Number 7 – October 23, 2020

A publication for faculty, campus staff, and students by the independent
Rank-and-File Temple (RAFT) Caucus

Statement on Solidarity in the Crisis 

The only way for us to fight against job cuts and higher workloads is to fight together. Contingent faculty have to stand with students, rank-and-file union members, and the working-class community on and around the Temple campus to say no to austerity: The budget will not be balanced on our backs!

The Crisis Deepens

As RAFT predicted from its beginning in early 2020, higher ed is facing a historic crisis. Enrollments are falling nationally in the wake of the pandemic and economic shutdown, while schools careen wildly between reopening campuses for the sake of money and then inevitably closing amid massive outbreaks of the coronavirus. 

Temple is no different. It opened its campus in the fall semester, in radical neglect of the health of campus workers, students, and surrounding communities. Humiliated, the administrators closed it a week later — but obviously only because of terrible publicity and the constant pressure from the RAFT Caucus, which dragged TAUP leadership kicking and screaming into the fight to close down Temple. Now Temple administrators are reporting an enrollment crisis and, with it, measures to secure their bottom line — at the expense of the workers and students. Managers are announcing layoffs of adjuncts, and increased course caps have already been instituted in some departments to lay the groundwork for the reduced staffing of classes.  

The administration’s strategy for cost-cutting will result in the further adjunctification of the faculty. First, they will decimate the ranks of current adjuncts, who by definition are flexible, disposable labor, and raise course caps. Then, NTT (full-time non-tenure track) contracts will not be renewed and course caps will be further raised. Finally, the administration will fill in the gaps with new adjunct labor — continuing down the road of further precarization of academic labor).

And yet our TAUP leadership constantly repeats the mantra, “There’s nothing we can do for you; this is all perfectly in line with the contract.” 

No winning without militant solidarity

The futures of adjuncts and NTTs are linked, and the austerity plans TU has for faculty hang on what happens to these teachers. Contingent faculty have to band together and fight for themselves — and compel the TAUP leadership to support us. In other words, the fight against Temple’s austerity program means linking the struggles of all contingent teachers against lay-offs and increased course sizes. 

But we can’t win without a militant approach. It is a huge battle in non-crisis times to win minor concessions for university workers. Now — in the midst of a world-historic economic breakdown, we can’t win concessions with anything short of a struggle that uses every tactic available: rolling, mini-, and longer strikes; slow-downs and sickouts; and so on. We can only win by committing to and planning to use the primary weapon of all labor against the bosses: refusing to work. We already know the administration is playing hardball. It’s time to respond in kind.

But we also can’t win without the right allies.  

So far, the fight against precarious teaching work at universities has almost only been fought in the narrow confines of trade unionism — with adjuncts in their own separate unions, or combined with other teachers like NTTs and tenured and tenure-track faculty. But not a single one has successfully fought back precarity with real job security and benefits — let alone really challenged the power of the corporate management of universities.  

Now, amid an economic crisis second only to the Great Depression, this narrow trade-union approach is more doomed than ever. Instead, contingent faculty have to ally with those parts of Temple’s working class who have the greatest interest in fundamentally challenging the power of the corporate administrators — creating a class-wide approach to organizing with: 

  • The constantly displaced and attacked, majority-Black surrounding working-class community. This community has borne the brunt of the most aggressive and deadly repression, under the thumb of the brutal TUPD, the largest campus police force in the nation, alongside the PPD. People in the neighboring neighborhoods have been treated like enemies in Temple’s drive to gentrify and were completely forgotten in Temple’s stubborn move to reopen. The working-class people of North Philly have already been part of the most important struggle against Temple’s neoliberal expansion, that of the Stadium Stompers coalition, which successfully stopped the building of yet another multi-million-dollar real estate project.
  • The students, who are treated as mere cash cows by the university, were told to return to campus despite the fact that a Covid-19 outbreak was completely predictable. Students were crammed into larger classes, exposed to coronavirus, and then sent home again when the campus invariably had to be closed. We’ve seen the power of students developing in the anti-cop struggle over the summer of 2020. The student-faculty-alumni collaboration, the Temple Coalition for Change, although a new organization, has already won concessions, including $1 million for anti-racist initiatives by the administration and the elimination of the TU donation to the Philadelphia Police Foundation. Continuing this struggle against Temple’s use and support of the white supremacist police is key not only to solidarity with students but to depriving the university of one of its most direct weapons against the surrounding community and any potential strikes and pickets on-campus. 
  • The rank and file of the other campus unions. This doesn’t mean the performative gestures of TAUP’s leaders, who criminally signed a “no strike” clause in the contract, forbidding any real solidarity actions with other workers on campus. Instead, it means that a crucial task for faculty and student struggles is forming committees of agitation and action with Temple’s security guards, janitors, office workers, and others. 

A world to win

Nothing short of this militant, broad-based — that is, class struggle — unionizing can fight off austerity. But far more, this kind of struggle makes it possible to fundamentally change the balance of power on campus, away from the campus masters in administration and towards students, workers, and the surrounding working-class community.  

This kind of class-based approach could actually enable us to fight for a racially representative faculty and student body — something our union has long failed to do, and something the administration has no intent on doing. It could enable us to transform Temple into a truly public institution for the good of people instead of just more cash and more real estate projects. And it could allow for the creation of a new model of struggle for higher ed.

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