don’t do it for the money” are racist, sexist sentiments. I’ve written about this many times before. Even in Wisconsin and Ohio, the police unions are more diverse than the faculty unions–because the extreme wage discount unfairly segments the academic workforce by race, class and gender. Only a small number of persons, disproportionately white, can afford the extreme economic irrationality of most forms of higher education teaching appointments. Defending irrational compensation schemes on the grounds that persons who start out on third base economically are “doing what they love” is really defending a system that denies everyone else a fair shot at doing something they love. The struggle to make academic compensation fair is a struggle to enormously enlarge the academic talent pool: way too many black and brown intellectuals are working at the DMV, fighting wars, and walking a beat instead of teaching at the state university. Too many teaching positions are filled by persons who can afford to work for the status compensation of saying “I work at the U.,” rather than the most qualified.
Every time someone with wealth, parental or spousal backing, and/or high household income brays about how they’d do the job for free, they put another brick in the wall in front of those who don’t have those advantages.
4. There is no democracy without active, embodied participation. Emma Goldman shocked the feminists of her day by saying that they shouldn’t prioritize winning the vote, that voting can provide the satisfying feeling of political participation without the substance. The struggle in Wisconsin has made clear to faculty that our politics can never be just teaching and writing, but has to be made real with boots on the ground and bodies in the street. If every professor’s coffee-shop oration and blog comment were instead a knock on the door in the effort to recall the power-grabbing state senators, the battle would already be won.
5. Leadership comes from below. It’s hardly accidental that Walter Benn Michaels’ grad students unionized a decade before he did. The cutting edge of education unionism always has been, and remains, the working-class intellectualism of ordinary schoolteachers and parents. In the far less accomplished sector of higher ed, the best thinking can often be found among graduate students and nontenurable faculty, who represent nearly eighty percent of the teaching force.]]>
Certainly some of its viewers, as you might expect, tune in for the objectified porn-star bodies of the actors. But they stay because they identify with the characters in the story. I think it’s worth trying to understand this identification, in large part because it seems to be an identification with a mode of exploitation similar to our own.
With balletic violence, gorgeous CGI, and lovingly detailed mature sequences, this Sam Raimi production doesn’t at first seem calculated for the status-conscious intellectual (ie, the sort of person that exchanges prestige for salary). That said, one of the show’s persistent themes is the personal cost of pursuing psychic rewards–such as celebrity, or the esteem of one’s colleagues. The show invites identification with the gladiators on the supposition that the audience is also imprisoned by their own pursuit of affective compensation, of which our own teaching for love (and consequent super-discounted wage) is a leading example, not to mention our complicity in the super-discounting of the wages of others.
Dalton Trumbo, Meet Larry Flynt
Consistently winning its cable time slot in the 18-49 demographic, the show’s success suggests what even our friends at The New York Times (NYT) have to acknowledge appears to be a growing appetite for stories of class warfare. Of course this use of the term “class warfare” erroneously assigns it only to class struggle from below (as if the arduous labor of Palin, McCain, Boehner, Beck and O’Reilly to roll back medical care, education, and workplace rights isn’t the class war of the rich on the rest of us!) What the NYT reviewer means is to hint that recent trends in cultural consumption might indicate a growing will of the other 98% to fight back.
There are two paths into this version of Spartacus that any reasonably competent cultural-studies person might pursue: genealogical relationships, especially those with earlier versions of Spartacus, and transitive relationships with parallel iconography, like the masterless samurai of Kurosawa, Leone, Eastwood, etc.
The first approach would be largely a project of mourning–ie, exploring all the ways this latest iteration of Spartacus measures a retreat from the Left cultural imaginary tapped into by the blacklisted dream team of Dalton Trumbo and grand old Howard Fast. For decades a bestselling writer of openly anticapitalist fiction, Fast was imprisoned for resisting HUAC and forced to self-publish the 1951 novel on which the Kubrick/Douglas/Trumbo film is based. (Apparently Kirk Douglas produced the film largely out of pique after losing the title role in Ben Hur to Charlton Heston, but still deserves enormous credit for having the courage to employ these writers, and helping to break the blacklist.)
The contrast between the 1960 film and the present is especially obvious in the variant handling of the line, “I am Spartacus.” In the earlier production, the line comprised a climactic appeal to solidarity, shouted for Kubrick and Douglas’s sound crew by the crowd at a Michigan State vs Notre Dame football game.
In a nice turn, the contemporary version reimagines the line as a second-act complication, indicating submission: “I am Spartacus” in this version indicates the Thracian’s acceptance of his slave name, a la Kunta Kinte in the most famous scene in the mini-series Roots. Drawing this parallel to the more defiant and hopeful imagination of the mid-1970s (now thirty-five years in the past) is, however, similarly unflattering to the present.
The second analysis would recover part of the first–finding in this cynical Spartacus a free-ranging rebellion. He inhabits a modestly domesticated variant of the masterless samurai/Pale Rider trope, protesting “I burn for no cause but my own,” but grudgingly making an exception to that rule.
A figure for the salaryman who puts on the office costume–but rides his hog weekends– motivated by a goodfella’s desire to protect spouse and home turf, today’s Spartacus provisionally accepts the fraternity of the ludus and even more provisionally the dominion of Batiatus, an ambitious Capuan fight promoter reminiscent of Tony Soprano.
That the fight promoters are the next tv gangsters-as-lower-management is abundantly clear in Season 2, Episode 2, in which Batiatus is stomped in a butcher’s shop; the scene references a similarly-located assault in The Sopranos and attempts to top it with a long-running and full-frontal urination on the victim.
Both of these lines of analysis could be extended usefully, and doubtless will be, but I think they aren’t enough, not least because they bypass the repeated, clear references to gladiators as the adult film stars of their time.
The mapping of gladiation by way of the contemporary cultural space of porn is literal, with repeated scenes of gladiators sexually performing for an audience of citizens, who sometimes offer direction (a la interactive porn sites), zoom in for closeups of the action, etc. (I don’t bring up pornography in order to get into a moral debate. If I have a moral position on pornography, it’s probably something akin to class struggle: potentially the likeliest, best outcome of porn’s cultural victory is self-abolition: Can the universally explicit be visible as pornographic?) Certainly there are serious complaints to be made about the series in this department: for instance, it can legitimately be read as trivializing the contemporary traffic in women by its representation of male gladiators as sex toys for the Real Housewives of Capua. In any event, if you want to argue porn’s morality, take it up with the extremely thoughtful Jane Juffer or, say, the million-strong Netmums demographic–mostly British, mostly women under fifty, mostly with kids–75% of whom say they consume it.
The Grammar of Super-Exploitation
What interests me about Spartacus and the grammar of adult film is the question of delivering work without a wage, for an extreme wage discount, or over and above the requirements of a wage. In the technical sense, most wage work (excepting the hyper-compensated type) is simple exploitation: you produce more value than you receive back in wages, often a lot more, and that value goes to someone of the Real Housewives class, who buys jewels and a good conscience by making occasional donations to charity.
By contrast, working without a wage–or for a discounted wage–or for psychic compensation–or delivering additional work off the clock–generally involves some form of super-exploitation. The cutting edge of management practice is finding ways to maximize the employee’s donation above and beyond the wage: checking office email at 11 pm and 6am, taking calls on weekends and on vacation, working through lunch, etc. One of the vectors for this is making workplaces “creative” and “fun,” as Andrew Ross has analyzed; another is faux professionalism; another is providing elaborate nonwage recognitions, a la the military, church and education bureaucracies. Internships are both straight-up extortion (“can’t get a job without one”) and status awards (“I won the competition for the position!”)
Gladiators experience the most primitive forms of super-exploitation (direct enslavement, imprisonment and degradation). All of these “primitive” forms of super-exploitation are alive and well in today’s global economy, from prison labor to the traffic in women. And some aspects of gladiator labor are realized cinematically as the kind of locked-in dormitory workplace associated with Chinese manufacturing.
But the primitive forms of super-exploitation don’t explain the Starz/Netflix demographic’s identification with the characters and situation. The viewer identification has much more to do with fact that the gladiators also experience the most advanced or progressive forms of super-exploitation associated with Western workers employed in some of the most sought-after positions in the global economy: While gladiators do receive some material compensation (better food, occasional prize money, etc) they are ultimately paid in the coin of emotion. This is where the mapping of gladiation onto the porn industry delivers the most insight. The gladiators are almost exactly analogous to today’s porn “stars,” who support one of the most lucrative industries on the planet–but who can make as little as a hundred dollars per filmed sex act, might work on just a couple of films in a “career” that lasts a few months. The cost of plastic surgery, physical training and so on easily outweighs the earnings of many, a fact known perfectly well to most of the men and women struggling to get into the industry. The idea that all of these persons are delusionally trying to win a lottery of high adult-film paychecks misses the point. For the most part, they understand that they are also being paid in a kind of reputation that they have chosen to seek (perhaps mistakenly) even if they don’t get rich.
This is the heart of the series’ appeal–its insight into a core question of our time: “if the rewards are so slim, why do it?” And the series captures the complexity and honesty of the answer: that most of us are deeply pro-social in our motivations, that we strive most vigorously for nonwage compensation…. and that these generally pro-social preferences represent our vulnerability to the economic predators of our time.
Given the number of fronts on which its politics are fairly regressive, the largest contribution the series makes to consciousness-raising is its consistent representation of affective compensation as a form of Monopoly money printed up by a cynical management. Indeed, the central characters’ struggle to reject the psychic wage–and management’s effort to seduce them into accepting it– is the substance of the series’ story line. It is not that the series opposes honor, reputation-seeking, or loyalty per se: it’s that the series understands these and other emotions are vectors through which economic predators snare their victims.
In this version of Spartacus the successful “lanista” and “doctore” (manager and trainer) are, first and foremost, managers of the arena’s workplace culture, providing the gladiators with rewards calculated to trigger the investment of their whole selves in their work: a sense of fraternity, accomplishment, professional reputation and public recognition.
The whole of Season 1’s interior action comprises the complication-filled but steadily rising acceptance of this manufactured workplace culture by Spartacus, who swiftly wins the title of “champion of Capua.”
His arc of acceptance is matched by a parallel, gradual disaffection with that same workplace culture by his chief rival Crixus, the immediate past champion. Just when Spartacus’s growing acceptance of a bargain with management is burst, abruptly returning him to his original state of implacable avenger, the evolving emotional life of Crixus carries us forward.
For Crixus, the transformation from true believer to revolutionary means abandoning most of the psychic rewards on which he’s built his identity–the recognition of fellow professionals, public celebrity, etc. It also means a painful repudiation of the belief that gladiation offers a professional, democratic, meritocratic venue, in which ability is inevitably recognized.
As we cheer along Crixus’s workplace epiphany, we are invited to have one of our own–to cast a critical eye on our own workplaces, and the management-engineered workplace cultures that enmesh us.]]>
This is the front lines of academic labor struggle, pitting the moral force of the NLRB against a conservative, reactionary Federal court that refuses to enforce its rulings and the arrogant hypocrisy of wealthy, influential religiously-affiliated administrations.
Legal Fictions: Great Falls
The terrain of this struggle is far beyond the Yeshiva decision, which applies only to the minority of tenurable faculty (on the basis of the specious claim that they are managerial employees). Since ¾ of today’s faculty are graduate students or lecturers on casual appointment, they can hardly be described as managerial, and can’t be denied bargaining rights by way of Yeshiva.
Instead, today, private institutions with a religious affiliation rely on the claim that employees at “religious institutions” should be sweepingly excluded from National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protections. (As if being forced to bargain collectively with groundskeepers, secretaries and writing instructors might interfere with their “religious liberty,” an argument that could be made with the same merit about obeying traffic laws.)
While the NLRB has consistently distinguished between institutions with a substantial religious character and those with a religious affiliation, a 2002 D.C. Circuit Court opinion involving the University of Great Falls, a small Montana institution, radically undermined the Board’s authority, substituting a very loose religious-exemption test for the NLRB’s stricter standard.
Under Great Falls, courts may compel the NLRB to accept at face value the claims to a religious exemption of any institution that “presents itself to the public” as a religious institution.
Denying NLRB the power to distinguish between real and false claims to the exemption is a transparent assault on long-established employee rights and protections. Under the Great Falls ruling, essentially, any employer that claims the exemption may have it.
And unlike Yeshiva, the ruling applies comprehensively–to part-time faculty, students, and non-teaching staff.
This sweeping and radical new barrier to organizing came into being in much the same way that Yeshiva did, with the determination of a conservative activist Circuit Court judge. Backed by Jesse Helms and appointed by Ronald Reagan to fill the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia’s elevation to the Supreme Court, and at this writing the chief justice of the D.C. Circuit, David Sentelle has been described by The New York Times as “one of the federal judiciary’s most extreme conservatives.”*
Sentelle’s vote was instrumental in overturning the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter. He replaced the moderate Robert Fiske with the right-wing ideologue Kenneth Starr as independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation. A long-term Republican party operative, even four years after his appointment to the federal bench, Sentelle was still publishing right-wing screeds against “leftist heretics” who he claimed sought to establish “a collectivist, egalitarian, materialistic, race-conscious, hyper-secular, and socially permissive state.”
Sentelle’s transparently activist opinion in Great Falls gutted the NLRB’s authority so far beyond reason that several attempts have been mounted as a test of the ruling.
The best of these before Manhattan College came forward in March 2009, during the first year of the Obama administration. Fully supported by the NLRB’s ruling that the school’s ties to the Presbyterian Church were too insubstantial to justify a religious exemption, the UAW-affiliated faculty of Carroll College, like the faculty of Yeshiva, simply came to Federal court seeking enforcement of the Board’s ruling in its case.
But who did the NLRB and the faculty union find waiting for them? A fellow named Thomas Griffith, who arrived at the D.C. Circuit Court directly from a five-year stint as general counsel and assistant to the president of Brigham Young University.
Unsurprisingly for the recent former general counsel of a religiously-affiliated university, Griffith’s 2009 opinion in the Carroll case bluntly applies the 2002 ruling advanced by his sitting chief: “Under Great Falls, Carroll is exempt from the NLRB’s jurisdiction. We thus need not address Carroll’s argument that its faculty members are managerial employees who fall outside the protection of the NLRA. We grant Carroll’s petition for review, vacate the decision and order of the NLRB, and deny the Board’s cross-petition for enforcement.”
*New York Times, August 17, 1994. Qtd in Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. The Hunting of the President. Macmillan, 2000, p131 (cited p 387).
Tellem’s Stand: Against the DC Circuit Court
With his decision in the Manhattan College case, Tellem is clear about the nature of the struggle: “The D.C. Circuit has refused to enforce Board cases asserting jurisdiction based on the Board’s test. Instead, the D.C. Circuit has set forth” its own test, which the NLRB “has not adopted.”
By highlighting the Circuit Court’s activist intervention and NLRB’s resistance–in a decision that will likely be contested in that same Circuit Court, with David Sentelle still sitting as its chief–Tellem is placing the court on notice that the NLRB will continue to affirm its constitutional right to jurisdiction.
Waiting for Tellem?
It’s not clear how the Manhattan College struggle will turn out.
What is clear is that decisions made by Tellem and the NLRB don’t make faculty self-organization possible.
It’s the other way around: Faculty self-organization makes it possible for Tellem to make decisions like this one. The Manhattan College faculty serving contingently have been fighting this battle for well over a decade and will keep fighting it.
When we face shabby rulings like Great Falls, does it make sense for us to assume that the decision proceeded from ultimately reasonable arguments advanced by truth-seekers? Are they arguments put forward in an adversarial system but refereed with a reasonable degree of impartiality and with the prospect of eventual accountability in higher courts?
Of course not. We need to see clearly that these are specious, intellectually dishonest arguments by activist reactionaries abusing the power of the bench to deny fundamental human rights.
We need to see clearly that these rulings are the product of a flawed, inherently political process that is likely to disadvantage both truth and justice for decades to come. Few observers would say, for instance, that the current Supreme Court is the place to test David Sentelle’s opinion in Great Falls.
But if the Supreme Court can’t help us, what should we do? If the United Auto Workers and American Federation of Teachers aren’t willing to spend any more of their resources fighting a reactionary judiciary, what should we do?
Ultimately what Yeshiva (1980), Great Falls (2002) and Carroll (2009) teach us is simple: what matters more than the law is the movement. The individuals who used (or abused) their power in these decisions were part of a social reaction to liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including workplace democracy, feminism, and civil rights.
They aren’t lone wolves; they’re conservative activists bound in a net of common culture, values, and mutual support. They didn’t have law, precedent, or reason on their side; they simply imposed their reactionary will and made new law out of the power represented by their movement.
It would be tremendously foolish if we permitted any of these rulings to constrain us.
We can build a movement with the students, nurses, young lawyers, schoolteachers, and countless others affected by exploitative and super-exploitative patterns of employment.
We can overcome this dense lattice of hostile law. We can and must imitate the 1960s movement of public employees whose self-organization was illegal and yet also an unstoppable force for writing new law reflecting truth, justice, fairness, and democracy.
From the perspective of our individual campuses: Is Yeshiva relevant? Are Great Falls and Carroll?
Not to a movement, no—no more so than any of the thousands of municipal statutes once theoretically constraining the movement of schoolteachers and sanitation workers. The tightest straps on those schoolteachers and sanitation workers were never the law; they were emotional and intellectual and habitual—habits of deference to, and trust in, authority.
They burst free. We can too.
Partly adapted from a recent contribution to Expositions]]>
Given that most MLA cities aren’t as desirable in early January as Los Angeles (Toronto, you know I’m talking about you!), will the cost savings of $5,000 to $10,000 per search lead to more Skyping and less flying of three to seven socially deficient individuals across the country to imprison them in their hotel rooms for most of three days? Um, yeah, duh.
The question is: How far will this trend go? It’s leading in writing and the foreign languages, where money is tightest and allegiance to the MLA is lowest. Let’s say most of the English literature and cultural studies fields follow suit—with spikes during years of conventions scheduled for, say, Philadelphia.
Remember that the profession’s hiring class is aging faster than a horse on crack, and try to imagine the fading appeal of long flights and long days listening to the young folks (“Wah wah wah Zizek blah blah blah three manuscripts under consideration”) followed by toddling over ice-filled sidewalks for stale cheddar soup and an oxidized chardonnay. So much more comfy to tune out in front of your video screen and read your email while pretending to listen.
Indeed: No need to interview at the lousy times chosen by MLA at all. Heck, why not interview at your own convenience? Not six interviews in a row, but three interviews every Friday afternoon in December. Or November. Or January.
So what’s the impact on MLA? With fields at the leading edge of adoption at 10 percent of interviews already, let’s pick a number for a near-term plateau, a conservative number like 25 percent of all interviews bypassing MLA—probably higher in writing and foreign languages. Let’s say in five years, roughly five hundred interviews might bypass the convention. That’s roughly two thousand interviewers who might not otherwise come, and at least a couple of hundred interviewees, those whose only interviews are Skyped.
MLA’s budget is several million a year, so losing a fraction of convention income isn’t going to bankrupt it. But let’s say conservatively they collect $200 a head per attendee. That’s a hit of almost a half-million a year right there. It’s probably more, because many folks renew their dues just to attend the convention, and there’s the rake from booksellers, some of whom might no longer come, hotel bookings, etc. And half a million pays five to seven staffers, without whom MLA can offer fewer services, thus diminishing the luster of the whole operation, making credible eventual future bypassings. Chances are excellent that 50 percent or more of writing jobs alone will bypass MLA, given the deservedly poor reputation of the organization in the field. If I were doing MLA resource allocation, I’d be thinking of a likely half-million dollar hit, and praying that it wasn’t a full million.
This question and others will be discussed at the panel “New Tools, Hard Times: Social Networking and the Academic Crisis.” This Thursday January 6, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 406A, L.A. Convention Center. A special session. Presiding: Meredith L. McGill, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick Speakers: Rosemary G. Feal, MLA, Marc Bousquet, Santa Clara Univ., Brian Croxall, Emory Univ., Christopher John Newfield, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, Marilee Lindemann, Univ. of Maryland, College Park. Format: eight-minute presentations, discussion.
Also see the two offerings by the Division on Teaching as a Profession (yours truly on the executive committee): Deprofessionalized? and Governance Matters.
Deprofessionalized? Friday, 07 January. 8:30–9:45 a.m. Modern Language Association Convention 2011, Los Angeles. Plaza 3, Marriott.
Format: published discussion materials; 5-minute prepared remarks; discussion between panelists and audience.
1. A Split in the PMC? Rising Managers, Falling Professionals.Marc Bousquet, presiding. Tenure and Teaching Intensive Appointments Occupy and Escalate We Work
2. Solidarity v. Professionalism: Abetting Wayward Labor. Kim Emery, University of Florida. Deprofessionalization requires a more radical solution than re-professionalization. Academic Freedom Requires Constant Vigilance The University and the Undercommons Professionalism as the Basis
3. Precarity, Itinerancy, and Professionalism. Lisa Jeanne Fluet, Boston College. Precarious faculty professionalize themselves without many of the usual compensations. What are You Going to Do With That? The Ph.D. Problem Things I Learned From Grading AP Essays
4. What Rolls Down Hill: ‘Professionalization’ and Graduate Student Administrators. Monica F. Jacobe, Princeton University. Consequences for graduate students who provide or even donate administrative labor. Play Ph.D. Casino! Graduate Students Hearing Voices Higher Exploitation
5. Busting Faculty Labor For Fun and Profit. William Lyne, Western Washington University. Faculty work is being devalued to cut costs, increase profits and reinforce class barriers for students. Power Concedes Nothing Without Demand Public Benefits, Private Costs
6. Internal Stratifications. Jeffrey J. Williams, Carnegie Mellon Univ. As doctors farm out some tasks to nurses, practitioners and physicians’ assistants, the professoriate is shifting some tasks to sub- or tertiary professions. Remaking the University The System of Professions
7. Untitled. Bruce W. Robbins, Columbia University. Secular Vocations
Can’t make the MLA?
Join Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Dick Ohmann and many others at Left Forum 2011 (March 18-20), Pace University, N.Y.C.
Interested in joining Ohmann for a panel on working in commercialized higher ed? Drop him or Susan O’Malley a line by January 5, 2011. Have an article for Radical Teacher’s issue of the same theme? Send a proposal by May 15, 2011.
Fish Does It Again
It happens roughly once a year, usually around the holidays: Just when you’re sure that you can safely ignore everything under his byline, Stanley Fish takes notice of something worthwhile and doesn’t entirely butcher it: Carvalho and Downing’s very important but absurdly priced Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era. (Yes, Virginia, full disclosure: I have a piece in it. OMG, so does Ward Churchill.) Unquestionably the must-have academic freedom book of the first decade of the millenium—ask your library to buy it.
RIP David Noble]]>