01 September 2013

LGBT And Labor

I have to admit that I've long had mixed feelings about unions.  Yes, I understand their importance in protecting workers from abuses.  However, I have also seen firsthand how they can be used, like political clubhouses--and, very often, the very corporations whose exploitative practices unions are supposed to fight--to further the narrow interests of a select group of people.  

As an example, faculty members--whether full-timers or adjuncts--in the City University of New York are required to be members of the union.  When you are hired, you sign a card in which you "consent" to join and to have the dues deducted from your paycheck.

Granted, it's not a large amount of money and it helps to pay for some of the benefits members receive.  It's also used, supposedly, to help pay for the materials and work that go into protecting faculty members' rights.  

The union purports to represent adjuncts and other non-tenure-track faculty members as well as those who have tenure, or are on their way to it.  But, I know from experience that the union will throw adjuncts--and others who are not politically expedient--under the bus.  They also don't like to take up discrimination cases because they're "too difficult to prove".  However, they'll bray and bleat all day about some issue or another of "academic freedom".

Still, I'll admit, we need the union, particularly in the current climate: one in which the balance sheet rather than the syllabus is the most important document in education.   

If the marketers, bean-counters and others whose values come from the boardroom rather than the academy see graduates as "products" and faculty members merely as means to production, I don't think they're going to be terribly interested in much else besides getting as much money as possible for or from each student and paying as little as possible to turn those students into graduates.  And if the means of production, I mean faculty member, complains about being sexually harassed, having a false complaint made against him or her or simply not having goals and expectations clearly communicated (let alone receiving support in attaining those goals)--or simply gets sick or has a family emergency-- such administrators would like nothing better than to get rid of that faculty member and hire someone else who won't stand up for him or her self and doesn't have so much "baggage".  

Any member of a group who regularly experiences discrimination is vulnerable in such an atmosphere.  I would argue that trans people are the most vulnerable of all.  Never mind that our health insurance plans (when we have them) don't cover us in the same ways that other people are covered.  No matter how well we do our jobs, we have a harder time keeping them (and, of course, the health plans that go with them) than other people do because there's always somebody who's resentful over "special" treatment he or she imagines that we receive.  Or such a person is simply convinced that we are going to commit, or have committed, any and all sorts of crimes and perversions that never even crossed our minds--or that we are looking for reasons to get them fired over spurious claims of discrimination.  

(As an example of what I've described in my previous sentence, I'm thinking of a faculty member who, upon meeting me for the first time, exclaimed "I always feel I'm walking on eggshells and am going to say the wrong thing around you.")

So, I realize--in spite of my experiences--that trans people, as well as lesbians, gays and others on the "spectrum", need organized labor movements.  And they need us.  That's something to think about on Labor Day, which will be observed tomorrow.