Time for the Professoriate to Lead the Way
by William Trent Pancoast
It’s about time for working folks to stand up for themselves. Walmart workers haven’t been able to get it done. The old line unions are still reeling from the ongoing attacks begun by Reagan and continued by the right wing.
It looks to me like it should happen on our college campuses, and it should for starters be about adjunct instructors having a chance to make a living wage with benefits. That will require that tenured faculty support adjuncts. Much of the bargaining success of the United Auto Workers resulted from skilled and unskilled (high wage and low wage) belonging to the same union. Tenured faculty, making $50,000-$175,000 annual pay with health care and retirement, and adjuncts, making piecework of roughly $400 to $1000 per credit hour taught with no benefits, must join together. They need to form unions, bargain, and be willing to go on strike if necessary. If the brightest group in our country can’t take on the right wing corporatists, who can?
I’m calling out the Professoriate. Folks who spend eight to twelve years in undergraduate, masters, and PhD programs and are respected for their achievements, intelligence, and contributions to our society and civilization. Someone needs to take on the global corporations killing the planet and demeaning the humans on it. Someone needs to take on the corporatization of our universities that has resulted in up to 75% of college instructors serving as low paid temps. Who is better positioned to fight this war than the best educated and most intellectually capable group among us?
The middle and working classes continue to be stunted. They need raises. Benefits. Retirement. Some hope for the future. While the middle class needs to regain its losses, the working class needs its ladder put back.
Walmart seemed like the Great Labor Hope. Its employees have organized in some areas and done informational pickets and strikes. A nationwide strike by Walmart employees would result in a good contract within 48 hours. Once Walmart’s bean counters told the brass that what the striking employees wanted was what the company had lost in two days, the middle class would be on its way back. But the national momentum is not there for Walmart workers to organize. Many are ignorant of unions and scared for the minimum wage jobs they need. Maybe just like adjuncts.
The industrial unions in steel, auto, glass, and rubber have been decimated by off-shoring and never-ending attacks on wages and benefits. The Big Three, after the 2008 collapse of capitalism as we know it, is finally profitable again with workers perhaps getting raises after seven years of givebacks. (Please don’t tell me about Ford. The only reason they didn’t go bankrupt is that they borrowed every nickel of equity in the company before the depression began in 2008.) The United Auto Workers can’t even organize the transplants, most of which are in the south, even though the foreign factories are sweatshops with 50% temps making low wages with no benefits.
Lately refinery and port workers have gone on strike and improved their situations. The United Auto Workers were recently in Detroit at their Special Bargaining Convention, an event that not long ago set this country’s social agenda through what it decided to bargain for—vacations and sick leave, retirement and safety, apprenticeships and worker training, unemployment compensation and civil rights, family leave and health care, always health care, always trying to negotiate a one payer system for every citizen. Labor set the agenda after World War II to develop and protect our middle class. It is now next to powerless and nothing has so far taken its place.
The college Professoriate should be the group to take on the corporatism in the university system by addressing the adjunct crisis and securing good pay, benefits, and job security for all college instructors. The ruckus they make in accomplishing this task will help move the discussion, and our middle class, forward. They have the brain power, work ethic, and hopefully the moral compass to get the job done.
How would they do it? A lot of frustration has been moldering in the ranks of the adjuncts. They are the institutional temps whose low wages and lack of benefits are carrying the load in higher education. The tenured faculty should also be open to the chance to lead the way in saving our middle class. They surely understand that unless the bottom ranks are protected by labor unions, they themselves, or their successors, will become adjuncts. As tenured professors retire, many will not be replaced. Then a day will come when none are replaced.
Everything about higher education and the Professoriate is involved in this social venture of taking back our universities from the education corporatists: economics and law, literacy, every science, the humanities, government, personal injury lawyers, medicine, religion. No segment of academia would get a by. Of course they would need to acknowledge their own dire conditions. Academia would need to step up to organize and educate.
It is not difficult to tap into the framework of unionism today. Call the United Auto Workers at Solidarity House in Detroit. Invite the office professionals (OEPIU) in. The unions will respond big time. They can have the infrastructure for adjunct organizing in place quickly. Start a new union. Use the brave adjuncts who led the recent walkout and informational pickets on Adjunct Day last February. They have a framework in place.
Maybe I’m a crackpot, some kind of dinosaur pushing for a solution from the past. Maybe I’m generalizing that Solidarity is even possible in such diverse ranks as the Professoriate. Maybe I’m crazy to suggest such an idea—that the best educated, but also the most exploited, group in America today should go to war against global corporations, and specifically corporatism in education, in order to redefine and strengthen our middle class so that it can survive another generation.
But nothing will change the truth of the matter at hand. The corporatists are trashing our economy and educational system by taking more resources for themselves at the expense of the workers on the bottom. If our country’s Professoriate will not step forward and engage the enemy, who will?
William Trent Pancoast’s recent fiction has appeared in Night Train, Revolver, Steel Toe Revue, and Fried Chicken and Coffee. His novels are Wildcat and Crashing, with a third, Valley Real Estate, soon to appear. His story collection Vietnam. Fucking Vietnam is looking for a publisher. Pancoast spent 25 years as a labor newspaper editor and is a 1972 graduate of the Ohio State University. He lives in Ontario, Ohio.