The following article by Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, just appeared as an opinion piece in the newly launched newsletter of the Hunter chapter of the PSC, Hunter Union Voice (Sept.-Oct. 2010). Ros Petchesky is widely known for her work on reproductive rights, gender and sexuality, globalization and human rights, and transnational social movements.


Because the two-tier labor system in public higher education weakens and destabilizes working conditions for us all.

As long as management can be assured of a very huge, vulnerable contingent work force willing—or, more accurately, compelled—to work for a pittance of the value they create, it can resist the demands of full-time union members for improvements in our working conditions, following a corporate model in which more and more of the work force is pushed into contingency and a sense of vulnerability.  This is doubly true in a period, like now, of severe economic crisis, retrenchment, and high unemployment.  It is a structural problem that affects us all by arming management with the economics of job scarcity and the politics of fear.  Divide and conquer is real—we do have material privileges and gain a dubious sense of superiority as full-timers and tenured employees.  But in the long run that division is a veneer that covers the structural and financial imbalances that contaminate the two-tier system at every level and weaken us all.

Because CUNY Contingents Unite represents one of the most forward-looking elements in the academy and in the labor movement.

Adjuncts and all contingent CUNY workers are those whose marginalized position within the system and clear vision (double consciousness) of its cracks have the greatest potential to bring real, structural change to our institution and to radicalize the collective bargaining process.  Their four key demands[1] , if met, would not only institutionalize equality in the system but would also transform the political economy of public higher education and help to reverse the conditions of general instability and insecurity I just described (see #1).  Unity between full-timers and part-timers in fighting for a fair contract will give our union unprecedented strength—of both numbers and moral and political clarity.  “CUNY Contingents and Full-Timers Unite” as an organizing strategy just makes good sense.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

Every day we teach and work in conditions that hyper-exploit over one-half of our colleagues, asking them to make the same commitment of intellectual energy, devotion to students, and professional rigor that we do, at a tiny fraction of the pay and without commensurate benefits, job security or respect.  This is a form of peonage.  It corrupts our work environment and compromises the very principles of morality and justice that public higher education is supposed to stand for; and it makes every one of us complicit in a foul, unjust system.  It has to stop; WE have to stop it.

I urge all my colleagues to get behind the demands of CCU, including advancing the recent gain around winter session pay for adjuncts to include summer session and to become a permanent reform, not just a one-time reward.  These demands should be the number one priority of our delegates at the bargaining table in this round of contract negotiations, uppermost in our collective vision, and deeply embedded in our sense of who we are as educators and union members.

In solidarity,

Ros Petchesky

Distinguished Professor of Political Science

Hunter College & the Graduate Center

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