The Arizona Desert Lamp

Student government as a labor union

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 28 April 2009

Labor Union - Unionizing the 'Brain Worker'This first occurred to me a week or so ago, and the more I think about the more it seems to provide a more realistic model for ASUA/GPSC than full-fledged, nation-state governments.

Both organizations are based on groups of people, rather than actual locations. Certainly, ASUA is centered around the UA campus, but as the constitution states it consists “of all students registered at the University of Arizona,” while GPSC contains a similar clause for graduate students. Similarly, the UAW was largely centered around the plants in Detroit near the Big 3, but its constituency is the workers – regardless of where they might work (since its founding, the UAW has expanded into many fields outside of automobile manufacture). Either way, there is no “state” to defend – their jurisdiction only applies to the workers.

Thus, student government is relegated to providing services, as Connor pointed out in his editorial. But rather than viewing these services as akin to the ASUA Department of Transportation (i.e. SafeRide), their closer counterpart are the benefits won by unions in labor negotiations with corporations. If you push any ASUA representative to justify the institution, sooner or later he’ll come back to the organization’s ability to “deal” with the administration, the equivalent of dealing with a corporate board. Labor unions strive to minimize worker contributions (increase vacation time, shorten hours, etc.) and maximize pay-outs (increase wages and benefits), and student government similarly strives to minimize contributions (decrease tuition) and maximize pay-outs (more services, concerts, ‘higher quality education’). The big exception is club funding, but this function has largely been outsourced to a non-elected Board (see this post for more on that).

This also helps to explain the earnestness in ASUA’s being seen as “your student government.” In order to effectively represent the student body in negotiations, ASUA must be the student voice; if there any entities competing to represent the students, ASUA’s power within the UA will be weakened. Further, since consolidating the vox populi makes for a more effective lobby, power tends towards the executive. Should that executive become the face of an organization – see Bruce, Hoffa, et al – then checks on that leader’s power in negotiating with corporate/administrative forces are rendered obsolete.

One might further see similarities between the ASUA-GPSC and the initial tension between the craft-based AFL – often described as a “conservative union” focused primarily on specific modifications to labor rather than political campaigns – and the industrial CIO, whose workers are viewed as a sort of lumpenproletariat that can be swung like a cudgel by union leaders. (Sometimes, however, the cudgel doesn’t measure up to its purported strength, a fact that labor unions and our student government are painfully aware of.) In the end, the two organizations were driven together by necessity.

Viewing ASUA as a union, Connor’s case against it becomes even stronger. For with the allocating of SSF money, along with the mandatory club registration fee, ASUA has effectively become an involuntary union. Advocating against ASUA becomes less about supporting anarchy, and more about giving students the right to not pay union dues.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Tobias Higbie


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