[OPE-L:1597] Re: Talking to the workers about wages and socialism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 18:06:53 -0400 (EDT)

Jurriaan asked in [OPE-L:1596]:
> I agree, with the proviso that you can often still have some degree of
> autonomy in your work which many workers just don't have. My concern is
> only, what is your goal in using that autonomy ? It's not a criticism, it's
> a query.

To the extent that faculty have some degree of autonomy, it is over their
working conditions. In this case, what goes on in the classroom. In this
sense, faculty like other skilled workers (e.g. electricians, machinists,
tool-and-die makers) often have a greater ability to determine, within
limits, their own conditions of work than do unskilled workers. However,
this is not always the case. Despite the principle of "academic freedom",
there has been a drive at "standardization" at many colleges, especially
in regard to required classes. (And it can get worse: at one school where
I teach we have to "sign in" before each class and "sign out" after each
class is over. And I thought I left time clocks behind me when I left an
auto plant!). Often, this standardization affects how faculty teach and
what we teach (e.g. when I am able to select the texts for a class, how
and what I teach is different from when the texts are selected by
administrative decision). Of course, it is even worse for teachers at the
primary and secondary school level who often have to work from "lesson
plans" where what they are allowed to say in the classroom has basically
been scripted for them in advance (and deviations from lesson plans can
result in "termination").

Of course, there are other differences as well. E.g. academic workers
generally have significantly more leisure time that the majority of
workers. This is especially the case for those academics that don't have
to work during the summertime. In this regard, I think that many academics
consciously trade-off income for leisure time. Another related trade-off
is income for the ability to be creative at work (and teaching at the
college level allows for a degree of creativity that most jobs don't
have). These are reasons why many faculty are willing to put up with the
low wages, lack of many benefits, and little or no job security.
"Prestige" (sic) may be another factor for some faculty.

Yet, a college campus is in many respects respects just another kind of
factory. [there was a good song from the 1980's by "The Kinks" called
"Working in the Factory" that made a very similar point].

Of course, in addition to building solidarity among faculty and other
workers (both within and outside of the campus), there is another
important area for building solidarity -- among students and faculty.
It is important, in this regard, to note the many countries where students
played important roles in pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations
(e.g. May-June, 1968). How solidarity among students and faculty is built
should be a major concern of radical faculty, imho. Yet, from what I have
seen, this is often not the case.

In solidarity, Jerry

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