If the FA were really guilty of groupthink and I were taking on the role of "mindguard," I would probably hide this recent bit of somewhat depressing news from Inside Higher Education. But I am not, because despite what our critics say, FA members are pretty open to critique and different points of view. I'll offer a few comments after the break, but mostly I think this one gets to go forward to comments.
I know commentators on this blog have suggested before that faculty strikes don't work, especially since 2008. The C.W. Post example would seem to indicate otherwise. I know many of us have characterized a strike as the only real leverage available to the faculty in collective bargaining negotiation, especially with an immovable Administration. The Cincinnati State Technical & Community College example is a warning we should heed. So, hearing the conclusion of this article is that strikes have primarily "symbolic value" is probably cold comfort to most.
I wonder, though, if there are significant differences between the cases mentioned and our own: Does the potential simultaneous striking of four unions on campus make a difference? Does the potential timing of this strike make a difference? Does our regional history with organized labor make a difference? These are open questions, and ones I'd just as soon leave to speculation as test out on the picket line.
So let me end with a personal observation. I cannot speak for the negotiators or any of the union leadership, but my perception is that no one is in a rush to actually go on strike. All would like to arrive at a contract that we can agree to before doing the damage this so-called "symbolic" act is all too likely to inflict. We've seen the harm we can expect from an Administration willing to drag these negotiations out ad infinitum. One of the current issues for the FA at the negotiation table is figuring out a mechanism to require administrators to rule on program operating papers, especially where they define and address workload; the current practice is to let "problematic" papers linger on administrators' desks with no action, thereby maintaining the status quo. If the Administration cannot have its imposed terms, it prefers a state of endless negotiation. We cannot continue the way we have been, and we cannot go back. We have to find out if the threat of a strike or an actual strike will have any leverage at the negotiation table to reach a reasonable and fair contract.
I take no comfort in any of this. Broken unions will not, I fear, be a speedy path to turning the campus climate around any time soon. I've known all along that we have so much to lose in these negotiations and really only relatively little to gain; however, I don't think we had less to lose by not negotiating. In the end, it is about respect and about clinging to the last shreds of shared governance available on this campus.
Yay compromise! Go symbols!