In the wake of Wednesday’s vote by 82% of GESO TAs to authorize a strike, it’s key to remember which camp on this campus prefers negotiations to strikes and which prefers strikes to negotiations. GESO is in the former camp, having spent a decade calling in vain for President Levin to come to the table and just last week once again pleaded with the administration to resolve this labor struggle by recognizing the vote certified by Connecticut’s Secretary of State. President Levin, unfortunately, is in the other camp, willfully forcing another strike on this campus rather than even having a discussion with the union in which a majority of humanities and social science TAs claim membership. At no point this year has this contrast been clearer than at President Levin’s Open Forum in February, at which he responded to a student question by saying “Yes, I would rather have them strike than meet with them, because I believe it would be less detrimental to the university.”

Hard to believe it was only a year and a half ago that President Levin was holding a joint press conference with HERE President John Wilhelm and Mayor John DeStefano to announce the completed negotiation of contracts with Locals 34 and 35 and the end of that fall’s strike. On that day Levin expressed his hope that Yale’s administration and its employees would be able “to build a stronger, more cooperative relationship.” He told reporters that “in the end, it was the conversations that won the day, not the confrontation.” Some dared to hope that the “new era in labor relations” promised at the tercentennial had finally – however belatedly – arrived. Unfortunately, as teaching assistants move to authorize a strike, Levin seems to be working from the same old anti-union playbook. The “stronger, more cooperative relationship,” it appears, does not apply to the teaching assistants who do a third of Yale’s teaching. Here, conversations will have little chance at winning the day as long as Levin continues to maintain that they would be more harmful to the university than the disruption of academic labor.

Levin’s intransigent refusal to talk to GESO about a fair process unfortunately mirrors Yale’s refusal to engage in constructive discussion with the union about the challenges facing the university, be the issue academic casualization’s threat to undergraduate education, the under representation of students of color, or the inaccessibility of affordable healthcare. As the News itself has observed, Yale’s silence in the face of GESO’s articulation of these problems and offering of solutions is too often deafening. Last year, when over 300 GESO members, after trying in vain to meet with Dean Salovey about diversity at Yale, filed a formal grievance with the administration, they waited months before being told that the grievance had been misplaced. GESO went back and again collected the signatures, again submitted the grievance, and are again waiting for a response to their calls for increased funding for the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, institutional support for under-resourced academic fields, and the formation of an independent grievance process.

Like many of us, GESO’s members are still waiting for Yale’s leaders to enter the conversation on how fashion policies which better promote Yale’s stated values of equal opportunity and excellence in education. Meanwhile, the proportion of Yale’s teaching done by transient teachers has risen to more than triple that recommended by the American Historical Association, more graduate students have turned to HUSKY, Connecticut state healthcare assistance for the working poor, to insure their children, and Hazel Carby remains the only Black woman tenured at Yale. Yale’s refusal to address these issues or the graduate student employees working to improve them has only reinforced the determination reached by others over a decade ago that being heard as a Yale employee means being recognized through a union contract.

We as undergraduates face the prospect of another strike because our President refuses to recognize what the United Nations and the Internal Revenue Service do: that the men and women who teach our sections and grade our papers are employees receiving compensation for labor. Levin could avert a strike today by sitting down GESO’s leaders and agreeing to a fair process for union recognition. So far, he’s demonstrated the same refusal to come to the table which dragged out Local 34 and 35’s last contract negotiations two years past the expiration of their contract. After that last strike, Levin told the New Haven Advocate that “Had we been able to sit down” earlier to negotiate, a settlement would have been reached much earlier. But at that same press conference, when Editor Paul Bass asked whether Levin would have come to the negotiating table, as many of us spent over a year urging him to do, without a strike, Levin paused and then answered, “At the right time and place, I would have been there.” History need not repeat itself next week. Levin still has a chance to recognize that the right time has come to negotiate with GESO, and to demonstrate that he too has learned something from the strikes which have been so frequent in this university’s history.

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Three out of five: That’s the majority of current Yale teaching assistants who’ve joined GESO and are now demanding that Yale recognize their union. Inspirational meeting tonight, with compelling speeches from GESO members about their platform, a strong show of support from Local 35 and from graduate student unionists from Penn and Columbia, and Congresswoman DeLauro, Attorney General Blumenthal, and Mayor DeStefano there to verify the results and pledge their support for a just settlement. Now it’s time for Yale to come to the table and level with the people whose teaching makes a Yale education possible.

The YDN reports on the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition’s dramatically succesful call-in day yesterday to Bruce Alexander and John DeStefano, urging a fair share settlement between Yale and New Haven with a contribution that would narrow the gap between Yale’s tax value and the PILOT money New Haven receives, a mechanism for indexing that contribution to Yale’s growth, and a commitment from Yale to enter Community Benefits Agreements for future expansion:

About 75 students gathered on Cross Campus throughout the day Monday to call Alexander and DeStefano’s offices and urge progress on talks to increase Yale’s contribution in lieu of taxes to the city. The campaign was organized by the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition, a group of Yale organizations formed in April that claims there is a $10 million gap between the actual tax value of University property and the payments the city receives in lieu of those taxes…Any change in the status of Yale’s contributions to the city would be the first change since 1990, when the Yale Golf Course was opened to taxation and the University began paying the city for fire services. Yale, like most nonprofits, is exempt from property taxes on its noncommercial buildings. Property taxes are the major source of funding for New Haven, which has faced budgetary problems in recent years. New Haven also receives about 65 percent of the money it would have obtained from taxing Yale through Connecticut’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes program (PILOT).

…Josh Eidelson ’06, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC), one of the Fair Share Coalition’s member groups, said that the launch of talks had encouraged the coalition. “The fact that these negotiations are happening now demonstrates the importance of pressure from students and the community in pushing Yale to have a more progressive settlement with New Haven,” Eidelson said. In addition to the UOC, 13 other undergraduate student groups — including The Black Student Alliance at Yale, Movimiento Estudantil Chicano/a de Atzlan, and Jews for Justice — belong to the coalition. Ben Siegel ’07, who is involved with Jews for Justice, said different groups had different motives for joining the coalition. “The highest principle of charity in Jewish tradition is to give in a way that facilitates other people becoming empowered and gaining control of their futures,” Siegel said. “We hope that the University will live up to those principles.” UOC member Helena Herring ’07, who helped organize the phone calls yesterday, said there was a lot of support for the coalition’s ideas. “People have been really receptive and excited by the idea and people who have been coming to make calls have not been inclusive of the member groups,” Herring said. “It shows that there is broad-based support for this.”

Alas, the article makes no mention of the amazing pies Emily Jones baked for the event, which were as tasty as they were symbolic.

CT Governor John Rowland appears to have become, if it’s possible, even more unpopular over the past weeks, with 70% of voters calling for him to resign, as his likely Democratic rival for 2006, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, get his campaign further into gear, and a several-decade veteran of New Haven democratic politics announces his intention to run against DeStefano for the mayorship in 2005 as a Green.

Apparently, I’m not the only one getting lots of searches for “newalliancebancshares.” If folks are looking to find out how to cash in on what DeStefano rightly called a “bank robbery” before deciding to cut and run, they’ve come to the wrong place. If you want to know how we can stop anti-democratic subversions of the will of the depositors like this one, check out this piece on State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney’s support for a bill that would flex the muscle of the state banking commission a bit.

Over the summer, John Halle, at that time one of two Greens on New Haven’s Board of Aldermen, announced that he would not seek another term and wrote, rightly, in the New Haven Advocate that more on the left should recognize that

…getting something accomplished in government–getting a stop sign put in at a dangerous intersection, getting a loud bar closed down, keeping a power plant out of the city–means moving from spectator to participant in government.

Becoming a participant means talking to people, sometimes people very different from yourself, and getting to know them, not treating them as theoretical terms in a complex behavioristic model, but as human beings…

That piece, unfortunately, went downhill from there, concluding cynically and wrongly based on his few years on the board that

Most of the time when someone wants a virtually unpaid job in local government with the Democratic machine [like alderman or commission member], it means they’re up to no good. They probably have some scheme that will allow them or some friend favorable consideration before the city. Or they will exchange their vote and their independence for a patronage job on the Board of Ed, a marshal [contract], a community development block grant to the non-profit they manage. If they’re an Ivy Leaguer, local politics means a brief experience on the ground giving them street cred before they move into high-paying appointed positions in the permanent government.

So if someone comes knocking at your door telling you how much they want the job, that may be the strongest indication that they shouldn’t have it.

This Yale Professor’s broad-brush condemnation of everyone else involved in city government, and the self-serving justification behind it for his failure to transform the city for his Aldermanic perch, received a good deal of deserved criticism, from this letter from David Adams Murphy

But of course, you didn’t go into local politics for such a mundane motive as money or prestige. No, you did it to help people, as a gesture of your boundless magnanimity. … And when you discovered that your effectiveness against seasoned politicos would be minimal at best; that these corrupt, ignorant polyester-clad slobs wouldn’t welcome you as their Ivy League messiah, cast aside their nets full of graft and follow you into the wilderness; that whatever you might accomplish would come at the cost of drudging through minutiae, you felt bad about yourself . Which kinda defeats the whole point of becoming a Yalie, huh?

to this one from Alderman Ben Healey:

The cynicism underlying [Halle’s] statement undercuts all that we progressives should work for in this city. How can we build grassroots political structures if our first reaction to those who take the risk of getting involved is one of suspicion? We will never empower ourselves to fight for social change if we do not each, instead of rejecting that door-knocker, engage him or her and join the fight for social justice (either with that person or an opposing candidate)…

Halle made the (unfortunately common) mistake of mixing strident critique of entrenched local government power structures – which inspired important work during his time on the Board – with an air of condescension towards the working people such government should represent, and who are the first victims of its failures.

Halle has now written a longer retrospective on his time on the Board, which is similarly a mixed bag. He repeats his blanket condemnation of New Haven Aldermen (as if, simply by nature of being elected, there must be something wrong with them). His critique certainly applies to some of the Aldermen; it is an undeserved and misguided slur, however, against several others. The Connecticut Center for a New Economy deserves credit for its work in getting many of the latter group elected, and for modeling a strategy of finding and supporting candidates with strong ties within their communities and helping them organize to win elections based not on their identification as Democrats or Greens, or as allies or opponents of Mayor DeStefano’s machine, but on their articulation of an agenda for substantive progressive change in their communities and in New Haven.

Halle articulates, quite well, the compelling need for organized political movements to the left of local Democratic parties and, kal v’chomer (all the more so) the sicker national Democratic party:

the prospect of politics escaping from elite control and the fear that it induces among elites is what forces substantive, as opposed to merely superficial, political concessions from the actors in the two corporate parties who serve elite interests.

The historical precedents for this view are well known. Bismarck’s acceptance of national health insurance is generally understood to be a concession in the face of the revolutions of 1848. The success of West German labor unions in the Cold War period is understood to have resulted from the silent presence of a third negotiator at the table-the eastern bloc. The threat posed by organized leftist politics, both domestic and foreign, is what created the climate for the passage of New Deal legislation…

And conversely, the waning of serious, organized oppositional politics is certain to result in the dismantling of the gains which have been achieved in period of progressive ferment – in increasing concentration of wealth, assaults on civil and human rights, inferior working conditions etc.

But running on the Green ticket is not enough. CCNE and the Democratic Machine worked together in November to defeat the challenge to incumbebt Democrat Alfreda Edwards,

a Black working mother who’d filed more complaints on behalf of her constituents than anyone else on the Board, from Green Charles Pillsbury (yeah, those Pillsburys), who made news denouncing Yale’s unions and Yale’s administration as equally stubborn and unwilling to compromise and then tried to insinuate himself on an 1199 podium long enough to make it into the photograph.

The Green Yale’s unions – in a deeply unfortunate move – did support, Joyce Chen, was most clearly distinguished from her Democratic challenger, Andre Baker, by Chen’s opposition to one of the major progressive reforms on the table in New Haven: Domestic Partnership.

The DeStefano machine, as was most recently and dramatically demonstrated by DeStefano’s shameful pact with the New Haven Savings Bank, needs critical opposition, and critical opposition movements, from the left. On some issues, as Paul Bass argued in October, New Haven’s Greens have done so admirably. On others, they’ve dropped the ball. Halle’s latest piece exemplifies both the potential for third party politics in cities like New Haven and – inadvertently – the traps they face.

John DeStefano, in his State of the City Address tonight, showed photos of rallies to keep the New Haven Savings Bank in the hands of its depositors, asserted rightly that strengthening this city means “getting into other people’s business” when those people are entrenched corporate interests, and declared that “we need to do more of that.”

Yes, New Haven’s city government needs to do more of that. Following through the bank fight, rather than cutting a deal and promising corporate power to keep the people of New Haven from getting out of hand, would have been a good place to start.