What's Left 2015-09-13 Volume 27

In this week's edition, part two of our back-to-school special on privatization 'Losing control of the university: Corporatization'. Also, a call for a thorough reflection when reforming labour law; misogyny surfaces as students return to campuses countrywide; open source program takes on the most proprietary system known; and we ask if a leadership change bring change in broader values.

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Losing control of the university: Corporatization

/This is the second part of a What’s Left This Week’s series on the different ways in which the education sector in Canada is being privatized, with a focus on universities. Last week’s piece was on/ The Pervasiveness of University Privatization.

The role of a university is unique among public institutions. Instead of providing a single service to public users, they exist to establish a space, culture, and work that supports processes of discovery, advancement and challenging existing knowledge for the betterment of society. Contrary to the neoliberal ideal, universities are not necessarily just for teaching, but also for the creation of space in which students and professors can learn and engage with the ecosystem of knowledge expansion.

The development of research skills comes from an engagement in this ecosystem in which students may both develop themselves and advance knowledge for all. This ecosystem has structure, of course. The work in a university must be managed and money must be spent to promote the priorities of knowledge development.

Historically, the broader university community has worked together as a whole to set these priorities and establish how to move forward, where priorities are and what areas should be restructured. This history shows us that the university as an institution is best managed by this culture of sharing and openness.

Unfortunately, those who do not value or prioritize knowledge sharing or social, political, or scientific progress tend to undervalue the the academic system. They often look at a functioning university as an expensive and inefficient project and score the university based on its ability to produce job-ready workers (past students). To do this is to see learning as separate from research and the academy’s broader social function.

These “neoliberal” reformers seek to change the university by undermining the structures and freedoms essential to knowledge generation. The reformed structure of the academy they promote is the only one they understand: the corporation. This process of transformation of the management of the university is the process of corporatization.

Corporatization usually starts through the adoption of private-sector management structures and increasing powers assigned to the management group – usually known as the Board of Governors (BoG). As management powers grow, so does the alienation of this BoG from the real functions of the university. Academics, workers and students elected from the academic community are replaced with compliant, like-minded “professional” administrators, often manager friends in the corporate sector.

The negative impacts these reforms are having on the university’s research mission are masked by new measures of administrative success. The new caste of administrators adopt private sector compartmentalization of roles and build silos which undermine the free-flowing of information. They increase top administrators pay above those who actually do the academic work of the university. This increased inequality leaves a harmful impact for faculty and drives an increase in precarious labour and university support staff lose wages, benefits, and job security.

The result is the adoption of methods and processes that would have once been rejected by the broader academic community. Privatization of academic support services such as food services, maintenance, mail services, construction, and residence management are promoted for efficiency without regard for the impact on the community. The compartmentalization of research, teaching, and knowledge transfer cut students off from cutting edge research and the traditional governance structure of social collegiality moves towards one of corporate business.

It is for these reasons that if the goal of the activists in the academic system are to rebuild a functional university system, they must include the struggle against corporate restructuring.

Next week: Contracting out and Outsourcing

Thorough reflection needed when reforming Labour Law

When a process is stuck half way through, it is usually a good idea to take a step back and start from the beginning.

First principles help to establish a base line to evaluate suggestions of reforms and to provide a base from which to build from. It may be that without a revolution, there is no opportunity to start from first principles. However, even in the midst of mild reform, time must be dedicated to analysis and evaluation in order to assess if the direction taken is correct.

For a labour law review, such as the one underway in Ontario, there are first principles – not in law, but in the terms of the labour movement – that need to be set to evaluate and set a way forward. Some principles of the labour movement are more easily agreed upon than others, but a reflection process should initiate discussion on what the labour movement sees as fundamental. One of the easiest ways to think about these first principles is by setting out these principles as rights for workers.

1. Right to free association and to organize into unions. Put simply, all other rights flow from the ability of free people to assemble, discuss common issues, and organize into structures that allow better expression of their collective power. Forming a labour union must be the right of every worker.

2. Right to workplace democracy. Unions often forget, at their peril, that one of the most important principles of a labour union is to bring democracy into the workplace. Workers must have a democratic say over their terms of work for bargaining to happen.

3. Right to withhold labour. Workers are not chained to their stations and therefore workers can refuse to work. It has been argued that the right to strike establishes all other labour rights.

4. Right to bargain terms of work. The strike exists as a tool to alter power relations. The strike is bargaining by other means when the diplomatic process has failed, and when the terms are still not satisfactory to those engaged in work.

5. Right to bargain over extracted surplus value. Under capitalism, profit is generated. Workers create the products and services that capitalists sell. As such, workers must not solely have the right to negotiate terms of their employment, but also to negotiate their piece of the profit.

6. Right to nonviolence. Workers must have the right to a space free from violence and harassment when it relates to work and association. True democracy cannot occur in an environment where outside factors undermine universal and full participation.

7. Right to democratic worker control over their association. Union democracy is essential to workplace democracy. Workers must be able to set union principles and incentives of the union’s structure. Union democracy is important to strengthen the connection between the union and its members to the exclusion of other forces such as the employer.

8. Right to establish institutional sustainability. Workers must have the right to set and collect dues. If dues remittance is undermined, then the union cannot fulfil the rights and needs of workers. However, this is also the right to not have responsibilities placed on a union that is unfunded.

*9. Right to engage in social justice advocacy and political participation beyond the bounds of the workplace through their association.* The right to union democracy means that workers can bring forward any and all discussions to their union including using their union’s resources outside of workplaces.

10. Right to build worker solidarity across workplaces. A workplace is the most likely starting place for free association, but workers may associate freely between different workplaces as well.

11. Right to inter-union solidarity. With free association and union democracy, workers must have the right to build connections and federations with other local unions.


Misogyny surfaces as students return to campuses countrywide

Student activists almost come to expect September’s flow of sexist and misogynist episodes, which is why student union campaigns are extremely important. However, back to school this year gave activists a painful reminder that violent hate for women and feminists still exist. Public comments surfaced where individuals made graphic and fatal threats against women’s studies professors and students at the University of Toronto, and included attacks on feminism and feminists.

The struggle for gender equality is alive and well, and thanks to the work of dedicated labour and student activists, the fight at U of T to condemn this inacceptable behaviour and language is underway. As was mentioned by CUPE 3902’s statements, workers have the right to refuse unsafe working conditions.

[[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=e89e901373&e=8484a6ba75][Online posts about killing feminists prompt University of Toronto to increase campus security]]

CUPE 3902 Statement on on-campus threats and unsafe work

CUPE 3902 Women’s Caucus Demonstration Against Gendered Violence

[[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=9b3c0e29a6&e=8484a6ba75][CFS-Ontario Statement on violent threats made against women at the University of Toronto]]


Can a leadership change bring change in broader values?

The election of Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom marks a significant and positive reversal of the party’s trajectory over the past 25 years. A trajectory that saw the jettisoning of the social movements in the hopes of enticing financial power. The alarmist analysis found throughout the business press is a reaction to Corbyn’s track-record as a backbench Labour MP for the past 30-odd years. David Cameron even posted to Facebook on Sunday, “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Corbyn entered politics through social movements. He has deep roots in the anti-war, student, trade union, and women’s movements (amongst many others). This is why, in his acceptance speech, Corbyn made multiple references to both “the Party and the Movement.” However, this orientation is also what distinguishes Corbyn from many within the Labour Party. Unlike many political operators who reach power, Corbyn has repeatedly shown that his main objective to is to create space for those movements to influence the political sphere. His leadership has the potential to provide a model for other political parties throughout the Anglo-American world. Leftists oriented to mass organizations have new hope!

Jeremy Corbyn on Facebook

5 Reasons to be happy with Jeremy Corbyn’s victory

Labour membership grows 14,500 in a day as Jeremy Corbyn made leader

Open source program takes on the most proprietary system known

Bloomberg chat is being taken on by a project funded by its clients. Symphony, an open source, secure, and private federated chat system targeted at workers in finance capital sectors is aiming to take a bite out of Bloomberg’s near monopoly. While it is hard to celebrate the advancement of those who seek to further establish the monopoly of finance capital, it is interesting to see capital use a process geared to undermine them to do it. Open source software is free to use and alter, so advancements developed within Symphony will be available to the broader coding community.

The Bloomberg Terminal, a Wall Street Fixture, Faces Upstarts