Saturday, 26 April 2008

... and furthermore

While I'm on the subject of how unions can be annoying, I should mention that I'm a member of a union, too. It represents the teaching assistants at the U of T, and it does a pretty good job of it, at by anecdotal comparison to a few of the US institutions where I have friends. But I do have one big beef with CUPE, and it's that the leadership seem to think international affairs are their business. Social justice is important, but it just isn't appropriate for my local union to make pronouncements about Israel's attitude toward Palestinians. Especially since some of CUPEs membership are Israeli. It puts us all in a bad position. I want my union to devote its energies toward protecting my high pay and keeping up with rising tuition. I care about the plight of Palestinians (and the plight of Israelis generally), but CUPE is just the wrong venue for that discussion.

Social justice is a hard thing to say no to these days, because when you say no you look like a big meanie (or a Republican!). Devotees take disagreements personally, and it can be dangerous to express a dissenting opinion in academia (it's not as bad as David Horowitz makes it out to be, but liberals can be just as petty as conservatives).

Easily Distracted has some good things to say about the sort of no answer that should always be valid:
No, this is the wrong institution or place for us to be doing that.
No, you (or I or we) are the wrong people to be doing that.
No, I know more than you do about what those ideas mean, so don’t try to tell me what to do. You should be listening to me instead.
No, this is an elitist institution that is just appropriating the language of social change for its own ends.
No. Is there a keg anywhere at this meeting?
There are more. Go read them.


4ll4n0 said...

Personally, I have nothing against social justice and sometimes even support such efforts. I'm just skeptical that the union would ever support social justice at the expense of squeezing the best possible deal out of management for the current membership.

Now the official line is that the interests of the membership and those in need of social redress are one and the same, but in reality many unions (including I suspect our union) represent something of a social and economic elite (or at least those above the average) and so it is not impossible that our pecuniary interests and the public good will find themselves in conflict. So I am skeptical of the marrying of the two goals in one institution.

I have nothing against people organizing to get the best labour deal, but I recognize that this still creates an institution driven and sustained ultimately by special private interests. I also have nothing against people forming organizations to promote social justice, but if that is what it is the members of the organization had better all be behind this goal and willing to sacrifice for it. I'm not seeing it.

Isaac said...

That's a nice way of putting it, 4ll4n0. I agree that it's a little duplicitous for our union to claim it can marry its two (potentially) contrary goals. Even if the two goals are not at odds, I see the social justice activities as a distraction, and divisive within the membership.

It's largely for that reason that the typical "interests of the membership and those in need of social redress are one and the same" line can't work. It would be nice if the world was full of rainbows and puppies, but until then, let's focus the efforts of this organization on the issues where it's peculiarities can make the largest difference.