The Birth Control Movement
Women from all economic classes gained greater ability to limit pregnancy in the 1920s as a result of the effort of nurse and birth control advocate Margaret Sänger, who vowed to "do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were as vast as the sky." By 1914 Sanger was determined to remove the stigma of obscenity from contraception and to set up a nationwide network of advice centers on birth control for women. She first had to find a safe, reliable method of birth control and, in 1915, traveled to Europe, where she learned about the diaphragm. By the 1920s Sänger broke her ties with radical colleagues, a shift in approach that won her the support of powerful, conservative groups such as physicians, philanthropists, and wealthy women.
Unionism and Adjunct Faculty Organizing in Boston
For the past three years, activists in Boston have been challenging the corporatization of higher education by developing innovative and successful approaches to organizing the most exploited layer of its teaching workforce, the thousands of contingent, or adjunct, faculty members who work in the greater urban area. The Boston Project of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor has developed a multi-campus approach to organizing, an openness to solidarity with other campus workers, and a willingness to go beyond collective bargaining issues to address broad questions of equity and democratic power. Like living wage campaigns and anti-sweatshop struggles, the Boston Project is an example of a new labor-based social movement emerging on America’s campuses.
This development seems paradoxical, since “new social movement” theory arose in the 1970s and ‘80s with an emphatic rejection of the primacy of labor struggles. In the view of such theorists as Alain Touraine, Chantal Mouffe, and Carl Boggs, the youth, women, gays, oppressed nationalities, and so forth who went into motion beginning in the 1960s constitute unique social subjects whose transformative activity cannot be understood from the perspective of class struggle. These groups fight, not so much over the distribution of the material surplus, as over the symbolic systems and informal power relationships in which “forms of life” are embedded. They address the needs of their participants for social and cultural meaning, an orientation perhaps best expressed by the motto of the women’s movement that “the personal is the political.” Moreover, according to theorists, just as these new social subjects move largely outside the terrain of economic battle, so do they reject the traditional organizational forms of the labor movement. Unlike unions and left-wing political parties, movement organizations are self-consciously fluid and transient, coalescing when needed and dissolving when the need is past. Movements, in short, are not reducible to organizations, and movement demands go far beyond bread and butter issues.
How ironic that the distinction between labor and new social movements is now breaking down precisely in the arena where it was first theorized, namely, the academy. This is undoubtedly due to a transformation in the class character of higher education.
First of all, the college and university experience is no longer reserved for an elite, but has become a mass phenomenon. In the United States, more than 60% of the population between the ages of 18 and 22 is enrolled in institutions of higher learning, the highest percentage of any country in he world. In addition, many people are coming to college later in life for the purpose of job retraining or simple enrichment. Nearly 75% of all students are educated in comparatively low cost public institutions, including a large number of community colleges. The overwhelming majority of undergraduates work in low paid, contingent jobs while attending classes. Many face prospects that are only marginally better after graduation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 25% of holders of bachelor degrees work in jobs that require only a high school education. Secondly, just as the class character of the student body has changed, so has that of the faculty. Nearly 50% of college and university teachers work “part-time,” i.e. for low pay and without benefits or job security no matter how many hours they put in, while another 18% hold temporary, non-tenure track appointments. The degradation of academic labor is an expression of the general rise of contingent work, itself the result of corporate attempts to cut labor costs and undermine workers’ power. No wonder that the home of a paradigmatic new social movement, the student rebellion of the 1960’s, has become the site of labor struggles.
These struggles, however, have been deeply influenced by the organizational fluidity and desire to contest issues of culture and power that characterized earlier campus-based social movements. The anti-sweatshop efforts to force university stores to cease stocking items produced by sweatshop labor are marked by the informal, grassroots organizational style and appeal to justice and community that marked previous student movements, as are living wage campaigns to set decent standards of minimum compensation for the lowest paid campus employees. The Boston Project of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor applies a similar social movement orientation to the task of organizing adjunct faculty.
Nowhere is the importance of contingent academic labor more evident than in the Greater Boston Area. With fifty-eight institutions of higher learning within a ten mile radius of the urban center, Boston has the highest concentration of colleges and universities (in proportion to population) of any city in the world. Each year, graduate programs award thousands of master and doctoral degrees to aspiring professionals. Many of the new degree holders remain in the Boston area, in large measure because of the city’s stimulating cultural and intellectual environment. Of those who choose the academic profession, few manage to secure full-time employment, forming instead a labor pool from which most of the city’s 10,000 or so part-time faculty members are drawn.
The colleges and universities of the Greater Boston Area are partially subsidized by the cheap credit hours produced by this most exploited stratum of the adjunct faculty. The tuition generated by a handful of students - two or three students in courses taught at private institutions, more in public ones - pays the wages for a part-time instructor. The employing institution appropriates the rest of the money brought in by the course as an unpaid premium, as academic surplus value.
The economic function of the contingent faculty extends beyond its role in generating surplus tuition, thereby subsidizing the institutions that employ it. It also plays an important part in the extensive networks that link higher education with private companies and public agencies. The university industry is not only one of Boston’s biggest employers. It is connected with the city’s other major industries - such as hospitals, financial services, high tech, and state and local government - in a dense web of funding, training programs, research projects, policy institutes, and revolving personnel. The contingent faculty supplies the primary cadres for a crucial node in this web, the continuing education programs that retrain workers and managers. Moreover, in regular day programs, especially at state institutions, it educates Boston’s future teachers, nurses, social workers, computer specialists, accountants, and so on. Finally, in the natural sciences, contingent faculty members conduct research, increasingly funded and utilized by private companies. In this fashion, the contingent faculty acts as a crucial productive force in Boston’s larger political economy.
Because of its strategic location in the corporate-state-university complex, a dynamic effort by Boston’s adjunct faculty to organize would send ripples throughout the city, affecting students, parents, politicians, public workers, and private corporations. Such a movement would demonstrate how the public’s interest in education is damaged by the imperative to maximize profits, with its penchant for leasing educational assets to narrow private interests, while driving "instructional costs" to the floor. It would be poised to make a natural alliance with tens of thousands of students, most of whom are already temporary or part-time workers, and many of whom face the continued prospect, after graduation, of insecure, underpaid work without benefits. It might even develop imaginative new forms of community and solidarity as antidotes to the culture of careerist self-absorption and competitive isolation normally on offer in our halls of higher learning. To accomplish such tasks, however, the contingent faculty would have to achieve a high level of self-organization. Yet it is notoriously difficult for contingent workers to organize, and the adjunct faculty is no exception to this general rule.
In most cases, labor solidarity and militancy are nourished by the concrete face-to-face relations that bind workers together on the job. The Wobbly organizing campaigns of the 1910s and 1920s, the workplace occupations of the 1930s, as well as the P-9, Jay, Maine, and Pitstown strikes of more recent years were all conducted primarily by groups of workers who had learned to depend upon one another, on a daily basis, in the factories, the retail shops, and the mines. By contrast, contingent faculty members are atomized. With temporary jobs on a single campus or part-time positions on multiple ones, they have little chance of developing the workplace bonds that sustain concerted action. If collective bonds are to come into being, they must be forged, at least initially, not in the process of work, but in the course of struggle. In this regard, it is instructive to consider the campaign that gave birth to the Boston Project, the successful battle in 1997-98 of part-time faculty members at UMass Boston for full medical and pension benefits and pro-rated pay.
As a state institution, UMass Boston shares in the generally high level of union organization that characterizes public colleges and universities in the Northeast. The Faculty Staff Union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, won recognition in 1976 as the collective bargaining agent of the UMass faculty. Though union organizers argued for the inclusion of all part-time faculty members in the bargaining unit, an administrative threat to tie recognition up in the courts forced them to accept a hurdle to part-timer membership that has had a decisive impact on the character of the union. To be admitted into the union, part-timers must teach a total of five bargaining unit courses in the span of three consecutive semesters. In 1997, 115 people had done so, 109 part-timers taught in the so-called “regular university,” but without carrying enough courses for bargaining unit membership, while another 116 taught only in the Continuing Education Division, which was not unionized at all. Had all part-timers been represented by the union, they would have comprised 340 members, roughly forty percent of the entire bargaining unit. But, since only a third of this number enjoyed union membership, part-timers were vastly outnumbered by their full-time colleagues. As a result of this imbalance, the FSU had given priority over the course of its history to defending the interests of the full-time faculty, the vast majority of its membership.
The union did, however, provide a context in which part-time faculty members could organize to assert their interests. During contract negotiations in 1986, part-timers from several departments formed a Part-Time Faculty Committee that functioned as a caucus within the FSU. The Committee mounted a campaign on behalf of a set of demands, above all a substantial wage increase, that succeeded in winning the support of students, staff, and a good number of full-time faculty members. Just as importantly, Committee activists were sophisticated enough to keep strategic pressure on union negotiators, making it difficult for them to abandon part-timers at the negotiating table. Although there was no part-time faculty member on the negotiating team, the Part-Time Faculty Committee sent an observer to each of the negotiating sessions. Moreover, at a crucial moment, the Committee picketed a negotiating session, angering union negotiators, but also forcing them onto the picket line. But means of such savvy tactics, the Committee succeeded in winning an increase in base pay for part-time faculty union members from $2000 to $3000 per course.
Though the Committee continued to meet for a couple of years following the 1986 victory, external factors soon made it impossible to build on that achievement. A serious crisis in the state budget resulted in a reduction in force that ended by driving one third of the part-time faculty out of UMB. Desperation to hang onto jobs replaced the elan of the `86 campaign. Yet the Part-Time Faculty Committee had demonstrated that it is possible for atomized adjuncts to build the collective bonds necessary to improve their conditions. This was a seed that would lie dormant for awhile, but that would one day bear fruit.
By 1997, the fiscal crisis had not only ended, but the state had accumulated a one billion dollar budgetary surplus. Though much of the surplus was rebated to taxpayers, and little of what remained was used to satisfy social needs, the state’s appropriation to UMass ceased to shrink, and that made it feasible to make new part-timer demands.
In the fall semester, activists mostly from the Philosophy, English, and Math Departments, reconstituted the Part-Time Faculty Committee. Early on, the Committee determined the key element in its strategy. It would work to get the FSU to invert its traditional priorities by making part-time faculty issues the focus of contractual bargaining. It held several large meetings at which perhaps half the entire unionized part-time faculty chose a negotiating agenda. The agenda was intended to make an appeal to the university community so morally persuasive that the union leadership would be unable to ignore it.
Massachusetts law mandates full medical and retirement benefits for any state employee who works at least half-time. At UMass Boston, most unionized part-timers teach two courses per semester to the full-time faculty’s three, yet each was classified by the University as two-fifths of a full-time worker. The point of the classification, of course, was to prevent part-timers from obtaining benefits under the law. In a number of cases, this exclusion had serious consequences. Some part-timers were unable to get medical treatment for chronic health problems while others had to depend on welfare programs for assistance. In justifying part-timer exclusion from the provisions of the law, the University Administration and the FSU Executive Committee were in initial agreement. In their view, part-timers had been hired to perform only one of the three functions of full-time faculty members, that is, to teach, but not to engage in research or service. Yet nearly all part-timers kept current in their fields, while a good number published articles and books or presented at conferences. All met with students outside of class during regular office hours as well as on an informal basis, and several worked on committees. In a survey conducted by the Part-Time Faculty Committee, the vast majority of respondents indicated that they spent more than twenty hours per week on their UMB jobs. Still, there was opposition on the FSU Executive Committee to recognizing that part-timers were already working half-time or better. Wouldn’t such recognition threaten the traditional claims of full-timers to be engaged in additional and more prestigious sorts of work? In order to circumvent opposition, the Part-Time Faculty Committee appealed directly to the full-time faculty with a petition asserting that part-timers deserved benefits because of the amount of work they performed. The overwhelming number of full-timers asked to sign the petition did so, but without awareness of the reservations of influential members of the FSU Executive Committee. In the one department where an FSU officer made his objections known, not a single full-timer signed. Nonetheless, the petition had a crucial political effect. Published in the campus newspaper with 170 signatures, it demonstrated the ability of the Part-Time Faculty Committee to mobilize the union’s own full-timer base. As a result, the Executive Committee was pressured to endorse the part-timers’ negotiating agenda.
It took months to solidify union support through meetings, flyers, posters, buttons, a student petition that garnered 2000 signatures, and a picket by more than 200 part-timers and supporters. The result, however, was extraordinary. Negotiations concluded in June `98 with reclassification of union part-timers teaching two courses per semester as salaried, half-time employees with full medical, dental, and retirement benefits, a pro-rated floor of $4,000 per course, a sixteen percent salary increase over the three-year life of the contract, and an additional cumulative $200 wage increase every semester.
In the wake of this victory, the FSU worked to bring the part-time faculty closer to the fully enfranchised center of the union. The Executive Committee arranged for a course reduction for first one and then two of the members of the Part-Time Faculty Committee to facilitate continued organizing, supported an initiative to promote part-timers to full-time term contracts, and, after some tension, endorsed a successful attempt by part-timers in 2000 - 2001 to unionize UMB’s Continuing Education Division as an autonomous chapter of the FSU. The union has also changed its culture more subtly, according part-timer issues an important place at Executive Committee meetings, in the FSU’s membership bulletin, and in its communications with outside groups. Finally, at the end of 2001, the Executive Committee selected a part-timer to serve as the union’s vice-president when the seat was vacated in mid-term.
The contract victory at UMass Boston inspired the current attempt to organize adjunct faculty on a city-wide basis. In April 1999, UMB activists hosted the Third Annual Congress of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL), a loose national network of contingent faculty activists with centers of strength in New York City, Chicago, and the San Franciso Bay Area. One of the Congress workshops, a meeting on regional organizing, founded the Boston Project, subsequently chartered as a chapter of COCAL.
Fifty-five of the fifty-eight institutions of higher learning in the Greater Boston Area are private, and so involve obstacles to organizing that the UMass Boston activists never had to face. When Boston COCAL was formed in 1999, at all but two of the private institutions, part-time faculty members lack union representation. This was a legacy of the Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in Yeshiva University vs the National Labor Relations Board. Yeshiva University had appealed an earlier decision by the NLRB granting union representation to its full-time faculty. The University argued that its full-time faculty members were not covered by the National Labor Relations Act because they exercised managerial authority by helping determine curriculum, hiring and evaluating new faculty members, and implementing administrative decisions. In a five-to-four ruling, the Court agreed with the University’s position. The result of the Yeshiva Decision was the widespread decertification of faculty unions on private campuses throughout the United States. Yeshiva clearly does not apply to part-time faculty members. By no conceivable stretch of the imagination do they exercise managerial authority. However, by de-unionizing the vast majority of private campuses, Yeshiva has taken from part-timers the larger faculty unions in which they might organize caucuses, and so develop the collective bonds necessary to assert their interests.
In part, COCAL's Boston Organizing Project is an attempt to get beyond the quandary created by Yeshiva. Through city-wide meetings, pickets and other demonstrations, local organizing committees, and a regular newsletter, COCAL activists hoped to create the sense of community and solidarity that is an indispensable precondition for combating adjunct exploitation. In three city-wide meetings during the year following the creation of Boston COCAL, fifty activists from twenty campuses drafted a common program for adjuncts that managed to be both radical and commonsensical. At its core are demands for equal pay for equal work, full medical and pension benefits, job security and free speech rights, participation in governance, promotion to full-time positions, and narrowing of salary disparities within the entire higher education faculty. Activists made this program the theme of an ambitious public educational campaign, discussing it at campus meetings of adjunct faculty members, bringing it to students through dramatic pickets at Northeastern University, Emerson College, and Mass Bay Community College, and promoting it by means of radio and newspaper interviews.
In addition to this city-wide educational effort, activists established grass roots organizations at a number of institutions. Depending on local conditions, some function as informal advocacy groups, others as union organizing committees. As an example of the former, adjuncts at Suffolk University worked successfully with their Faculty Senate to pressure administrators into granting an 8% increase in part-timers base pay. As a dramatic and path-breaking example of the latter, Boston COCAL helped launch a campaign to unionize the part-time faculty at Emerson college, the first successful union drive at a private campus in Massachusetts since the 1980 Yeshiva Decision.
Why Emerson out of the 54 private sector institutions in Boston whose adjuncts were not unionized? From its beginning, Boston COCAL included activists from a variety of unions and professional organizations, but it had an especially close relationship with the American Association of University Professors. At that time all three national faculty labor federations - the AAUP, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers - had given verbal recognition to the importance of the adjunct faculty's explosive growth, but the AAUP was the only one to go beyond lip service by hiring a national field representative to focus on the issue. Part of that focus consisted in strategic and modest financial support to COCAL's Boston Project. In Spring 2000, the AAUP, with input from COCAL activists and a few faculty members at Emerson, decided that there were several compelling reasons for targeting that institution in a first effort at unionizing part-time faculty in Boston's private sector. First of all, the full-time faculty at Emerson was already represented by an AAUP-affiliated union which had existed prior to the Yeshiva Decision, and which the college administration had agreed to grandparent in. Secondly, the college was heavily dependent on part-timers who comprised more than two-thirds of its total faculty. Finally, there was a strong base of student support. Because so many of their favorite teachers were part-timers, students were aware that their teachers 'contingency curtailed their availability, and so had a direct impact on the everyday learning environment. For this reason, they had a direct stake in supporting improved pay and working conditions for their part-time faculty.
The general difficulties involved in organizing part-time faculty - the fact they are scattered, they are only at the workplace a limited number of hours per week, they don’t know each other, and, so on - are exacerbated by the incredibly precarious situation of part-timers at non-unionized private colleges. Since they are hired on a per course, semester-by-semester basis, lacking union protection, they can fail to be rehired them at any time without explanation. Because of their vulnerability, the first priority in beginning a union drive at Emerson was to protect the anonymity of part-time faculty activists. In its early stages, the drive was largely covert: the AAUP hired a co-chair of Boston COCAL, who did not teach at Emerson, to serve as organizer of the drive; Emerson part-timers were asked only to talk quietly to their colleagues about unionization but not to expose themselves publicly; all contact with part-time faculty members occurred off-campus; and when flyers needed to be distributed or other visible work needed to be done on campus, members of COCAL not teaching at Emerson performed the required tasks.
In August of 2000, the drive began in earnest. The AAUP's paid organizer pulled together a committee of ten Emerson part-timers who made strategic decisions about the direction of the drive and began talking to their colleagues about the benefits of unionization. In October, the committee launched a card signing campaign to call for a union election. The biggest initial difficulty was figuring out who actually taught part-time at Emerson. Activists were able to acquire part-time faculty mailing lists from many of the divisions of Emerson, but since the lists had been compiled the previous spring, they were only about 75% accurate. That is to say, the attrition rate between spring and fall had been about 25% of the part-time faculty, or approximately 50 of the almost 200 people listed as teaching in the spring. In addition, home addresses were not available for many of the part-timers, which also made it difficult to obtain correct phone numbers for many of them. Eventually, members of the organizing committee were able to obtain fall faculty lists, but the lists were incomplete. The organizing committee was unable to obtain the missing addresses until the National Labor Relations Board hearing at the end of February. At that point, the Emerson administration was required by law to provide an “Excelsior List” of the names and addresses of all those it considered eligible for bargaining unit membership within a week, but that left less than a month before the election to contact all those not yet reached.
Despite these logistical difficulties, signed cards began to trickle in, and, as more and more part-timers at Emerson began speaking to their colleagues, more cards were returned. By January, the organizing committee needed only a few more cards to exceed the 30% of potential bargaining unit members necessary to file for an election, and through intensified face-to-face contact, especially on the part of the paid organizer, slightly more than the requisite number of cards were signed by the end of the month. The cards were duly filed with the National Labor Relations Board; negotiations proceeded with the Emerson administration as to how the bargaining unit should be constituted; and an NLRB hearing was held the end of February, though virtually all differences between the administration and the organizers had been worked out before the hearing was actually held.
One of the key reasons there was not much to argue about at the NLRB hearing was that the Emerson Administration had come up with an extremely lenient definition of who would be eligible to vote in the union election. They proposed that anyone in either the day school or the Continuing Education Division who had taught a three-credit course in the Fall 2000 and/or Spring 2001 semester be eligible to vote. The initial card signing drive had involved only the day school. Thus the administration in effect gave the potential union an additional fifty members (Continuing Education faculty) which increased the size of bargaining unit by 25%. The downside was that though some of those who taught in Continuing Ed also taught in the day school, and thus knew about the union drive, most had no idea anything was brewing. The administration seemed to have been counting on the notion that a majority of CE faculty would not support a union drive because they were “true” adjuncts—hired to fill a particular teaching niche in their specialty, but gainfully employed full-time elsewhere—and therefore not in particular need of a higher salary or benefits. But this turned out to be a miscalculation on the administration’s part, as many CE faculty were in fact graduate students at other colleges or in the day school at Emerson and quite interested in unionization. Although those with full-time jobs did not necessarily support the union drive, many saw no reason to vote against the union and deprive their colleagues of a living wage and benefits.
The NLRB hearing in February determined that the vote would be by secret ballot, mailed on March 30, returned to the NLRB by April 13, and counted on April 16. Again, it was unusual that the administration had argue for that method of election. Typically it is the workers who prefer a secret mail ballot to protect their privacy, while management prefers on-site elections which can be monitored, where it is able to exercise subtle intimidation of voters. However the administration seems to have felt that people would be more comfortable voting “no” in the privacy of their own homes, a huge miscalculation. Though the administration waged an intensive paper campaign against the union, its arguments were so specious and condescending that they alienated many more fence-sitters than they convinced. Following an equally intense telephone effort on the part of Emerson part-timers, the AAUP, and some COCAL activists in support of unionization, the result was a landslide: 117 to 37 in favor of unionizing.
The Emerson drive constituted a paradox from the standpoint of conventional organizing strategy. Unions normally will not file for an election until 70% or 80% of potential bargaining unit members have signed cards. The reason for this is the expectation that a number of union voters will change their minds after management launches its anti-union election campaign. However, the Emerson organizing committee filed with around 40%, and yet won the election by a 3 to 1 margin. This points to the necessity to rethink strategy when organizing contingent workers. The great problem the Emerson activists faced was getting cards signed. They had to track down their colleagues, most of whom they had never met because, as contingent workers, they lacked the workplace bonds normally enjoyed by conventional workers. Once the 30% hurdle had been exceeded by only a 10% margin,, the organizing committee did not hesitate to file for an election because it correctly expected even the adjuncts it had failed to reach to vote against their undeniable exploitation.
Following the union victory, the Emerson administration contested the election results by arguing to the regional NLRB that the AAUP could not legitimately represent both part- and full-time faculty members at the same college as that would represent a conflict of interest, since full-timers exercise supervisory power over part-timers. The AAUP argued that it did not represent either group of faculty; rather, each of its affiliates represented itself. The regional board found in favor of the AAUP and the part-timer union. The administration then took their case to the national NLRB which also found against them. After a five-month silence on the part of the administration during which it was considering further legal action, the administration decided to abide by the election results. After meeting with their AAUP counterparts, Emerson’s lawyers advised the president of the College to negotiate, and on November 1, 2001 the president sent a letter stating the administration's intention to “bargain in good faith.” Negotiations began on February 4, 2002. At the time of this writing, they are still in progress.
The victory at Emerson is a crucial one for the future of part-time faculty unionizing efforts in the private sector both in the Boston area and beyond. It demonstrates the ability of adjunct faculty members to unionize successfully provided they are willing to exercise their imagination as well as their courage.
Boston COCAL has acquired a reputation, not only for innovative organizing tactics, but also for a desire to cross sectoral lines in making alliances with other campus workers. Along with the AAUP, Jobs With Justice, and Campaign on Contingent Work, COCAL has initiated an organizing project that brings campus unions representing janitors, clerical workers, technical employees, food service workers, and faculty together with students and other activists in a broad-based solidarity network. In addition to sponsoring two conferences on the academic labor movement, those participating in the network have adopted a Campus Workers’ Bill of Rights that demands decent working conditions, a living wage, and benefits, but also universalizes privileges enjoyed historically by only tenured faculty. The document, which is meant to guide negotiations as well as more informal grassroots campaigns, affirms the right of all workers to participate democratically in shaping the work process as well as to be protected from dismissal without just cause or due process. In this way, tenure and governance rights would be extended, not only to part-time faculty, but to everyone who works in academia, certainly an extension of labor demands beyond bread and butter needs.
Two months after the Emerson vote, COCAL activists succeeded in unionizing UMass Boston's Continuing Education Division as an autonomous chapter of the existing Faculty Staff Union, a chapter controlled by the adjunct faculty members who constitute the overwhelming majority of the CE bargaining unit. The activists used the UMass Boston drive as a springboard for creating an adjunct faculty caucus within the FSU's statewide parent union, the powerful Massachusetts Teachers Association, itself an affiliate of the NEA. The initial caucus meeting, which took place at the MTA's annual Delegate Assembly, drew roughly 40 participants from ten or so campuses who adopted a reform agenda intended to pressure the MTA's Higher Education Division into using its considerable resources on behalf of adjunct faculty interests. The central plank in that agenda was a demand that the MTA's largest higher ed affiliate, the 15-campus Massachusetts Community Council (MCCC), give each of its adjunct faculty members a full vote in the election of union officers. Of the 5700 faculty members who teach in the Massachusetts community college system, 1700 are full-timers and 4000 part-timers. Though part-timers constitute the vast majority of the MCCC's membership, they are kept a minority voting block within the union through bylaws that give each part-timer 1/4 of the vote of a full-time faculty member. Such a fractional vote is unjustified even on the spurious grounds of proportionality since a good number of community college "part-timers" actually carry heavier course loads than full-timers by teaching on multiple community college campuses. At the MTA's Delegate Assembly, the Adjunct Faculty Caucus planned a petition drive to be conducted among union members on the community college campuses, and designed to pressure the MCCC to amend its bylaws by giving all of its members an equal vote. Not only would this rectify an evident injustice, but it would also make the community college part-time faculty a formidable force in the MTA's biggest higher ed union, thereby increasing their weight in the parent organization as well.
It is not surprising that the petition drive, which is currently underway, has elicited a hostile reaction from the MTA's higher ed staff as well as from much of the MCCC's elected leadership. The drive threatens to overturn the status quo within the MTA and its largest higher ed affiliate by shifting a significant amount of power to the part-time faculty. It is also not surprising that the MTA and MCCC elites regard Boston COCAL as an intruder, even though its original core activists are members of an MTA affiliated union (the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston). In a revealing slip of the tongue, MCCC leaders have labeled the COCAL members within the MTA Adjunct Faculty Caucus "carpetbaggers," since many of them do not teach in the community college system. Carpetbaggers," of course, was the name given by southern racists to northerners who came south in the aftermath of the Civil War to help dismantle the slave system.
Boston COCAL's battle is not only with college and university administrators and the private economic interests they serve, but also with the undemocratic union structures that replicate the second-class status that adjuncts suffer in the workplace. Only a revitalized academic labor movement would be capable of rolling back corporate control of every nook and cranny of the educational process. But innovative organizing tactics are not sufficient to create such a movement. Faculty unions must develop a culture that welcomes the participation of their most exploited members, especially since they and their non-unionized counterparts constitute the majority of those teaching on America’s college and university campuses. If COCAL’s Boston Project is successful, its most important contribution will lie, not in unionizing this or that institution, but in helping to create a new social movement in the academy, a radically democratic labor movement.
Women's Liberation Movement
The phrase women's liberation was first published in Simone de Beauvoir's influential 1949 essay, The Second Sex, but the roots of the women's liberation movement reach back much further. Ever since men have claimed dominance over women in patriarchal societies, there have been strong women who have fought for dignity and human rights. At various times in history, these women have banded together to form feminist social movements, such as those that arose at the end of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and during the 1920s and 1940s.
These movements were often followed by backlash periods of increased suppression of women. Such a period of suppression occurred during the 1950s, which in turn inspired a new period of female rebellion that began in the 1960s. This latter rebellion constitutes the largest and most widely publicized social movement of women in history. It affected women of all races and classes around the world
Much of the civil unrest of the 1960s stemmed from social changes that occurred during the previous decades. Because every hand was needed for the war effort, during World War II (1939-1945) women and people of color were offered a wider range of opportunities and independence than previously. Once the war ended, however, those in power attempted to restore society to its original shape, with white men on top, Blacks on the bottom, and women in the kitchen.
The repression of the 1950s acted like a pressure cooker on rage and frustration. Unwilling to return submissively to second-class status, African Americans began to demand equal rights. The civil rights movement they started became an inspiration for other movements.
The pressure cooker of the 1950s was especially stifling for women. During the war, with many men in military service, women had been actively sought for employment at more interesting jobs for higher wages than they had ever known before. Once the war ended, they were unceremoniously fired and their jobs given to men returning from the war.
Societal pressure urged women to become dependent and "feminine," and to stay home to take care of husband and family. Many women worked for the same reasons they had always worked, to support themselves and their families. But society's image of the 1950s woman was the aproned housewife. Women who did have jobs outside the home were usually relegated to dead-end "pink collar" jobs and paid far less than men.
In addition, the 1950s brought the creation of the housing development and the nuclear family. Millions of houses were built in suburbs, and middle class families moved in. Rather than the sprawling extended families that had been common on farms and in urban tenements, the "typical" suburban family included husband, wife, and a couple of children.
Within suburban developments, families were often isolated, each in its own house surrounded by its own yard. Most isolated of all were the women. While husbands left for work and children for school, wives stayed home, planning and preparing meals and doing housework. Doctors prescribed tranquilizers, barbiturates, and even lobotomies to help women accept their stifling roles serenely.
Improved Conditions for Change
In the early 1960s, the invention and distribution of the first reliable oral contraceptive, the birth control pill, opened a door in many women's trapped lives by giving them the power to plan or avoid pregnancies. In addition, the civil rights movement forced the passage of new laws. In particular, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The addition of sex to the Civil Rights Act was almost an afterthought, but it proved to have significant consequences.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did little at first to enforce the part of Title VII that applied to women, however. But in 1966, at the Third Annual Conference on the Status of Women in Washington, D. C., a group of 28 women formed an organization to fight for women's rights. They called it the National Organization for Women (NOW). By the end of the year, NOW had 300 members; by the end of the century it would have half a million.
The Scope of the Movement
Through mainstream organizations such as NOW, women began to demand changes in discriminatory laws, but women's liberation encompassed far more than the quest for legal rights. Women began to seek freedom, respect, and the right to an individual identity and a fulfilled life. No longer satisfied to define themselves in terms of husbands and families, these women performed the most radical act of all: they began to talk to each other.
Using a technique called "consciousness raising," women began to meet and talk about their lives. In these "cr" groups, women found that problems they had thought were individual were, in fact, shared by many other women. They also began to think that these personal problems could be solved only by changing society. This idea gave rise to one of the most important slogans of the 1960s women's liberation movement, "The personal is political."
While men, from government officials to radical leftists, had trivialized women's issues, by talking together women began to construct a political analysis of a sexist society that encompassed the government, the educational system, the media, religion, the family, and even the language. Rape, abortion rights, and day care became issues just as important as equal pay for equal work.
The new feminists rejected the traditional role that had been imposed upon women of the 1950s. In one of the most famous actions of the women's liberation movement, in 1968, a hundred women gathered to protest the shallow values of the Miss America pageant. Into a trashcan, they threw symbols of the sexual objectification of women such as bras, girdles, and make-up. Though nothing was burned, the media seized on the event, and feminists were "bra-burners" ever after.
By the late 1960s, the women's liberation movement had expanded with energy and excitement. Women started women's centers, women's health clinics, rape crisis centers, and bookstores. They formed political groups that published feminist political writings, such as Redstockings' "Bitch Manifesto." Bread and Roses in Boston took over a building on the Harvard campus where they set up a day care center and taught classes for ten days before being forced out. They used money that they collected from supporters to open one of the longest running women's centers in the United States. In 1969, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York became the first college to offer accredited Women's Studies courses.
Diversity in the Movement
Although many defined the movement as white and middle class, working class women and women of color were some of the most important founders of women's liberation. Strong Black feminists such as Cellestine Ware, Florynce Kennedy, and Barbara Omolada were pivotal in the formation of feminist theory.
African American women's groups such as Mothers Alone Working, formed in 1965, and the Mount Vernon/New Rochelle Group, formed by Pat Robinson in 1960, may not have called themselves feminist, but they were models of women's liberation. Most radical feminist groups came to place on their agendas the struggle against racism and classism alongside the struggle against sexism, seeing them inextricably related.
Lesbians in the Movement
Each of these early feminist groups had lesbian members and lesbians among the leadership. After the Stonewall rebellion in the summer of 1969, most of these lesbians became unwilling to remain closeted. However, many straight feminists were
homophobic. They were reluctant to admit or accept the presence of out lesbians within the women's liberation movement.
Betty Friedan, the first president of NOW and author of the pivotal 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, coined the phrase "lavender menace" to describe what she saw as the damaging effect of lesbians within the movement. Unable to resist the challenge, many radical lesbians, who were already working hard to fight sexism, had lavender t-shirts emblazoned with the words "lavender menace." They wore them en masse to the Second Congress of United Women in New York City in 1970 to demonstrate that lesbians were already a major part of the women's liberation movement.
Although homophobia continued to exist within the movement, as elsewhere, in 1971 NOW made support for lesbian and gay rights part of its policy, leading the way for other liberal feminist groups to do the same.
Success and Backlash
The women's liberation movement flourished into the late 1970s, gaining energy as it spread. All over the country, women published newspapers, such as Washington, D. C.'s off our backs and Denver's Big Mama Rag. Lesbian feminists published literary journals, such as Moonstorm in St. Louis and Amazon Quarterly in Berkeley. Because male-dominated publishing houses could not be counted on to publish women's work, feminists started their own publishing houses, including Spinsters, Ink, Kitchen Table Press, and the Feminist Press.
Women gathered in women's restaurants, coffeehouses, and bars. They listened to women's music, like that of Alix Dobkin and Meg Christian, and watched women's theater groups, such as At the Foot of the Mountain in Minneapolis. Feminists created a women's culture, which was closely intermingled with lesbian culture.
As frequently happens, however, there was a conservative backlash to the explosion of activity and energy of the women's movement. Anti-feminists had always trivialized the movement, calling feminists humorless and strident, but by the 1980s, conservatives began to treat women's liberation as a fait accompli. Women had once been discriminated against, laws had been changed, and now all was well, they said. Young women became reluctant to call themselves feminists and some began to call themselves "post feminist."
However, the women's liberation movement lives on, both in the work of older feminists who never stopped working to address the issues of sexism, and in the younger women who continue to be inspired by the courage and dedication of generations of women who fought for liberation, lesbians prominent among them.