Saturday, February 11, 2012

UW Custodians Fight Back!

On Monday, February 6, UW custodians, tradesworkers, and supporters rallied to save the job of a fellow worker who was facing termination for reasons that are at best spurious and at worst straight-up lies. This custodian just so happened to be one of those who militantly fought to stop cuts and manage abuse in 2009 and 2010. He is the 8th custodian organizer to be retaliated against in this way. This rally helped show that direct action can indeed get the goods -- the next day this custodian’s job was saved!

Contrary to claims of some who seem to think that immigrant workers are incapable of organizing themselves, members of the union representing custodians and tradesworkers initiated and planned the rally. It was not sanctioned by the union officials but by the workers themselves. FaDU and other student and community members and groups came out in support both because we believe in justice and dignity for all workers and because we know that our own struggle for a democratic university is bound up with other workers’ struggles.

Here are comments that several FaDU members and supporters made about their experience going to the rally:

Before this week’s rally, I had been aware of custodians’ recent struggles against the elimination of the swing shift, and to improve their working conditions by being allowed to take reasonable breaks and have access to appropriate equipment to prevent injuries that lead to chronic health problems. Listening to several custodians address the crowd on Monday, however, I was shocked by what I heard. I was surprised to learn that UW management is repressing worker organization by arranging work schedules around language differences. I was also surprised to learn that UW management is firing custodians without reasonable cause, only to keep those positions vacant and require the workers who remain to pick up the extra work, in addition to their regular responsibilities and without additional pay. Monday’s rally was powerful because it was a public declaration of the working conditions that otherwise seem to remain largely invisible to UW students, faculty and community members. As a graduate student at UW, I am really angry about what I heard on Monday and I am committed to making UW’s management of this section of its workforce more visible so that we can all hold UW accountable for its treatment of the people who work here.

What I heard from custodians on Monday was that there are some arbitrary decisions taken by UW management in making temporary assignments to various buildings, or to purposely overwork a custodian by doubling their responsibilities during a particular shift -- and these may be calculated to send a punitive message (and not to improve cleanliness or make the work more efficient, etc). It makes the custodians more vulnerable. Complaints about custodians under those conditions might provide a basis for management to begin this 3-stage disciplinary review process (which i have to say i don't clearly understand). One more level of this, too: by not rehiring additional workers after a firing or a resignation, etc, there seems to be a gradual increase in the overall share of the work that custodians do on campus, possibly opening up the possibility of more disciplinary actions leveled at particular custodians.

Also it was clear that several rank and file workers are confident and ready to fight and they want to organize broadly with other people on campus, to become more visible as Anna said, and to collaborate with other workers. They are doing this with or without official WFSE say-so. This (as well as the awesome news of the retraction of the firing threat) is a good sign that we should celebrate.

Listening to story after story of ways in which UW custodians are subjected to intimidation and unjust working conditions on campus, I found myself reflecting on how I can best stand in solidarity with the struggles they are facing. I was particularly interested in one conversation with a UW undergrad and a UW custodian. The undergrad spoke to his complete lack of political efficacy in our two party system to make change. The student was disenchanted and promoted withholding participation in our current political structures . The custodian agreed with frustrations of our current political framework, however felt as though there is a sense of personal power that comes along with believing in something and taking action. He advocated education on issues, public protests, and voting for the "lesser of the two evils". The custodian repetitively begged the question: "But what are you for? You keep saying what you are against-but what are you for?" The student could not come up with an answer.

I think that question in an important one to keep in mind- especially as we are faced with important labor struggles on our own campus. As a community, what are we for and how can we best achieve that? What does a truly democratic university look like and how can our autonomous political decisions and behavior (both on and off the campus grounds) affect life at the university? I would love to see a space for collective visioning of democracy on campus. A space for collaboration and creativity to express solidarity with different struggles our community is facing and practice the kind of democracy we want to see.

Part of UW’s strategy for eliminating custodian positions is to shift more of the labor of clean-up to people that the university doesn’t have to pay. Hence the “self-serve” garbage and recycle bins in some building offices and similar stations for cleaning library computers. Make no mistake, FaDU does not believe that UW students and faculty are above cleaning up after ourselves. But this is not about democratizing work, it’s about cutting jobs. Maybe someday there will be no such thing as a custodian or a student, and we will all share responsibility for cleaning, for learning, and for sharing knowledge, but in the meantime the self-cleaning stations illustrate just one of the effects of ever-increasing austerity in our education system.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Friends.........

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    Have a nice time ahead.

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