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Adjuncts, Unions, and Standing Up

As I write, union members from my union, the PSC, are joining striking Columbia graduate workers of SWC-UAW local 2110. I offer solidarity to the Columbia workers. I recently learned of somebody who worked at Columbia and who, like me, worked at Baruch College and Fordham University. His name was Jonathon Appels, and he was an adjunct who worked at several colleges, as you can read in his obituary here.

I received two “Sad News” emails from the two English departments in which I work last Friday. Both were about Jonathon Appels. And, even though I didn’t know him, I felt an immediate solidarity and sadness at his death. The similarities between our work lives, both adjuncts at Fordham and Baruch, struck me. For me, the labor struggle centers on changing, on very significantly reforming if not completely overhauling the exploitative adjunct faculty system that requires us adjuncts to work at multiple universities in order to sustain ourselves. What reform or overhaul means is that adjuncts should not be the majority of the workforce and that there should be much much much more opportunity for long-term adjuncts to move into full-time positions rather than be full-time part-timers, adjuncts who teach up to 75 students yet are still considered “part-time.”

Since I’m a fiction writer first and foremost, I should mention a novel that gives light to this issue: We Want Everything by Nanni Balestrini.

A Worker Begins to Wake Up

It begins with a worker from Southern Italy moving north to work at Fiat. At first, he simply wants to make money and work as little as possible. However, this situation slowly turns into a consciousness of how capitalism exploits the worker.

Awakening Consciousness

And there are critiques of not only bosses but union officials who attempt to control and diffuse the workers’ movement.

This person sounds awful.

The Autonomia movement of 1970s Italy marked a critique of the Communist Party in Italy, the unions, and the old Left. Similarly, I have felt disappointed and frustrated by many in my union who don’t seem to agree that the two-tier, exploitative adjunct system needs severe reduction and/or dismantling.

However, as the Columbia graduate workers are showing us, people are willing to stand up for better working conditions, better pay, people who have survived this crisis so far and have become aware that many institutions have used the crisis to exploit workers further when the crisis has shown that the only way forward is one of solidarity. Solidarity is the only option. Anything else is a leftover ignorance of the pre-pandemic foregone world.

2 Russian Poems

It is a blessing to be able to work with Russian poems such as those of Marina Eskina. These translations have been foundational in my attempt at understanding Russian. My favorite is the poem about a father’s funeral:

How we buried you I don’t remember,
how the casket was lowered into the hole
my eyes don’t know.
It was a summer day. Those who stood there…
I don’t recall,
material
for dreams now.
Since then, no matter whom
I bury, I bury you.

-“How We Buried You I Don’t Remember” by Marina Eskina, trans. by Ian Ross Singleton

That Day: On Vince Passaro’s *Crazy Sorrow*

“’The day America’s ticker stopped.’ The image suggests a middle-aged man whose experiences have caught up with him. In the nation’s case, that experience includes the economic and military horror it has inflicted on much of the world…”

-from my review of Vince Passaro’s Crazy Sorrow in @lareviewofbooks

Rachel Kushner on Radicalizing the Novel

“But now that I think of it, there’s a joke in [Anna] about bourgeois art. This girl yells that she’s gonna make a painting and ‘sell it to Agnelli’ — the head of Fiat and literally the richest man in Italy — “for one million.” Even if this girl is ridiculing art, she’s ridiculing its monetization and not creativity itself, which, as you suggest, was a major component and outlet of expression of the Movement of ’77. They called it “l’arte dell’impegno” — the art of commitment. And in terms of counterculture, the ’70s in Italy wasn’t good communists wanting to renegotiate their labor contracts so they can go home to have lunch with their wives. These are people who are rejecting the entire logic of work, the whole order of society, and the space of rejection was filled with creativity and new kinds of expressions — I mean new to that era.”

Here’s the interview.

Two Big Differences: Baruch English Reading

Two Big Differences presented by Seth Graves, Evan G. Smith, and Ian Ross Singleton

My colleagues and good friends gave their takes on the novel. It was so good to hear that what I hope to do with this work has come true to an extent. Thank you, Seth and Evan!