Category: Student Activism

Building Community and Joy in the Struggle (Holiday Appeal); Dec 09, 2011

By admin, December 13, 2011 12:38 pm

From 1791 to 1804, the African slaves of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) revolted against the mightiest imperial powers of the time, declaring their independence as the first western black republic. We owe them a great deal of gratitude for this act of rebellion and showing us that there is no power to great to truly snuff out our dignity and spirit of humanity. Sadly, those old imperial powers, and those new, have rarely shown respect for Haiti’s sovereignty. “There’s gold in them thar hills”, to put it glibly. Our colonial past is one of taking from others what is not ours to take. This has proven to be a tough habit to squelch.

Haiti need to realize their ancestors dream of a free and independent nation. This can only happen if we release the reigns of control and put them in the drivers seat. In a country such as Haiti, where there are over 10,000 foreign charities and NGO’s operating withing it’s boarders, seeing local Haitian grassroots organizations taking action to empower their fellow citizens is special and should be nurtured.

SOPUDEP and other Haitian grassroots organizations are a prime example of the capability for Haitian’s to make their own way; to educate, to work, to deliver justice, to preserve their proud culture, and to heal. It is up to us however, to show our support and solidarity, and at this moment in time, to provide the means to make their work more effective. There is an end goal with supporting Haitian grassroots social initiatives; not just a never ending money pit of “charity”. The majority of Haitian’s will be the first to say that they don’t want handouts, but a chance to create a nation and a history that is theirs and theirs alone.

And for this Haitian social organization, SOPUDEP’s funding needs are great and varied. This includes the building of a new school, putting more and more women into their own business through their micro-credit program, a food program that feeds over 700 people five days a week (currently funded by Feed Them With Music), and seeing that children to poor to attend Haiti’s traditional tuition based schools can acquire a quality education; including those children who’s home is on the street. Providing free and accessible education has been SOPUDEP’s main priority since the opening of their first K-12 school in 2002.

The importance of free education to a child in Haiti is sometimes hard for us to understand, as for most of us, free education is the norm. SOPUDEP is able to do away with mandatory tuitions for its students by putting its international support toward paying it’s dedicated all Haitian teaching staff.

The Sawatzky Family Foundation’s funding efforts are focused on ensuring that SOPUDEP can continue to educate as many children as they can take in free of charge by paying SOPUDEP’s 48 staff.  In 2010, enrollment was 560 students and the 2011 school year saw it jump up close to 640 students, with hundreds of other children in the community waiting for a spot.

While SOPUDEP’s K-12 school is a main priority for the Sawatzky Family Foundation, funding  now includes the staff salaries for two other grassroots community schools; MOJUB and Les Petits Amis De SOPUDEP. A new program for the 2011 year is providing post secondary scholarship funds for SOPUDEP’s top students. This year, two students have been provided the necessary tuition to attend college. Marie is studying nursing and Sauvlyne, education science.

The Sawatzky Family Foundation also provides funds for basic school supplies and textbooks, SOPUDEP’s efforts in earthquake relief and the work they do in camps, their micro-credit program, their collaborative work they do with other grassroots organizations and the many other costs associated for this Haitian grassroots social organization to work for the betterment of their fellow citizens.

We have made it to the Christmas break, but the rest of the year still  lies ahead. Your donations are essential to sustaining and improving SOPUDEP’s education and economic programs. Please join us in supporting this Haitian organizations wonderful work!

Of course, we express our deepest gratitude to those that have already shown us that they believe in SOPUDEP’s vision for a better Haiti. However, SOPUDEP is but one group in this fight, and we recognize those other Haitian and Non-Haitian organizations that are on the same path of resistance against those powers that would rather see Haiti benefit a privileged few. We should find joy in helping Haitian’s in their struggle for a free and just society because we recognize that their humanity is also our own.

Thank-you and Happy Holidays

Ryan Sawatzky
The Sawatzky Family Foundation

No quick fix for universities

By admin, November 15, 2011 2:22 pm
Published On Mon Nov 14 2011
One effect of the decline in per  student funding in Ontario has been a soaring  student-to-faculty ratio.  (Oct. 24, 2007) One effect of the decline in per student funding in Ontario has been a soaring student-to-faculty ratio. (Oct. 24, 2007)

Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star

Constance Adamson

Among Ontario’s thousands of professors and academic librarians, there are scholars who specialize in irony.

We are grateful for their expertise; at times like these, their guidance is sorely needed. For it is certainly a sublime irony that, after decades of sounding the alarm bell over declining quality at our universities, university faculty are now being singled out as the cause of this decline.

A small coterie of columnists and pundits are convinced that professors are to blame for a disappointing undergraduate experience. They claim we spend too little time teaching. We focus too much on research, they say. As a result, class sizes are getting bigger, universities are turning to part-time faculty to teach, and students can’t engage with their instructors.

The critics are right about the consequences, but wrong about the cause. We need to get serious about the reasons why quality is threatened at our universities. Like most things, it comes down to money. The amount of per-student funding provided to universities by the government of Ontario has declined by 25 per cent since 1990, adjusted for inflation. Since 2001, enrolment has increased by 60 per cent. Think about what that means: universities are trying to accommodate significantly more students while receiving significantly less funding for each of those students. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize this is a bad equation for the quality of higher education in Ontario.

The decline in per-student funding has had a variety of negative effects. Universities have simply been unable to hire enough full-time professors to meet the rise in student demand. Our student-to-faculty ratio is now 27-to-1, the worst in Canada. In 1990, it was 18-to-1. So let’s be clear: the problem is not that faculty are not teaching enough. It’s that they cannot possibly teach enough to compensate for the acute shortage of faculty in the university system. We simply need more professors.

True, research does take up a lot of time for most full-time faculty in the university system. But this is a matter of survival. Ontario’s underfunded universities have become exceptionally good at chasing dollars. It just so happens that a lot of new dollars — particularly those from the federal government — are for research. The government of Ontario has also emphasized research and commercialization through their funding policies. No surprise then that the entire reward and career advancement structure at our universities has become research focused. Many professors would like to spend more time teaching, but find the current system filled with too many disincentives.

To address this problem, critics offer the bromide of “teaching-only” professors or “teaching only” institutions. This, they claim, will allow us to teach more students without making additional public investments. Giving faculty the option to focus on teaching is not necessarily a bad idea. But let’s be clear: teaching-focused professors should not be seen as a way to deliver university education on the cheap. To be successful, our universities must always be adequately funded. And we have to recognize that scholarship is an important part of being a professor, and an important part of a university education.

Scholarship — which I define as the creation of new knowledge, the critical analysis of existing knowledge, and the communication of these insights — is central to the university. The teaching and scholarship equation is not zero-sum. Teaching is scholarship, and the two are inextricably linked. The critics will point to research that says being a good researcher does not make you a good teacher. This misses the point. You simply cannot have university-level teaching without the kind of intellectual inquiry that scholars are trained to do. If you remove scholarship from the professoriate or from our universities, you are no longer giving students the education they expect.

The critics of Ontario’s professors and academic librarians need to get real about what ails our university system. Right now, they’re only advocating for a system that offers more teaching. Meanwhile, faculty are talking about what they have always been talking about: a system that does more and better teaching. Surely our students deserve nothing less.

Constance Adamson is president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

Henry Giroux on Democracy Unsettled: From Critical Pedagogy to the War on Youth

By admin, August 29, 2011 7:01 pm
Monday 29 August 2011
by: Michael A. Peters, Truthout | Interview

Henry Giroux. (Photo courtesy of Henry Giroux)

Learn more about Disney’s creeping cultural hegemony – read “The Mouse That Roared,” Truthout’s Progressive Pick of the Week.

Henry Giroux is one of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States and a close friend of the late Paulo Freire. He and Freire coedited a very influential series on education and cultural politics for Bergin and Garvey. Giroux has made groundbreaking contributions to numerous fields, including education, critical theory, youth studies, cultural studies, media studies, higher education and public pedagogy. A leading cultural critic in the United States and Canada, he has held positions at Boston University, Miami University of Ohio, and Penn State, and currently occupies the Global TV Network Chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. He is a public intellectual and has written over 50 books, while also collaborating with eminent scholars such as David Purple, Stanley Aronowitz and Peter McLaren. His first book was Ideology, Culture and the Process of Schooling (1981), and he subsequently authored such classics as Theory and Resistance in Education (2001, 2nd ed); Border Crossing: Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education (2005, 2nd ed.); Disturbing Pleasures: Learning Popular Culture (1994); and The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence, co-authored with Grace Pollock (2010; rev. ed.).

Youth, the state of America and neoliberalism are constant themes in his work. He has written on film and the new media in Breaking In to the Movies: Film and the Culture of Politics (2002) and Beyond the Spectacle of Terrorism: Global Uncertainty and the Challenge of the New Media (2006). He has also written on democracy and the commercialization of public schools and higher education in Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life (2005; 2nd ed); The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear (2004); and Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era, with Susan Searls Giroux (2008). His most recent books continue to elucidate the connections between a formative culture based in critical education and the conditions required for substantive democracy, including  Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Beyond the Politics of Greed (2008), Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? (2009); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (2010); On Critical Pedagogy (2011); and Education and the Crisis of Public Values (2011). His work has been anthologized in The Giroux Reader (2006); American on the Edge: Henry Giroux on Politics, Culture, and Education (2006); and Reading and Teaching Henry Giroux (2006). Many of his articles and books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese and a number of other languages.

He has won many awards, given many interviews and his work has been warmly received by the academic community. He is without doubt one of the foremost critical educators of his time.

Henry Giroux’s personal web site.

Interview on YouTube.

Entry on critical pedagogy on the web.

Michael Peters: Henry it is a great pleasure to do this interview with you, as a colleague and friend I have much admired over the years and someone who helped me enormously to develop my work and professional self when I was a young academic. As a young New Zealand academic, I remember reading your work in the 1980s. I was a graduate fresh from a philosophy department, hungry for material that took a critical look at the world.  I discovered your early work on postmodern criticism and used the book you wrote with Stanley Aronowitz, Education Under Siege, as a text in one of the classes I was teaching. You expressed eloquently many ideas that I was currently grappling with and led the way I suspect for a generation when you developed as a public intellectual and cultural critic concerned for the fate of young people. In particular, you generously offered, mentored and supported me in publishing my first book, Education and the Postmodern Condition (foreword by Lyotard) in your Bergin and Garvey series co-edited with Paulo Freire. The experience really kick-started my academic career and, through your auspices, I went on to publish some six books in your series. This was a generous and collegial act for which I am very grateful. I know there must be many other scholars whom you mentored and helped along the way. And this speaks to your role as a public intellectual located increasingly in a networked environment that transforms the concept of intellectual collaboration and enhances the notions of collegiality and the public space of knowledge development.

Let me start this interview by asking you to reflect on your childhood, upbringing and undergraduate experience. What was it in your background that predisposed you to issues of social justice? Tell us when and under what circumstances you felt outraged at social injustice and became determined to do something about it.

Henry Giroux: I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the 1950s and ’60s that was marked by an ongoing juxtaposition of violence, loyalty and solidarity. On the one hand, it was a neighborhood where people defined themselves in terms of specific communities, places and spaces. The notion of the detached individual going it alone and defining his or her existence in mostly individualistic and competitive terms was an anomaly in such a neighborhood. People helped each other in times of need, socialized together and looked out for each other. At the same time, there was a lot of violence in the neighborhood, often inflicted by the police and other repressive institutions such as the schools. One could not survive in that neighborhood without friends, without recognizing that the protections that offered one a sense of agency and freedom came from the group, not the isolated uncommitted individual so celebrated today. Social justice for me was forged in the bonds of solidarity, and the need to recognize both some notion of the common good and the importance of the social.

As a working-class male in a neighborhood where masculinity was a shifting marker of courage, brutality and identity, the body became the most resourceful tool I had. It was the ultimate source of agency, required in order to survive, ensure respect and provide a framing mechanism to mediate between oneself and the larger world. Violence in that neighborhood was both personal and institutional. People were poor, many unemployed and their lives were often lost before they had any chance of maturing. Young people existed in a kind of dead time, waiting to graduate from high school and hoping to get a job, perhaps as a priest, firefighter, or police officer and eventually go on disability. Gender was a dividing line and the violence that permeated our relations with women was rarely ever physical as much as it was ideological and political. Women just didn’t matter much outside of very traditional roles. I saw a lot of hardship and love in that neighborhood, and it affected me deeply. On a personal level, my family was very poor, and my father struggled tirelessly to feed us and make sure we had the basic necessities, though he was not always successful. We usually ran out of food by Thursday, one day before my dad got paid. But at least we were not homeless, and we managed to survive less as victims than as a family fighting against larger systemic forces that we were not in a position to control. Such hardship created enormous problems, but they also strengthened our resolve to struggle, embrace the warmth of others, and develop a sense of both humility and outrage in the face of such unnecessary and systemically determined deprivations. But poverty does not just build character, it also produces tensions, injustices, and violence. Surviving was not a made for Reality TV, it was an effort that put one on guard constantly; it turned time into a deprivation rather than a luxury; and it redefined the parameters of agency, learning, and survival.   Justice came quickly in that neighborhood, and it was not always on the side of the angels. Much of my youth until I went to high school was based on getting by, surviving in a world in which my biggest strength was talking fast rather than proving myself as a neighborhood fighter. At six feet and 145 lbs, that wasn’t a viable option.

What I lacked at that time was a language to mediate the inequalities, suffering and modes of solidarity I saw all around me. I got a glimpse of the need for such a discourse when I went to high school, which ironically was named Hope High School. At the time, Hope High School was segregated along class and racial lines. Poor white and black kids were in what was labeled as the “junk” courses, played sports and were seen for the most part as both deficit-ridden and delinquent. Most of us entered the school through the back entrance; wealthy white kids came through the front door. It was hard for me to miss the class and racial dimensions of all of this, especially as I was a basketball player and hung out with many of the black kids on my team. Visiting their neighborhood and playing in gyms on their turf was relatively easy, but they could not come into my neighborhood without suffering the indignities of racial slurs or much worse.

My sense of social justice began at that moment when the lived experience of solidarity and loyalty rubbed up against my own unquestioned racism and sexism, which had a long history in the daily encounters of my youth. Sometimes the contradictions that characterize the “common sense” of racism and sexism were challenged and became unraveled. Treating people as objects or understanding them through established stereotypes was being constantly tested as I moved through high school, and met black men and women who refused those stereotypes and had the kindness and intelligence to open my eyes through both their own lived experiences and their access to a critical language that I lacked.

Everything changed when I went to college, at least on my second attempt. The first time I left for college, I attended a junior college on a basketball scholarship but I was not ready for the cultural shift. I felt terribly insecure in that space, did not know how to navigate the cultural capital of middle-class kids and within a short time dropped out. After working for two years in odd jobs, I got another basketball scholarship to a small school in Maine. This all took place in the sixties—a time in which language, social relations and culture itself were changing at an accelerated rate. It was hard to miss the changes, ignore the civil rights struggles and not feel the collective hope that was driving student protests against the Vietnam War and middle-class mores. I got caught up in it very quickly. Knowledge took on a new register for me, just as the changing cultural mores deeply affected my sense of both the present and the future. As a result, knowledge was not just powerful, but sexy; language became my weapon of choice. Social justice as a means to live in a better world was the pre-eminent issue touching the lives of most of the people around me at the time. In college, I read avidly, moving between Marx and James Baldwin, immersing myself in Beat literature and trying to figure out how all of this made sense in terms of my own critical agency and what role I might play in shaping a better world.

Enrolling in a teacher education program was enormously important for me because I quickly realized the ethical and political dimensions of teaching and how important the issue of developing a critical consciousness and formative culture was to any viable democratic society. After graduating, I went to Appalachian State University for an M.A. in history and became a research assistant for a young assistant professor named Bob Sandels. Bob was an incredibly sharp leftist intellectual, and he did more than anyone at the time to connect the dots for me around a number of domestic and foreign policy issues in which social and economic justice were central. Once I graduated, I ended up teaching at the high school level for a several years and started reading Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn, both of whom eventually became close friends. From that point, I was on fire, and fortunately the fire never went out.

MP: So your working-class credentials have stayed with you. I’m interested in the tensions and contradictions of those born into the working class who become professors. May I hear your reflections on your own experience of education as self-transformation? I suspect the reason that Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn resonated with you was in part because of your background. Perhaps, you could also detail the nature of your relationships with these two thinkers.

HG: Being an academic from the working class is, of course, impacted by many registers, extending from ideology and cultural capital to politics. When I first started teaching at Boston University I did not have the knowledge, theoretical tools or the experience to move into a world largely dominated by middle- and ruling-class cultural capital. I was constantly confronted with faculty and students who assumed a god-given right of privilege and power, especially with regards to their academic credentials, middle-class language skills and lifelong experience in which people like myself were defined through our deficits, and largely as outsiders. Or, even worse, our very presence in the academy meant that we had to assimilate mentally to the middle class, or at least act as if we were. This often meant dressing a particular way, speaking in elaborate code and immersing oneself into the cultural circuits that middle-class people enjoyed.

All of these requisite changes were brought home to me during my second semester. My father had just died of a heart attack, and I had returned to the campus after attending his funeral. My Dean at the time was a guy named Bob Dentler, an Ivy-League educated scholar. I ran into him on the street shortly after my father’s death and he said to me, “I am sorry to hear about your father. It must have been difficult settling his estate?” Estate? My father left a hundred dollars in an envelope taped behind a mirror. That was his estate. I was immediately struck by how out of touch so many academics are with respect to those others who are not replicas of themselves. But as I began to understand how class was mapped onto academia, I was determined not to play the role of the subservient, aspiring-to-be-middle-class professional. I had no intention of letting myself morph into a golf-playing suburbanite living a politically irrelevant academic life. I viewed myself as being on the left, and my politics provided me with the tools to be not only self-reflective but also critical of the cultural capital that dominated the academy and passed itself off as entirely normalized. I had no interest in narrowly-defined, almost-choking specializations, stifling forms of professionalism, appeals to positivism or a politics that largely removed the university from the broader society.

I was also lucky in that before I became an academic, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and took advantage of the many free lectures Brown University offered. Watching the radical lawyer William Kunstler and scholar-activist Stanley Aronowitz in many ways saved my life. Here were two working-class intellectuals whose cultural capital was unmistakable. And they knew much more than most of the Ivy-League types who invited them. They were passionate, brilliant and spoke directly to public issues. Of course, I had a certain familiarity with the discourses of radical education, history and the civil rights movement having read Paulo Freire, Howard Zinn and James Baldwin, but it was the existential grounding of such work that quickened in me a willingness to fight for social justice that changed my life. I had been told all my life that the body should not connect with one’s head, that passion was a liability in making an argument or taking a position. These figures uprooted that myth very quickly, and I never let go of my working-class sensibility, even though I had to learn middle-class skills and knowledge in order to be a border crosser—to cross over into a middle-class institution such as academia without burning the bridges that enabled me to get there.

I also remember having a conversation with Joe Kincheloe who had a similar background. Joe was always such a pleasure to be around because we shared a cultural capital that defined us both within and outside of the academy as outsiders:  we were working-class and allegedly deficient, unsanctified by Ivy-League degrees and harboring a pedigree that connected the body and mind in a way that was often defined by the overly scrubbed and passionless as lacking civility. Of course, it was this shared space that allowed us not only to reject an easy and unproductive sense of resentment but also to interrogate the strengths of the resources hard-wired into our working-class backgrounds, along with what it meant to develop a more expansive and democratic politics. We got along with many different kinds of people, but we were especially sensitive to poor white and minority kids who shared our background and sometimes found a model in what we represented that changed their lives and prepared them for the long struggle ahead.

The starting point for my politics began with questioning what the middle- and ruling-class types alleged were working class “deficiencies.” It was necessary to flip the script on this type of stereotyping aimed at working-class kids. I began to see that my cultural capital could not be reduced to deficits or lack. In fact, I had learned some time back that while my background was problematic in terms of a range of issues extending from violence to sexism, it also provided me with a deep commitment to solidarity and a humility that recognized that people had different capacities and intellectual strengths.  My sense of what constitutes a crisis is generally different from my peers. I never bought the arrogance and I never bought the notion that if one were educated in an Ivy-League school that guaranteed superior knowledge and set of skills. In due time, the university seemed with some exceptions, of course, to produce academics who were uptight, conservative politically and personally arrogant. When accompanied by rigorous modes of reflection and discrimination, these alleged lacks became for me a formidable resource and source of strength for a more viable sense of critical agency and democratic political commitment. Neither Joe nor I ever faltered on this issue, and I think it served us and our working-class students well.

I have often laughed over the seeming incongruity of being a working-class intellectual, and how such a term often rubbed against the grain of many colleagues whose cultural capital seemed to mark them less by what they knew than by how much they had to unlearn. It was often difficult to listen to, experience, and tolerate the pompous self-flattery, the impenetrable discourses, the rigid specializations, the flat affect and the decidedly anti-political posturing that characterized so many in the academy. These were academics who were both clever and frivolous, anti-political and often indifferent to the growing plight of human suffering. Their academic work was often utterly privatized and unconnected to important social issues and always haughty—and they were quite unaware of the caricatures they had become. For others, intellectual courage had given way to the comfortable space of accommodation, and the notion of the public intellectual had been replaced by the “public relations intellectual,” the overheated talking head spewing out sound bites and providing “scholarshit” to various media outlets. I increasingly came to believe that I was in an educational setting where most academics had withdrawn into a world in which the measure of theoretical prowess was determined by the degree to which it escaped from any sense of responsibility, or for that matter any notion of consequential thinking.

Being in the academy for me was a form of soft exile. I have always felt as if I did not belong there, though I was far from alienated over the issue. I simply did my work, published, taught and used the academy as a site from which to do what I was thought was important educational and democratically inspired political work. I realized early that coming from a working-class background gave me at least a couple of advantages in academia. Because I did not have to unlearn all of the cultural junk that came with middle- and ruling-class ideologies, I had more time to be reflective about my own work, politics and the role I would play in furthering the discourses of critical agency, education, pedagogy, politics and hope.

I have felt isolated, but not alone, in the academy. Fortunately, a number of friends, including Joe Kincheloe, Richard Quantz, Paulo Freire, Stanley Aronowitz, Roger Simon, Peter McLaren and Donaldo Macedo, helped me to find solidarity in often dark places. These spaces are no longer as dark for me as they were when I was first teaching at Boston University, and I believe being an outsider in the academy offers both the possibility for developing an opening to consider critical insights forged within a working-class sensibility and the never ending challenge presented by class lines.

MP: Thanks, this is exactly the kind of reflection and autobiographical detail I was hoping would emerge. There is a need for those traditionally excluded from the academy to be able to identify with those who have negotiated the class experience so successfully as you have. I am also interested in your remarks about privilege and the way in which many professors simply take class position for granted. To what extent is the university a class-based institution? One other aspect that you allude to in your experience is the way university administrations are often out of sync with the professoriat. I know that you have been targeted because of your beliefs. I know also that you have theorized the institution and its development under the conditions of neoliberalism. Please share with us your thoughts on the neoliberal and neoconservative attacks of the left and the rise of the neoliberal university.

HG: Higher education in the United States has the appearance of a meritocracy, but that belies the ways in which wealth and power shape the hierarchical nature of the system. Working-class kids in the U.S., if they have aspirations of getting a college diploma, generally do not have the funds to support such an endeavor, particularly given the spiralling tuition rates of the last few decades. And when they do go on to some form of higher education, many of them wind up in community colleges or technical schools. Of course, in the past we had programs like the GI Bill that made access easier, but those days are over. Economic inequality is now hardwired into the central core and structure of the university thanks to neoliberalization, though mass access to higher education has always been a kind of Holy Grail.  So access is largely a class issue, but also a racial issue. The culture of much of higher education has little to do with the histories, experiences, languages, and cultural backgrounds of many working-class and minority kids. Middle and upper class cultural capital tends to crush these kids, and the damage is inflicted more heavily when there are no remedial programs available to compensate for the poor education they often receive in underfunded and neglected schools that largely serve to contain and criminalize the behaviors of the disenfranchised. For many working-class youth, time is a burden, not a luxury, and they have to often work while trying to take classes and make the requisite grades. College for these kids is an uphill battle. They often compete with middle-class kids who can spend most of their time studying or attending classes.

In terms of the university itself, the attack on higher education by right-wing ideologues and corporate power has been going on for a long time, but at the current historical conjuncture it has gotten much worse. Higher education is being targeted by conservative politicians and governments because it embodies, at least ideally, a sphere in which students learn that democracy, as Jacques Rancière suggests, is a rupture—a relentless critique and dialogue about official power, its institutions and its never ending attempts to silence dissent. As Ellen Schrecker points out, “Today the entire enterprise of higher education, not just its dissident professors, is under attack, both internally and externally.”

In the United States, England, and a number of other European countries, universities and businesses are forming stronger ties; the humanities are being underfunded; student tuition is rising at astronomical rates; knowledge is being commodified; and research is valued through the lens of an audit culture. Economic Darwinism is now undermining the civic and intellectual promises that make higher education a public good. The reach and influence of corporate-based models of education can be seen in the rise of modes of governance, financing and evaluation that for all intents and purposes make higher education an adjunct of corporate values and interests. Moreover, the most important value of higher education is now tied to the need for credentials. Delivering improved employability has reshaped the connection between knowledge and power, while rendering faculty and students as professional entrepreneurs and budding customers. In the search for adopting market values and cutting costs, classes have ballooned in size, and there is an increased emphasis on rote learning and standardized testing. Disciplines and subjects that do not fall within the purview of mathematical utility and economic rationality are now seen as dispensable. The notion of the university as a center of critique and a democratic public sphere vitally necessary in providing the knowledge, skills and values necessary for the health of a democratic polity is giving way to a view of the university as a marketing machine essential to the production of neoliberal subjects. Like most neoliberal models of education, higher education only matters to the extent that it promotes national prosperity and drives economic growth, technical innovation, and market transformation.

In the United States, this neoliberal model can be understood through a number of corporatizing tendencies. Under the call for austerity, states have begun the process of massively defunding public universities, while they simultaneously provide massive tax breaks for corporations and the rich. At the same time, higher education in its search for funding has, as Stanley Aronowitz points out, “adopted the organizational trappings of medium-sized or large corporations.” University presidents are now viewed as C.E.O.s, faculty as entrepreneurs and students as consumers. Similarly, many college presidents not only align themselves with business values, but willingly and openly associate themselves with corporate interests. As business culture permeates higher education, all manner of school practices from food services to specific modes of instruction and the hiring temporary faculty is now outsourced to private contractors. It gets worse. In some universities, new college deans are shifting their focus outside of the campus in order to take on fundraising, strategic planning and industry partnerships that were once the job of the university president. Academic leadership is now defined in part through one’s ability to raise funds, engage in strategic planning and partner up with corporate donors. Burdened by a lack of state funding, many deans are increasingly viewed as the heads of complex businesses, and their job performance ratings are dependent on their fundraising performances. This is not meant to wholeheartedly condemn the necessity for fundraising, which can also be productive, as much as it is to insist that it cannot take priority over modes of leadership rooted in more democratic, emancipatory and non-commodified values.

One of the most serious consequences facing higher education in the United States under the reign of neoliberal austerity and disciplinary measures is the increased casualization of academic labor and the ongoing attacks on tenure and academic freedom. As universities adopt models of corporate governance, they are aggressively eliminating tenure positions, increasing part-time positions and attacking faculty unions. In a number of states such as Ohio and Utah, legislatures have passed bills outlawing tenure, while in Wisconsin the governor has abrogated the bargaining rights of state’s university faculty. At a time when higher education is becoming increasingly vocationalized, the ranks of tenure track faculty are being drastically depleted, furthering the loss of faculty as stakeholders. Currently, only 27 percent of faculty either occupy a tenure position or are on a tenure track. Consequently, many faculty have been demoted to contingent forms of labor, losing not only their power to influence the conditions of their work, but rendering them powerless as their workloads increase, their salaries stagnate or decrease, they are deprived of office space and supplies, they are refused travel money and they are subjected to policies that allow them to be fired at will. The latter is particularly egregious because, when coupled with an ongoing series of attacks by right-wing ideologues against left-oriented and progressive academics, many non-tenured faculty feel they must censor themselves in their classes. At a time when critics within the academy can be fired for their political beliefs, have their names posted on right-wing web sites, are forced to turn over their email correspondence to right-wing groups and are harassed in the conservative press, it is all the more crucial that protections be put in place that safeguard faculty positions and the rights of  academics to exercise academic freedom.

If it is viewed as simply a training ground for the corporate order and the national security state, then higher education will default on its promise of a democratic future for young people and its investment in a social state. The anti-public social formation that has emerged with neoliberalism has no interest in fostering the educational conditions in which it becomes possible for young people to imagine another world outside of the economic Darwinism that now bears down on every aspect of their lives. While the complexity of such struggles cannot be exaggerated, it is time to develop a new political language that connects the dots between the wars abroad and the war happening at home. The consequences of such an egregious assault on the university will be the destruction of any vestige of higher education as a public good and democratic public sphere. Clearly, there is more at stake here than the abrogation of worker’s bargaining rights and skyrocketing university tuition rates. There is also the question of what kind of society we want to become, and what is going to have to be done to stop the arrogant and formidable assault on all aspects of democratic life now being waged by the financial elite, corporations, conservatives, reactionary think tanks, authoritarian politicians and a right-wing media that ignores every principle of honor, decency and truth.

Of course, the point is for intellectuals and others to make it clear that neoliberal and neoconservative forces are transforming the university into an anti-democratic public sphere and to provide a discourse of possibility that challenges this terrible refiguration of higher education. Let me mention a few possibilities informed by my own work on the neoliberalization of the university.

First, we need to figure out how to defend more vigorously higher education as a public good. If we can’t do that, we’re in trouble. Secondly, we need to address what the optimum conditions are for educators, artists, activists, etc., to perform their work in an autonomous and critical fashion. In other words, we need to think through the conditions that make academic labor fruitful, engaging and relevant. Third, we need to turn the growing army of temporary workers now swelling the ranks of academy into full-time, permanent staff. The presence of so many part-time employees is scandalous and both weakens the power of the faculty and exploits these workers. Fourth, we need to educate students to be critical agents, to learn how to take risks, engage in thoughtful dialogue and address what it means to be socially responsible. Pedagogy is not about training; it is about educating people to be self-reflective, critical and self -conscious about their relationship with others and to know something about their relationship with the larger world. Pedagogy in this sense not only provides important thoughtful and intellectual competencies; it also enables people to act effectively upon the societies in which they live.

Pedagogy also takes on a new dimension and impact with the rise of digital technologies and the endlessly multiplying forms of screen culture, each attempting to win over new and larger audiences and more often than not mark them as potential consumers. These new technologies and the proliferating sites in which they are appearing constitute powerful configurations of what C. Wright Mills termed cultural apparatuses engaged in modes of popular education. They represent more specifically pervasive forms of public pedagogy that increasingly function to divorce learning from any vestige of critical thought. These powerful forms of public pedagogy need to be addressed, both for how they deform and for how they can create important new spaces for emancipatory forms of pedagogy. Not only do we need to understand who controls these cultural apparatuses and how they mobilize new desires, needs, modes of identity, and social relations. We also need to challenge the new media in terms of their power, what they represent and how they present it. Public pedagogy is a site of struggle in which critically engaged intellectuals can address broader audiences and raise in the public domain a number of important social and political issues.  The articulation of knowledge to experience, the construction of new modes of agency, the production of critical knowledge, the recovery of critical histories and the possibility of linking knowledge to social change cannot be limited to influencing students in the classroom. Everyone, but especially those working in education, have to extend our roles as public intellectuals to other pedagogical sites, audiences and institutions. It is politically imperative to organize a whole range of people outside of the academy. For this, as I mentioned above, we need a new political language with broader narratives. I am not against identity politics or single-based issues, but we need to find ways to connect these issues to more encompassing, global narratives about democracy so we can recognize their strengths and limitations in building broad-based social movements. In short, it is imperative that as educators and socially responsible intellectuals, artists, parents and concerned citizens, we must act for justice and against injustice. And such a call to pursue the truth with a small “t” must be informed by informed judgments, self-reflection, searing forms of critique, civic courage and a  deem commitment to education as central to the struggle for democracy and social change.  Needless to say, we need to find new ways to connect education to the struggle for a democratic future, which is now being undermined in ways that were unimaginable thirty years ago.

MP: Thanks Henry, I appreciate the way in which your analysis proceeds from a combination of personal experience and critical theory. Your works have sustained us for many decades now and the thrust of in your work in terms of critical pedagogy, cultural studies, youth culture and global studies in communication provides both a powerful theoretical lens and a practical critique of contemporary neoliberal society. I know these interests did not develop chronologically and there are many overlapping characteristics. It would be interesting to hear of the evolution of your thought in terms of these perspectives and what you think is required to be a critical thinker today, in an age of global media.

HG: My interest in critical pedagogy grew out of my experience as a secondary school teacher. I came of age in the 1960s as a teacher, and there was a great deal of latitude in what we were allowed to teach then. I taught a couple of seminars in social studies and focused on feminist studies, theories of alienation and a range of other important social issues. While I had no trouble finding critical content, including progressive films I used to rent from the Quakers (Society of Friends), I did not know how to theorize the various approaches to teaching I tried in the classroom. This all came to a head when an assistant principle confronted me after class once and demanded that I not put the students in a circle while teaching the class. I really could not defend my position theoretically. Fortunately, I was introduced to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and from then on my interest in radical pedagogy began to develop. My interest in young people also developed during that time, though I don’t believe I had any idea that it would later become a serious object of scholarship and political intervention for me. After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1977, I became deeply involved with the work being produced around the sociology of education in England, the work of Bowles and Gintis on the political economy of schooling as well as the Marxist ethnographic work developed by Paul Willis at the Birmingham Center for Cultural Studies. All of this scholarship was heavily influenced by various shades of Marxism and while I learned a great deal from it, I felt that it erred on the side of political economy and did not say enough about either resistance, pedagogy or the importance of cultural politics. The structural nature of this work was gloomy, over determined and left little room for seizing upon contradictions, developing a theory of power that did not collapse into domination or imagining a language of struggle and hope.

I began to look elsewhere for theoretical models to develop a more comprehensive understanding of schooling and its relationship to larger social, economic and cultural forces and found it in the work of contemporary critical theorists, especially those of the Frankfurt School. I drew upon critical theory to challenge the then-dominant culture of positivism as well as the overemphasis on the political economy of schooling. Theory and Resistance in Education was the most well-known outcome of that investigation. And while it is considered a classic in some quarters, I must say that I had a hard time publishing my work in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Work in educational theory and practice in the United States was dominated by Routledge press, which was rather insular in its refusal to publish scholarship that moved outside of the parameters of Marxism and political economy. I was fortunate at that time to meet Roger Simon who not only published my work in Curriculum Inquiry but also taught me a great deal about how to theorize matters of pedagogy and schooling. Roger was and is brilliant, and his work in my estimation far exceeded anything being published on critical education at the time, especially his book Teaching Against the Grain. I believe that Theory and Resistance in Education would never have been written if it had not been for my ongoing conversations with Roger.

In the 1970s and 80s, I developed a friendship with Donaldo Macedo and Paulo Freire, and we soon started an education series with Bergin and Garvey that later became the Greenwood series. It opened up a new space for publishing a variety of work from theorists dealing with critical pedagogy and educational theory more broadly. Crucial to my own conception of pedagogy is that I saw it as a moral and political practice that was about more than analyzing classrooms and schools. Pedagogy for me was central to proclaiming the power and necessity of ideas, knowledge and culture as central to any viable definition of politics, and the goal of living in a just world with others. Pedagogy remains a crucial political resource in theorizing the importance of establishing a formative culture conducive to creating subjects and values that can sustain a substantive democracy.

I was also deeply influenced in the 1980s by the cultural studies movement in the U.S. and England, particularly the work of Larry Grossberg, Meaghan Morris, Paul Gilroy, Paul Willis, Angela McRobbie, Richard Johnson and Stuart Hall. The early work in cultural studies on education and youth was very important to my own theoretical development. Not only did it emphasize the importance of pedagogy inside of the academy, but Raymond Williams opened up the concept with an exploration of what he called “permanent education” and offered the beginning of a theoretical framework for taking seriously the educational force of the wider culture. At that point, I attempted to revive the centrality of pedagogy for cultural studies, particularly given that many of the theorists who followed Williams seem either to display little interest in it or to assume that it meant teaching cultural studies in schools. Pedagogy in this case had become the present absence in cultural studies, just as youth had become the present absence among left theorizing in general. While there was considerable talk about class, race and gender, there were very few people writing in the U.S. about the plight of young people and the transformation from a society of production to a society of consumption, or as Zygmunt Bauman points out, the move from solid modernity to liquid modernity. Young people, especially minorities of class and color, were under siege in a particularly harsh way at the beginning of the 1980s, and there were very few people addressing what I called the “war on youth.” I argued then and continue to insist that since the 1980s we have seen a series of political, economic and cultural shifts that mark the beginning of a form of economic Darwinism, on the one hand, and the rise of the punishing state, on the other. And one consequence of the merging of these two movements is this war on youth. I have attempted to chart and engage the shifting parameters of the war on youth in a number of books, with the recent and perhaps most definitive being Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?

In the age of Reagan and Thatcher, neoliberalism was becoming normalized all over the globe. This was particularly evident to me by the early 1990s as neoliberal capitalism became more ruthless, consolidated and poisonous in its ever expanding support for a culture of cruelty and a survival-of-the-fittest ethic in which market-driven values and relations acted as the template for judging all aspects of social life. By transforming society into the image of the market, the space and conditions for thinking outside of market values and relations became more difficult, and one particularly grim consequence was the demolition of non-market values, public spheres, and forms of community. As democratic social forms diminished, so did social values, the public good, social responsibility and the very nature of politics. This was a very destructive moment for both the U.S. and the rest of the world. Just as corporate sovereignty replaced or weakened political sovereignty, the attack on the social state intensified, the power of capital became detached from the traditional politics of the nation state, the punishing state was on the rise and there emerged a new set of economic and social formations in which social protections were weakened, social problems were increasingly criminalized and all public spheres were subjected to the forces of privatization and commodification, especially public and higher education.

Under neoliberalism, we have witnessed the rise of an unfettered free-market ideology and economic Darwinism in which market values supplant civic values. Everything is for sale. A hyper-individualism is celebrated. Profit-making is seen as the essence of democracy, and the obligations of citizenship are reduced to the practice of consuming. This is a system in which a dehumanizing mode of consumerism and the unencumbered concentration of capital are matched by the endless disposing of goods, rendering even people now redundant and extraneous. This is also a system in which everything is privatized, with one grave consequence being that the public collapses into the private. It becomes increasingly difficult to translate private concerns into public issues. My work in the last decade has aimed at connecting neoliberal forms of public pedagogy and authoritarian disciplinary practices with the rise of new modes of individualism and what it means to make such forces visible in order to collectively resist them. This project has been deeply influenced by the work of diverse figures such as Pierre Bourdieu, Edward Said, Zygmunt Bauman, Hannah Arendt, Nancy Fraser, C. Wright Mills, Stanley Aronowitz and more recently David L. Clark.

Bourdieu’s work on neoliberalism and Bauman’s work on liquid modernity and the transformation of the public sphere are treasure troves of insight regarding the changing conditions of modernity, the politics of consumerism and the call for new modes of ethical responsibility. Arendt’s work on authoritarianism and its potentially recurring conditions, albeit in new forms, along with Nancy Fraser’s brilliant work on feminist public spheres provided me with a new language to think about the institutions and spaces necessary for a formative culture that makes democratic modes of agency and subjectivity possible. Said’s and Bourdieu’s work on the responsibility of academics as public intellectuals had a profound effect on my scholarship. Similarly, C. Wright Mills deeply influenced me on the importance of connecting private issues to public considerations, the centrality of cultural apparatuses in the transformation of political culture and the role public intellectuals might play as agents of change.

Stanley Aronowitz is arguably the most brilliant public intellectual in North America. His broad understanding of various domains of knowledge and his ability to bring vastly different issues together and to engage them in relation to a larger totality is a model for how to do scholarship that is public, rigorous and dialectical. Finally, I would be remiss to not underscore the more recent influence of my colleague, David L. Clark.  His brilliance—which never fails to astound me—has been instrumental in fine tuning my knowledge of critical theory, Derrida, and a range of other theoretical traditions that he engages and writes about in ways that are as insightful as they are poetic. David’s sense of solidarity and commitment is remarkable in an academy that increasingly seems addicted to the insularities of careerism, cronyism and the need to comfort students—now viewed as customers with rights rather than obligations—rather than prepare them intellectually for a world that needs to be engaged, not merely enjoyed.

To be an intellectual in the current historical juncture is not only to rethink the profound changes wrought by the rise and power of the new media and the ways in which it has transformed the very concept of the social, communal, and political, but to redefine what it means to be a public intellectual capable of working across a number of disciplines and speaking to a variety of audiences. The old model of the intellectual writing and speaking in a narrow and obtuse theoretical language seems unproductive at this particular point in history. Theory needs to be rigorous and accessible, and it needs to address not merely the outer limits of disciplinary scholarship but also important social problems. Equally important, it needs to include and engage people who are not versed in the specialized disciplinary vocabularies of the academy. Theory is neither a metaphor for scholasticism and formalism nor is it politically irrelevant. Nor can it be dismissed as something distinctly American (Terry Eagleton) or French, or a thing exotic or foreign. Theory is essential and inescapable and cannot be so neatly abstracted from the responsibilities of political criticism, but how we do it and for what reason is a more problematic and troubling issue. What does it mean to use theory rather than simply apply it as many graduate students and professors tend to do?

Theory is the enemy of “common sense,” and hence hated by many of our newly minted anti-intellectual authoritarian populists now running against Obama in the 2012 elections. Of course, there is another important question regarding when theory becomes toxic, an immunity against immunity, turning in on itself, functioning, to use Derrida’s term, as kind of autoimmunity. Given the bankruptcy of the current anti-intellectual politics of the “self-evident,” theory is all we have left and functions as a kind of tool box to be used to break the consensus of common sense, develop better forms of knowledge, and promote more just social relations. Theory is an indispensable resource in the task of thinking through and developing new modes agency, power, and action in the service of connecting knowledge and power, meaning and social relevance, and private troubles and public issues. Clearly, self-reflection, mastering broad bodies of knowledge, and engaging with the new technologies as a way to reach broader audiences all matter—just as it is only through theory that we can recover what survives of the defeated, the repressed, the marginalized, and those ideas relegated as obsolete, un-American, and indigestible. But there is also something more fundamental at work in this project. The global left doesn’t need to abandon theory; it needs to find a new language in order to move away from the kinds of fractured politics that have dominated Western societies since the 1980s.

In a similar manner, the politics of identity has to guard against becoming exclusionary and needs to be rethought as part of a much broader set of connections and projects. In the 1980s, I believe that a group of highly influential feminist theorists in education did a great deal of damage politically and ethically to the understanding of both critical pedagogy and radical education as a practice of transformation and freedom. Rather than build upon and critically engage the complex traditions out of which this work developed, interrogating both its strengths and weaknesses, treating it as a developing and ongoing theoretical discourse and practice, they falsely labeled critical pedagogy as the enemy of empowerment. Operating out of comforting absolutes on the model of us versus them, this rhetoric of simplistic oppositions furthered a manipulative discourse and a climate for political opportunism. A problematic type of essentialism and reductionism structured this work. Rather than engage a complex tradition of work, it simply demonized it, reducing it to one side of a binarism in which all doubt, mediation, complexity and nuance disappeared. What made this intervention even worse was that it was followed by an endless stream of endorsements by supine white male academics who cited this work to prove their own faux feminist credentials. This was truly as ideologically disingenuous as it was politically reactionary, or even worse, dangerous. Unaware of its own refusal to engage in nuanced and thoughtful analytic and deconstructive work, this type of feminist educational theory put forth its own mechanical and positivist calculations as if such work offered political guarantees, buttressed by the absolutism and vitriol in which it was sometimes delivered. This was a symptomatic of what a particular version of identity politics can become when it is driven by moralism, a politics of purity, a logic of certainty and a disregard for critical and scholarly exchange. There is more at work here than simply hubris and a denial of the complexity of the work under review; there is also a claim to moral and political clarity that actually produces its opposite. Fortunately, some of this work was offset by a smaller number of feminist scholars working in critical pedagogy who rejected this type of friend/enemy distinction. This was particularly evident at the time in work by Linda Brodkey, bell hooks, Deborah Britzman, Sharon Todd, Chandra Mohanty, Sharon Crowley, Lynn Worsham and later by Robin Truth Goodman and Susan Searls Giroux.

Rather than fire missiles at each other, public intellectuals need to address how we can effectively understand our differences as part of a broader and more powerful movement for engaging in critical exchanges, pushing the frontiers of transformative knowledge, extending democratic struggles and addressing the massive suffering and hardships, particularly for young people, now being caused by various fundamentalist and authoritarian institutions, policies and practices. As my partner, Susan Searls Giroux, has recently concluded with characteristic precision, “As a consequence of our devastatingly misguided priorities and our negligence we have, in short, produced smart bombs and explosive children.”

We need to make connections, build broad social movements, make pedagogy central to politics and dismantle the reactionary forms of neoliberalism, racism and media culture that have become normalized. We need to take up and develop more relational theories concerned with broader totalities and the ways in which the forces of difference, identity, local politics, cultural pedagogy and other social formations interact in ways that speak to new and more threatening forms of global politics. Power is now free floating; it has no allegiances except to the accumulation of capital and is not only much more destructive but also more difficult to contain. Any viable notion of politics has to be relational and connected; it has to think within and beyond the boundaries of nation states, invent new vocabularies, invest in more broad-based groups beyond simply workers, address the plight of young people and resurrect the power of the social state and democracy as a radical mode of governance and politics. This suggests taking matters of specificity and context seriously, while at the same time changing the level of magnification to a more global view.

One of the most important considerations necessary for a new vision of politics is incorporating economic rights and social protections into the political sphere. Political and personal rights become dysfunctional without social rights. As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us, freedom of choice and the exercise of political and personal rights become a cruel joke in a society that does not provide social rights—that is, some form of collectively endorsed protections that provide the time and space for the poor and disenfranchised to participate in the political sphere and help shape modes of governance. In order to exercise any real sense of civic agency, people need protections from those misfortunes and hardships that are not of their own doing. At the same time, a movement for democracy must challenge the erosion of social bonds, the crumbling of communal cohesion and the withering of social responsibility that has taken place under a neoliberal apparatus that promotes deregulation, privatization and individualization. We also need to think in terms of what it means to create the formative cultures necessary to fight racism, celebrity culture, the culture and institutions of casino capitalism, the assault on the environment and the growing inequality in wealth and income that is destroying every vestige of democratic politics in the world. We need a language that takes both history and the current dangerous authoritarian period seriously, one that recognizes, as Bauman points out, that shared humanity is the lifeboat. Too many people on the left are acting as if they are living in the nineteenth century and are completely out of touch with the new technologies, modes of domination and emerging social formations that are taking shape all over the world.

A viable politics in the present has to take seriously the premise that knowledge must be meaningful in order to be critical, in order to be transformative. This is about more than reclaiming the virtues of dialogue, exchange and translation. It is about recovering a politics and inventing a language that can create democratic public spheres in which new subjects and identities can be produced that are capable of recognizing and addressing the plight of the other and struggling collectively to expand and deepen the ongoing struggle for justice, freedom and democratization. The global left needs to be thorough, accessible and rigorous in our critiques, especially amid the political and cultural illiteracy produced by neoliberalism’s cultural apparatuses. But we also need a language of hope, one that is realistic rather than romantic about the challenges the planet is facing, and yet electrified by a realization that things can be different, that possibilities can not only be imagined but engaged, fought for and realized in collective struggles.

Opposing the forces of domination is important, but it does not go far enough. We must move beyond a language of pointless denunciations and offer instead a language that moves forward with the knowledge, skills and social relations necessary for the creation of new modes of agency, social movements and democratic social policies. We need to open up the realm of human possibility, recognize that history is not closed, that justice is never complete and that democracy can never be fully settled. I fervently believe in the need for both critique and hope, and have faith that progressives can develop the public spheres, formative cultures, and social movements that make democratic convictions and dreams possible. Democratic ideals, social relations, and values need public spheres to nourish them. Such spaces can be found  in  schools, classrooms, workshops, newspapers, online journals, community colleges and other spaces where knowledge, power, ethics, and justice can merge to create new subjectivities, new modes of civic courage and new hope for the future. Our work has only just begun.

Full disclsoure: Henry Girioux is a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors.

Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips

By admin, August 29, 2011 4:48 pm

25 Aug

Black Girl Reading

Graduate school was nothing short of an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I spent the first semester depressed and homesick, years 2-4 battling a stress-induced stomach condition that caused me to lose not only 75 pounds but also a whole semester of work. I healed just in time to begin my dissertation, wherein I gained back most of the weight I lost, and experienced a nasty case of stress-induced shingles just as I was rounding third. I love my work, and I’m glad I made it, but as we all head into a new academic year, here are a few things I wish I’d known…

  • Be confident in your abilities.
    • If you feel like a fraud, you very likely are suffering from impostor syndrome, a chronic feeling of intellectual or personal inadequacy born of grandiose expectations about what it means to be competent. Women in particular suffer with this issue, but I argue that it is worse for women-of-color (particularly Blacks and Latinas) who labor under stereotypes of both racial and gender incompetence. The academy itself also creates grandiose expectations, given the general perception of academicians as hypercompetent people. Secret: Everybody that’s actin like they know, doesn’t really know. So ask your question. It’s probably not as stupid as you think. Now say this with me: “I’m smart enough, my work is important, and damn it, I’m gonna make it.”
  • Be patient with yourself.
    • Be patient with your own process of intellectual growth. You will get there and it will all come together. You aren’t supposed to know everything at the beginning. And you still won’t know everything at the end (of coursework, exams, the dissertation, life…).
    • Getting the actual degree isn’t about intellect. It is about sheer strength of will and dogged determination. “Damn it, I’m gonna walk out of here with that piece of paper if it’s the last cottonpickin’ thing I do.” That kind of thinking helps you to keep going after you’ve just been asked to revise a chapter for the third time, your committee member has failed to submit a letter of rec on time, and you feel like blowing something or someone up.
  • Be your own best advocate. Prioritize your own professional needs/goals.
    • You have not because you ask not.  You have to be willing to ask for what you need. You deserve transparency about the rules and procedures of your program, cordial treatment from faculty, staff and students, and a program that prepares you not only for the rigors of grad school but also for the job market (should you desire a career in academia).  But folks won’t hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to build relationships, ask questions, and make demands.
    • Figure out your writing process (the place [home, coffee shop, library], time [morning, afternoon, night], and conditions [background noise, total silence, cooler or warmer] under which you work best and try to create those conditions as frequently as possible during finals, qualifying exams, and dissertation.
    • Your self-advocacy will often be misperceived as aggression and anger, entitlement or selfishness. Don’t apologize.
  • Be kind to yourself.
    • Reward yourself frequently.  Most of us need positive affirmation of a job well done, but for long stretches, especially during exams, dissertation, and the job market, the rewards elude us; and often given the time crunch, once we conquer the mountain, there is little time to enjoy the view before it’s time to trudge back down and start climbing the next one. All that hard work  in high stakes conditions for anti-climactic ends can take a toll on your psyche. So be kind to yourself. Figure out the things you really like and make sure to enjoy them as much as is possible and healthy.
  • Be proactive about self-care.
    • Figure out your non-negotiables. For me, sleep is non-negotiable. I must have it. I don’t do all nighters. I also generally don’t do weekends, so I adjust my schedule accordingly. What are your non-negotiables?
    • Take advantage of on-campus therapy services. My last two institutions have had women-of-color thesis and dissertation support groups. Consider joining.
    • Cultivate a spirit-affirming practice. Grad school/the academy is a mind-body-spirit endeavor. So meditate, pray, exercise, do yoga, go to church, cook a good healthy meal. Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind, body, and spirit in balance.
  • Be a friend/comrade to others and let them do the same for you.
    • Build community with colleagues inside or outside your department.
    • Build community with non-students/non-academics. You need folks who live life outside the dungeon. They will affirm you and help you keep things in perspective.
  • Be willing to get CRUNK!
    • If the environment is hostile, it is most probably characterized by microaggressions of various sorts.  Racial microaggressions –“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color– are quite common for women of color, but microaggressions can be used in sexist, heterosexist, or ableist ways as well.  A microaggressive environment demands resistance of various sorts. So do you and be you. Unapologetically.  Keep a copy of Sister Audre near by so you can make sure you’re channeling your legitimate anger productively, and then, get crunk if necessary.
  • Be better not bitter.
    • Fail forward. Being the overachievers that we are, we tend not to deal with failure well. It tends to become an indicator to us of our intelligence, worth, and competence. (See #1). But failure is a part of the process. Unless you are incredibly, exceptionally lucky, you will hit a snag in a course, while writing the proposal, on the dissertation, submitting a journal article or submitting a book. Two tips: take the time to process, particularly for big issues like proposals, dissertation chapters or books. Cry, scream (not at your committee or editor), go to a kickboxing class. And then dust yourself off and try again. Look at the suggestions offered; determine their validity. Heed them or disregard them depending on your best judgment, and then proceed to the next step.  And one more thing…don’t let the resentment fester. It may be well-justified but it simply isn’t productive. Just think of it as hazing, and for your own sake, let it go.
    • A lot of anger comes from bitterness at mentors who have not met our expectations. But all mentors are not created equal. Some will build your confidence, some will give you hell,  some will go above and beyond, but a mentor is there to illumine the process and give you tools to be successful, not to be your friend. So have multiple mentors; know the difference in function; and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • Be tight. Bring your A-game.
  • Be a light. As you make your way, show the sisters and brothers behind you how it’s done, so maybe they won’t have as many dark days as you’ve had.

A little musical inspiration for the journey…

Alright, fam. Please share your survival tips for grad school newbies and veterans and junior faculty as well.

Stop the Cuts Network in the City of Toronto

By admin, August 25, 2011 2:20 pm

Dear CUPE 3907 Members,

Invitation to participate in Mass Meeting to Stop Ford’s Cuts, Sep 10, 1pm, Dufferin Grove Park.

My name is Lindsay, and I am writing on behalf of the Toronto Stop the Cuts Network, a grassroots alliance of community groups, service providers and Toronto residents that are organizing to stop cuts to public services by the Ford regime. Like you, we live and work in Toronto, delivering and accessing city services. For many of us libraries, community centers, employment assistance and infrastructure are essential and cuts to them would mean a dramatic change in the quality of our lives.

Like you, we’ve spent the last few months, watching Ford build a massive fear mongering campaign. Everything it seems is under threat. We’ve filled out surveys, gone to deputations, organized meetings, marches and rallies – yet Ford and his cronies show no sign of backing down.

We also know that some cuts have already happened – there are user fees in community centers, the Jarvis bike lane was chopped off, and many childcare spots have already disappeared. We also know that many in the city, undocumented people, racialized communities, poor people, those without ID are already shut out of many public services.

We know that the Executive Committee of City Hall is meeting on Sep 19, and the City voting on cuts, user fees, and anti-union measures on September 26 and 27.

Days before this, a number of groups and people in the city are calling for a Mass Meeting to Stop Ford Cuts. Over 500 people have confirmed on Facebook, and many Unions and Community organizations including city workers and health organizations have confirmed their participation. This meeting is to do three things:

1. Collect the different demands, hopes and aspirations of Torontonians to develop a concise set of people’s priorities to deliver to City Hall.

2. Develop a plan of action for September 26 and 27 if these priorities are not adequately reflected in the Executive Council discussions on September 19.

3. Strengthen relationships between community groups, service providers, labour organizations and Toronto residents to resist cuts by any level of government, to work to expand services for all people, and to end the handouts to cops and corporations.

Unions, and the labour movement, have been part of many struggles in this city – and it would be imperative for your organization to attend the meeting on September 10. We are writing today to see if you could advertise the event on facebook, on twitter and on your list-servs. Could you email or call all your members and ask them to attend? Would you be interested in developing a draft people’s declaration prior to September 10 with us?

At a time when politicians across the world seem only interested in ensuring that the rich get richer, while women, disabled people, poor, working class and migrant communities are shut out – we need to reclaim democracy for ourselves. We need to talk to each other, develop our own plans, and our own agendas, and then act on them. I really hope that you can support the September 10 meeting and will call you in the next few days to discuss this person. In the meantime, do email or call with questions, ideas or concerns.

In solidarity,

Lindsay Hart

Toronto Stop the Cuts Network

For more information or to endorse this meeting, please contact

Facebook event:

Farm workers, “dis is not slavery/ just poverty / speaking to democracy”

By admin, October 15, 2010 2:14 am

Participants in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march, organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers

Participants take part in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march, organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers

By Ajamu Nangwaya

i am a H2 worka
pickin apple inna florida
i am a H2 worka
hopin dat tings will be betta
suh don’t tek mi fi granted and pass mi
like is only cane and apple yu si
don’t tek it fi joke and run mi
den sen to mi govament fi more a wi
dis is not slavery
just poverty
talking to democracy

- Excerpt from the poem H2 Worka by Mutabaruka

Mutabaruka, the renowned Jamaican dub poet, accurately captures the lament and pain of migrant farm workers who labour in Ontario and the rest of Canada. These offshore workers come from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines and other Third World areas.

Over the Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada, we enjoyed the bountiful harvest from the farms in this country and the United States in the company of friends and relatives. We probably shared stories of success, challenges and plans for the future.

But did we reflect on the people who made that food possible? No, I am not referring to those mythic and stoic farmers of Canadian legends. I am hinting at the migrant farm workers whose sweat, tears, lives and broken and injured bodies went into producing the cheap food that we all enjoy in the great North that is supposedly fair, strong and free.

I am also referring to the over 25,000 migrant workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program (SAWP) from Mexico and the Caribbean who spend up to eight months per year on farms across Canada. Migrant workers from Thailand, Philippines, Guatemala and Honduras are also finding themselves on these same farms and fields through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training (TFWP), which is even more exploitive. These off-shore workers contribute to the valuable, but exploited work that makes possible the $10 billion in annual income from the farm sector in Ontario.

When Mutabaruka rhymed: “don’t tek it fi joke and run mi / den sen to mi govament fi more a wi”, he is speaking about a sad and disgraceful reality in Canada. When migrant agricultural workers complain about their condition of work, they may be sent home at their own expense and without an appeal process to contest their expulsion.

Many Third World governments are in cahoots with this system of exploitation. They are dependent on the foreign exchange earned from these migrant workers and the SAWP and TFWP are sources of relief for the unemployment pressure at home. These governments have no interest in vigorously protecting their citizens because strong advocacy could force the Canadian state to go to other countries or regions with surplus labour.

The farmers in Canada know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the Caribbean, Mexico and Asia who are willing to do farm labour in Canada. Under plantation slavery in the Americas, the enslavers treated their horses and other materials much better than the enslaved Africans.

The plantation masters did so, because they had a cheap and ready source of labour in Africa. It is not an accident that Mutabaruka protested against seeing migrant workers as mere cane and apple. They are not seen as people, but creatures that help the profit margins of the farm’s operation.

It is not a stretch to see similarities between the systems of slavery and indentureship that were used against enslaved African and indentured South Asian labour in the Caribbean, respectively. The fear of poverty as a constant companion has replaced the whip. It is not the workers who mostly benefit from their backbreaking labour. They are transported across borders to toil in unsafe working conditions, with the connivance of legal authorities or governmental systems.

No wonder Mutabaruka had to admonish the farmers and governments that “dis is not slavery” and the workers are really poor working-class people “hopin dat tings will be betta.”

On the score of “talking to democracy” by resisting migrant workers, I was truly inspired and encouraged by the Justicia for Migrant Workers organized Pilgrimage to Freedom march on October 10th from Leamington (Tomato Capital of Canada), Ontario to city of Windsor, across from Detroit. This march was a 50-kilometre trek.

About 100 migrant workers and their allies carried out this historic march so as to highlight issues such as workers paying in mandatory schemes such as Unemployment Insurance from which they do not get any benefits, exposure to pesticides and farm equipment without adequate training, migrant workers working many years in Canada without the possibility of achieving permanent residency rights, workers being sent home after experiencing serious long-term illness on the job, or not having the right to form or join a union.

We may recall that on September 10, 2010, two Jamaican migrant farm workers, Ralston White, 36, and Paul Roach, 44 died from exposure to gas from an apple cider vat that they were fixing. As Canadians, we need to stand in solidarity with migrant workers and not let governments and private interests exploit them in the name of a cheap food policy and the financial bottom-line.

On the question of marching in solidarity with the migrant workers, it was politically embarrassing to see so few trade union members and trade union organizations as well as members of the various Marxist and anarchist “sects” from Southern Ontario. In my judgment, organized labour and these erstwhile revolutionaries do not like labour initiatives that they cannot colonize and control. I really hope that wasn’t the case in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march.

It is not enough to sing Solidarity Forever or shove revolutionary newspapers or publications in the face of members of the racialized, working-class. The missing in action stunt of these class warriors was worthy of a “Class Solidarity Raspberry Award”. It’s a very deserving and well earned citation given that we’re dealing with issues pertaining to the most exploited section of the working-class in Canada.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade union and community activist, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, and a member of Common Cause – an anarchist organization with branches across Ontario. To get further information or provide support to Justicia (Justice) for Migrant Workers, please visit


By admin, October 14, 2010 10:14 am
What: Rally against the Toronto Association of Police and Private Security (TAPPS) “G20 De-Briefing”
Why: To demand accountability and justice for all those arrested during the G20, and to keep ‘Cops off Campus!’
Where: Rally begins at Graduate Students’ Union, 16 Bancroft Avenue, and will end at the University of Toronto Faculty Club, 45 Willcocks Street.
When: 10:30am, Wednesday, October 20th

This is a call to friends and allies to rally on the University of Toronto campus at 10:30am on Wednesday, October 20th, to  send a clear message to the Toronto Association of Police and Private Security (TAPPS) that their “G20 De-Briefing” is not welcome on our campus. Students, faculty, staff and community members are calling for accountability and justice for all those arrested during the G20 Summit in Toronto – the largest instance of mass arbitrary detention in Canadian history – and are demanding that TAPPS and private security firms be kept off campus!

What is TAPPS? Why should I protest it?
TAPPS is an organization created in the mid-1990s to provide greater coordination between the Toronto police and private security companies. The influence of private security companies has increased drastically in recent years, from their expanding role in major conflicts (think of Blackwater in Afghanistan and Iraq) to their steady encroachment on public spaces. Some of the private security companies active in war-zones, such as G4S and Securitas, are also active on our streets and campuses.

With the increasing trend towards privatizing and contracting-out public services, the realm of policing has come to depend on ‘public private partnerships’ or the full-out privatization of policing services – fueling a multi-billion dollar ’security industry’ that relies on fear to sustain profits. The outcome is simple and dangerous: the public has minimal or no oversight and control over the activities of organizations that allegedly protect us.

During the G20 Summit, TAPPS revealed the dangers posed when policing forces and private security companies collaborate: massive and unaccountable repression of civil rights. According to ‘Security Management’ magazine: “Four months before the G20, TAPPS helped bring organizations—including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Toronto Police, NYPD Shield and other specialized units—together to develop plans and share intelligence on known terrorist and extremist threats, including the Black and Pink Bloc anarchists. The information gathered was then fed into the TAPPS secure portal ( to build an intelligence database that police and private security could draw from during the summit weekend. TAPPS members could discuss the intelligence on message boards within the secure Web site…Security and police professionals now hope to build on the lessons learned [from the G20] and realize an even greater collaboration between police and security in the future.”

What is happening on campus on Oct 20 and why should I care?
On Wednesday, October 20th, TAPPS is holding a ‘G20 Debriefing’ training seminar on the UofT campus. This session is co-hosted by the University of Toronto Campus Community Police Service and Reilly Security (one of the companies that holds a security contract with the UofT administration). In this closed session, speakers will assess police and private security cooperation during “Canada’s largest domestic security operation” and examine “challenges and provide perspective from many of the key players involved from both police and private security circles.”
In short, similar rounds of repression are being planned on our campus, behind closed doors.

The UofT community is already familiar with the consequences of ‘police and private security’ cooperation. During the G20 Summit, 75 people from Quebec, who were staying as guests at the GSU Gym, were arrested as a result of a tip provided by a Reilly Security guard working on campus. The security guard noted the presence of ‘black-clad individuals’ getting off a bus and immediately contacted the UofT ‘Incident Command Center’ and TAPPS to secure their arrest. The 75 people arrested have since been cleared of all charges, underscoring the arbitrary nature of these arrests. These arrests are part of a broader trend at UofT in which campus activists and their community allies have experienced increased harassment at the hands of private security guards and campus police.

What kind of campus are we asking for?

We are calling on the University of Toronto Administration and the provincial government to honour the University’s Purpose to commit to “vigilant protection of individual human rights,” including the “human right to radical, critical teaching and research.” We call on university administrators to respect the campus as a protected space to “raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.” We reject and will actively oppose all administrative sanction of an oppressive security agenda that undermines these commitments.

It’s the class struggle, stupid!; Organized labour’s confused response to the McGuinty Liberals’ attack on Ontario’s working-class

By admin, September 6, 2010 12:26 pm


Organized labour’s confused response to the McGuinty Liberals’ attack on Ontario’s working-class

By Ajamu Nangwaya and Alex Diceanu

Organized labour in Ontario will continue to put forth a weak and ineffective response to attacks from the ruling class as long as it continues to ignore the reality of class struggle. A perfect example is its current response to a proposed two-year wage-freeze that the Dalton McGuinty-led Ontario government plans on imposing on unionized public sector workers. The provincial Liberals would like to save $750 million per year from a wage-freeze, so as to help manage the $19.3 billion budget deficit. Readers need not be reminded that this deficit is the result of the risky financial speculations of the captains of finance, industry and commerce that created the Great Recession of 2008.

But it is the 710,000 unionized members of the working class and 350,000 non-unionized managers and other employees who draw pay cheques from the government[1] and the users of state-provided services (and private sector workers) who are being asked to bear the burden of paying for the actions of the corporate sector. At the same time as this attempt to take income from the pockets of government workers, the McGuinty Liberals’ have granted a $4.6 billion tax-cut to the business sector.

The leader of the Ontario New Democrats, Andrea Howarth, has signaled her support for public sector workers’ acceptance of a pay cut. She asserts, “I’m quite sure when they get to the bargaining table they will do their part like everyone else does … there is a collective bargaining process that has to be respected.”[2] Wow! Who said that the working-class needs enemies with “friends” like the New Democratic Party (NDP) and its leader Andrea Horwarth?

However, it is the tame and even puzzling reaction of some of Ontario’s major labour leaders that should be of concern to workers in the public sector. The government called labour leaders and employers from the broader public sector to “consultation” talks on the wage freeze on July 19, 2010. Coming out of the talks, this was what CUPE-Ontario president Fred Hahn had to say, “This is not like the early ’90s, this is not about sharing the pain. That’s all just not true”.[3] He was referring to former NDP premier Bob Rae’s unilateral opening of public sector workers’ contracts and the imposition of public sector wage-cuts accompanied by tax increases for the corporate sector. Was Brother Hahn implying that a wage-freeze would be tolerable, if accompanied by the cancelation of the $4.6 billion corporate tax-cut?

No credible union or union leader should contemplate a zero-wage increase over two years – even if the government rescinds the $4.6 billion tax-cut. There should not have been a tax-cut for the capitalist class. Restoring the tax should not be used as a bargaining chip to escape a wage-freeze on public sector workers.

Not to be outdone was the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. We will leave it to you to decipher the implicit message in the following statement by Smokey Thomas. “Just because he [Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan] wants something doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. It’s not a social contract. He can propose (a wage-freeze) but he has to bargain it. He can’t legislate it. He’ll lose.”[4] Is it just us or does that sound like a labour leader who is not really in a fighting spirit and just wants to make a deal?

A simple matter of misguided policy?

However, the critical issue for Ontario’s public sector workers is the extent to which many of our labour leaders seem to be completely unaware of the state and employers’ motives for disciplining labour through wage concessions. Ismael Hossein-zaded of Drake University made the following observation, which is quite applicable to the posturing of labour leaders in Ontario:


Viewing the savage class war of the ruling kleptocracy on the people’s living and working conditions simply as “bad” policy, and hoping to somehow—presumably through smart arguments and sage advice—replace it with the “good” Keynesian policy of deficit spending without a fight, without grassroots‟ involvement and/or pressure, stems from the rather naïve supposition that policy making is a simple matter of technical expertise or the benevolence of policy makers, that is, a matter of choice. The presumed choice is said to be between only two alternatives: between the stimulus or Keynesian deficit spending, on the one hand, and the Neoliberal austerity of cutting social spending, on the other.5

Based on some of the statements coming from labour leaders, they may not have gotten the memo that the attack on the working-class (through the slashing of social programme spending, attacks on private sector pensions and wage freezes) is not about good or bad economic policies. Hossein-Zedad must have been inspired to write his paper after reading the following Keynesian-inspired comment by Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan; “From a policy perspective, it makes no economic sense whatsoever. You’ve got a government saying we need to stimulate the economy. The best way of stimulating the economy is through public-sector workers who spend every single penny of their disposable income in their local communities,”[6] But it’s not about the economy, per se. It’s the class struggle, stupid!

Canada’s economic and political elite have clearly given up the ghost of Keynesian economics, which calls on government to either stimulate or restrict the demand for goods and services based on the state of the economy. In the case of the 2008 crisis in capitalism, these neoliberal players felt forced by the magnitude of the impending financial collapse to pump money into the economy. A not-too-insignificant fact was lost on many observers and commentators who gleefully cheered on the capitalist class’ “Road-to-Damascus” moment. The capitalist state in Canada and other imperialist countries will do everything within their power to maintain a business environment that facilitates the accumulation of capital or profit-making, as well as legitimize the system in the eyes of the people. That is all in a day’s work for the state…no surprise here for class conscious trade unionists and other activists!

Labour’s “Response”

We ought to note that the recent crisis in the economy caught organized labour off-guard and ill-prepared to mobilize the working-class against that monumental failure of capitalism. For decades, Western corporations and governments have been force-feeding the public a steady diet of tax-cuts. Lower taxes on businesses, high-income earners and the wealthy, the widespread slashing of social services and income support programmes, a massive reduction in state oversight and regulation of corporations and the enactment of anti-union policies and legislation have been the all rage since corproations and Western governments abandoned their class-collaborationist pact with organized labour in the 1970s. Yet at the very moment when capitalism experienced a crisis of confidence resulting from a set of policies that had been hailed as perfect ingredients for economic and social progress, organized labour was caught with its pants down. Its leaders didn’t have a class struggle alternative to Keynesian economics – an economic tendency that was never intended to be used as a tool to end wage slavery and the minority rule of bankers, industrialists and the managerial and political elite.

Presently, the labour movement is ideologically and operationally ill-prepared to effectively face down the two-year wage-freeze demand from the McGuinty Liberals. Unfortunately, labour’s leaders have, in the main, focused on narrow economic demands rather than seeking to politically develop union activists and their broader membership behind a class struggle labour movement platform. Union members have been politically deskilled and demobilized in favour of a social service model of trade unionism. These labour leaders have failed to use their unions’ courses, workshops, week-long schools, publications and other educational resources to educate members of the fact that they are a part of a distinct class with economic and political interests that are different from that of the rulers of capitalist society.

Even the most casual of observers understand that organized labour’s raison d’être is to champion the material concerns of the working-class. And yet, ideologically-speaking, most labour leaders in Canada have cast their lot in with capitalism – albeit a more Scandinavian version. This is why a coherent critique of capitalism is notably absent from most union-organized workshops and events. It should therefore not come as a surprise that many union members have swallowed the employers and politicians’ message that Canada is a largely middle-class country and that our collective aspiration should be to remain a member of this class. If the labour leaders, academics and the media say that the majority of Canadians are a part of the middle-class, it must be so. The development of a working-class consciousness becomes very difficult (but not impossible) in this kind of political environment.

The great majority of Canadians are members of the working-class. They sell their labour, exercise little to no control over how their work-life is organized, have no say over how the profit from their labour is distributed and are so alienated from work that the aphorism “Thank god it’s Friday” has its own acronym. One should never define middle-class status as one’s ability to purchase consumer trinkets, live in a mortgaged home or even own a summer cottage. Middle-class status ought to be defined by one’s exercise of power and control and/or the possession of high levels of human capital found among administrative/managerial elites in the private and public sectors, academic elites and independent professionals.

Labour’s Credibility Crisis

The narrow economic obsession of labour leaders was on plain display when Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan revealed the March 2010 Budget. When it became known that the McGuinty Liberals would be seeking a two-year wage-freeze from public sector workers, this news was all that consumed the attention of most labour leaders. Many labour functionaries scrambled around in search of external and internal legal opinions, requesting briefs from senior staff on the impact of a wage-freeze on bargaining in specific sectors and sending out correspondence to members assuring them to “just act as if nothing had happened”, because they’re “already covered by a collective agreement”. Many labour union offices’ and unionized workplaces’ anxiety was centred entirely on the desired wage-freeze by the McGuinty Liberals. Nothing else!

But today we hear labour leaders talking about keeping money in workers’ pockets to stimulate the economy and that their primary concern is maintaining public services at adequate levels. Why didn’t organized labour deploy its resources to educate and mobilize the public against the $4.6 billion corporate tax-cuts, slashing of $4 billion in transportation infrastructure spending from Metrolinx’s $9.3 billion budget7] and the scrapping of the special diet allowance that benefitted over 160,000 members of the working-class for the unprincely sum of $250 million per annum and a mere monthly average of $130 per person[8]? The provincial government anticipates that the two-year wage-freeze across the public sector will net a savings of $1.5 billion – yet the previous $8.6 billion effectively stolen from the working class failed to push organized labour into action.

The leaders of organized labour did not have the imagination to energize their members and the broader citizenry in alliance with other social movement organizations over the Budget. They could have exposed the class priorities of the McGuinty Liberals. The government’s main concerns clearly have nothing to do with those of us who are poor, live from pay cheque to pay cheque and do not patronize the golf courses where McGuinty and his friends hang out when they are not screwing the public. Listen up public sector labour leaders: the people will not be fooled by your claims to be advocating for the general interest. The broader working-class just have to simply see where you direct the labour movement’s resources and they will clue into the issues that are being prioritized. Take a look at the poor, working-class and/or racialized areas that are likely to be affected by the $4 billion cut to Metrolinx’s budget:


…the austerity moves could affect five planned projects: rapid transit lines for Finch Ave. W., Sheppard Ave. E. and the Scarborough RT, along with the Eglinton Ave. cross-town line and an expansion of York region’s Viva service.[9]

Are we to believe that a class-struggle and anti-oppression informed public education, organizing and mobilization campaign in defense of public services, the social wage and a livable wage would not have had some level of traction with the people of Ontario?

An alternative economic plan or a different labour movement?

In some quarters of the trade union sector, there are talks of presenting an alternative plan to the slash-and-burn neoliberal policies of the provincial government. But, the presentation of Keynesian economic proposals by labour leaders is useless in a climate where the ruling class doesn’t feel threatened by a politically mobilized population, especially without “compelling grassroots pressure on policy makers”.[10] We implied earlier that labour unions have a credibility gap with the broader public if they now assert a desire to “broaden the debate, educate community members and local politicians with a view to engaging in actions that protect public services and build strong communities” as outlined by one union. What would be the purpose of the alternative plans of these labour leaders? The status quo of the 1930s to the 1960s that gave rise to the welfare state is not a transformative option.

There is no such thing as a “contextless” context. Where is the necessary political environment that would force the state to make concessions to the working-class out of fear that they maybe inclined to embrace revolutionary options? When some labour leaders are loosely talking about coming up with an alternative (Keynesian economic plan?) stimulus proposal, they would do well to understand the political implications of the following statement:


Keynesian economists seem to be unmindful of this fundamental relationship between economics and politics. Instead, they view economic policies as the outcome of the battle of ideas, not of class forces or interests. And herein lies one of the principal weaknesses of their argument: viewing the Keynesian/New Deal/Social Democratic reforms of the 1930s through the 1960s as the product of Keynes’ or F.D.R.’s genius, or the goodness of their hearts; not of the compelling pressure exerted by the revolutionary movements of that period on the national policy makers to “implement reform in order to prevent revolution,” as F.D.R. famously put it. This explains why economic policy makers of today are not listening to Keynesian arguments—powerful and elegant as they are—because there would be no Keynesian, New Deal, or Social-Democratic economics without revolutionary pressure from the people.[11]

However, when labour leaders shy away from speaking openly about class-struggle and the nature of our economic system, we have a serious problem. It means that they are not in a position to facilitate a class-struggle, democracy-from-below and self-organizing form of trade unionism.

In order fight this attack on the working-class of Ontario, the labour movements’ rank-and-file activists, progressive leaders and principled labour socialists must engage in shop-floor education, organizing and mobilizing that is centred on a class-struggle, anti-racist and anti-oppression campaign. This approach to labour activism must be done in alliance with progressive or radical social movement organizations among women, racialized peoples, indigenous peoples, youth, students, LGBT community, climate/environmental justice, independent and revolutionary labour organizations, anti-authoritarian formations, and radical intellectuals. It must be an alliance based on mutual respect, sharing of approaches to emancipation and resources and a commitment to the value that the oppressed are the architect of and the driving force behind the movement for their emancipation. It is essential that organized labour open up and transform its leadership and decision-making structures to accommodate the full inclusion of its membership, in all their diversity.

In most of our unions and locals, this means starting from the beginning and we can use this current crisis to take those first steps. There is a lot of frustration among union members and community activists over the inaction of labour’s leadership in the face of this attack – and a desire to do something about it. That frustration and desire can be channeled into building cross-union “fight back committees” that bring together trade union and community activists in a city or town, such as members of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly have already begun to do in that city. The “fight back committees” can give us a capacity to act independently from organized labour’s leadership. And probably our first acts should be to organize general assemblies in our locals and town hall meetings in our communities to promote a working-class view of the economic crisis and to mobilize our fellow workers and neighbours around militant, grassroots resistance to the McGuinty government and all the forces promoting a new round of austerity for the working-class.

Nothing less than a self-organizing, class-struggle approach to trade unionism will put labour in a position to fight in the here-and-now, while building the road we must travel on our way to the classless and stateless society of the future.

Alex Diceanu is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906 and a graduate student at McMaster University. Ajamu Nangwaya is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Locals 3907 and 3902 and a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Both authors are members of the Ontario anarchist organization, Common Cause.

[1] Walkom, T. (2010, March 26). Liberals aim at easy targets. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–walkom…
[2] Brennan, R. J. & Talaga, T. (2010, March 26) Hudak cut wages deeper. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–hudak-cut-wages-deeper
[3] Benzie, R. (2010, July 20). Dwight Duncan’s wage-freeze pitch gets frosty reception. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–dwight-duncan-s-wage-freeze-pitch-gets-frosty-reception
[4] Benzie, July 20
[5] Hossein-zaded, I. (2010, July 23-25). Holes in the Keynesian Arguments against Neoliberal Austerity Policy—Not “Bad” Policy, But Class Policy. Retrieved from
[6] Benzie, July 20.
[7] Hume, C. (2010, March 29). Transit still not a priority. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–transit-still-not-a-…
[8] The Canadian Press. (2010 April 1). Ontario asked to restore special diet allowance. Retrieved from
9] Goddard, J., Rider, D. & Kalinoski, (2010, March 26). Miller outraged as budget sideswiped GTA transit. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–miller-outraged-as-budget-sideswipes-gta-transit
[10] Hossein-zaded, I, Holes in the Keynesian arguments against neoliberal austerity policy.
[11] ibid

Organize a Fundraiser for the G20 Legal Defence Fund

By admin, July 17, 2010 1:51 pm

The Toronto Community Mobilization Network and Defence Fund are calling on our friends, our comrades and strangers to hold fundraising events in support of the legal defence of the 17 community organizers facing the most serious charges stemming from G20 protests, as well as the hundreds of people facing lesser charges.

We need to support all of those arrested during the G20 summit and continue to mobilize and build greater solidarity among our communities.

Legal fees for the 17 alone are expected to reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  That’s a lot of money we need to raise, but every little bit helps.  Any event to bring in money, whether it’s a small house party or a massive concert, makes a difference.  Ensuring that all of our comrades have access to good legal defence in court costs money, which is why we need your support in bringing it in.

Possible fundraising events include, but are not limited to:

*  Film screenings
*  Concerts
*  House parties
*  Panel discussions
*  Raffles
*  Garage sales
*  Anything else you can think of – be creative!

Once your event is planned, send the details to and we can promote your event on our website.  Visit and check out our own fundraising callouts and other resources you can use in your organizing.

Funds raised will be donated directly to the G20 Defence Fund.  From there, funds will be distributed to those with the most need, prioritizing those still in custody on serious charges.

Personal donations are also appreciated.

To transfer funds, transfer to:
transit number 00646
institution number 842
account number 3542240
Use your online bank account or contact your bank directly to transfer funds. Please put “G20 legal defence” in the memo.

Write a cheque:
Toronto Community Mobilization Network
360A Bloor Street W
PO Box 68557
Toronto, ON
M5S 1X0

To donate by PayPal, go to

Thank you for your help. Together we will create a just world that places people and the environment before the profits of corporations and the political elite.

In solidarity,

The Toronto Community Mobilization Network

Appeal for public help exposing police crimes Groups launch peoples’ investigation into police abuses at G20

By admin, July 16, 2010 10:24 am

From: <>
Date: Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 9:32 AM
Subject: [g8/g20mobilization] Appeal for Public Suport to Expose Police Crimes

Appeal for public help exposing police crimes
Groups launch peoples’ investigation into police abuses at G20

Toronto – Community groups are calling on the public to come forward with
photos, video, and eye witness accounts of police violence against
civilians during the G20 summits in Toronto.  This evidence will be used
to ensure that there are consequences for all those who beat and injured
people, and for the masterminds who conspired to plan and give orders for
the widespread police violence and repression that was experienced by
thousands on the streets. Further details can be found at

Press Conference:  11 a.m., Tuesday July 13, Ontario Institute for Studies
in Education, 252 Bloor Street West room 7-216.

“Police seriously injured many people in our city while the G20 met to
plan the gutting of our social programs,” said Farrah Miranda of the
Toronto Community Mobilization Network.  “We are asking the public to help
us to expose these incidents, and to ensure that there are consequences
for these outrageous abuses of power.”

“These rogue officers did not act alone,” she added.  “They were part of a
coordinated conspiracy by police chiefs and politicians that led to
injuries, the detention of organizers, and the largest arbitrary mass
arrest in modern Canadian history. This is not behaviour that should be
commended, this is behaviour that should be investigated.”

The Toronto Community Mobilization Network is launching an independent
peoples’ investigation into the severe and widespread abuses of police
power that occurred during the G20 meetings in Toronto, and the collusion
of politicians in making and executing those plans.  This peoples’
investigation will include representation from community groups, people
who were detained and hurt, NGO’s, academics, legal and medical
professionals, and the communities who face police repression every day.
The investigation will yield a report calling for clear consequences
including firings, and charges of those responsible for abuses including:

1.  Arbitrary intimidation, searches, mass arrests and abhorrent
conditions in detention.
2.  Many serious injuries to protesters, including while in handcuffs.
3.  Illegal, repeated strip searches, threats of rape, and molestation.
4.  Discrimination against deaf people, women, LGBTQ people, Quebecois,
organizers, others.
5.  Passing of secret laws limiting civil rights, and then misleading the
public about their nature.

The Toronto Community Mobilization Network is posting today 6 photos of
police abuses, and is asking the public to help identify the officers
involved.  We are also calling on people of conscience within the police
and the government to come forward as whistleblowers to expose the
decision makers behind this violence.  People can contribute photos or
other information to our investigation through, by emailing, and by tagging uploaded photos, accounts, and
video with #G20PoliceViolence.  We cannot ensure the confidentiality of
these submissions.

Movement organizations continue to call for:
1.  Immediate release of all G20 protest prisoners.
2.  Dropping all G20 related charges.
3.  Firings and prosecution of those responsible for ordering police
violence, and abuses.
4. Abolishment of the G20.

“All of the serious injuries we saw and treated were caused by police
violence,” said Dr. Abeer Majeed of the Toronto Street Medics.  “We did
not come across any police officers or bystanders who were injured by
demonstrators. The police abuses that we witnessed against people caused
significant trauma, injuries and a shattering of the public trust. It is
imperative that there is accountability and there are consequences for
these senseless, violent, and dangerous actions.”

“If such abuses of power are not nipped in the bud such crackdowns will be
repeated as our communities organize to oppose the cutbacks and suffering
imposed by the G20 austerity agenda,” said Jean McDonald, a York
University student who had her hand broken by police.  “Police violence
has long targeted racialized communities. Now all our communities are
coming together and the police and politicians are out of control.  We
need to ensure that those conspiring to hurt people in any community
cannot get away with it ever again.”

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