By Mark Paschal, Graduate Student in History of Consciousness, UC Santa Cruz

The political quakes that are shaking the Middle East/North Africa  and Wisconsin are not simply spontaneous movements of people suddenly disaffected. While there are very few similarities between the revolutions and the union protest in Madison, an essential likeness is that working people and those who are unable to work have long been involved in creating an infrastructure through which democracy and accountability could break through the autocratic or bureaucratic stranglehold of their respective homelands. That infrastructure is not unique, however: in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, including the University of California (UC), more and more people are joining organizations that fight for the rights of working, and non-working, people.

Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) is proud of the heritage of the UAW and the many gains it has brought to working people in the USA. It is time, however, for the UAW at the UC, the union representing TA’s, readers, and tutors,  to demand more for those it represents and to make demands on an administration that continues to grow wealthy through budget cuts, fee hikes, and changes to the working environment of all of its employees. Only when we band together, across the multiple disciplines and work environments that we, as academic workers, face, will we be able to force the administration to cut its bureaucracy and introduce more democratic and accountable procedures.

In our short existence, since last fall, AWDU has:
-formed student-worker organizing committees on nearly every one of the ten UC campuses
-run a strong campaign against a flawed contract agreement, which garnered 1400 votes. The “NO” vote lost, but we successfully organized 38.6% of the membership to vote against contract ratification. At UC Santa Cruz, we voted DOWN the contract, with 90% of voting members voting against ratification.
-won 40 seats on the local’s Joint Council, one of the important governing bodies of the local, resulting in the largest number of representatives on the Joint Council in at least 7 years, and perhaps in the existence of our local.
-begun organizing a slate of candidates for the important local elections in May, where ALL seats in the union leadership will be open
-joined with undergrads, faculty and other university employees in demonstrations and rallies to demand a cut in UC admiinstrative salaries and an expansion of those programs that teach California’s students
what democracy and civic responsibility mean today

Academic workers face a far different working environment than the factory workers often credited with establishing the union movement. As such, the organizational requirements necessary to meet the needs of a diverse and often isolated working group cannot remain the same as those developed in different industries. It seems apparent to us that a decentralized and localized union works better and smarter than a centralized and bureaucratized union. We take the events in Madison, WI and throughout the Middle East as confirmation of this thesis.

For those with ears to hear and eyes to see, workers and the poor across the world are demanding their right to determine their own future – we need neither a union bureaucracy nor wealthy and self-interested politicians to tell us what we need and how what we want is not possible. It has always been possible for bosses and politicians to feed off of workers and the unemployed, but we are organizing to say no more!