San Francisco Art Institute: Union Buster

From Daily Kos:

The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City (1931) is a fresco painted by Diego Rivera which is a source of great pride, and an attraction for no small amount of tourist attention, for the San Francisco Art Institute where I have been teaching as an adjunct for over a decade. The image of this beautiful work posted below originated (pointedly) at the SFAI website itself, and you can learn more about the fresco at this promotional page also at the SFAI website.

A life-long champion of labor organizing and of the democratization of the economy, Rivera founded the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors in 1922. For the fresco he made for SFAI, which was already an historically significant art school, over half a century old, in an historically significant building designed by James Bakewell and Arthur Brown, Jr., students of Bay Area visionary Bernard Maybeck, Rivera chose to produce a fresco about the connections between artists as laborers and the creative power of labor in the world, making a fresco about the making of a fresco, showing artists with many different skills collaborating to create a work of art, in this case a fresco about laborers collaborating to build a city.

As I have already mentioned, I am one of the adjuncts who have been enjoined to vote to become part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Adjuncts like me represent three quarters of the faculty at SFAI, we work for comparatively low wages given our contribution to the mission of the school, we have no job security, we have little sense of our prospects, we have repeatedly observed that no amount of volunteerism, committee work, conspicuous dedication, excellent student evaluations provides sustained recognition or a sense of responsibility to us from administration. This state of affairs is hardly unique to SFAI, but is of a piece with a larger pattern of corporatized education in which teachers are rendered ever more precarious, robotic standardization replaces actual standards, administrative and marketing activities swallow ever vaster resources, and schools enter into ever tighter relationships to corporations seeking a trained docile indebted workforce and to gain proprietary intellectual property portfolios via supported research.

Although I have not been focused on labor politics in my own political life -- my focus has been on gender politics (queer rights, reproductive freedom), democratic technoscience, and environmental justice -- this is nevertheless the third time I've been involved in labor organizing. In the 90s, first when I was working in a university library in Georgia, paying my way through my first graduate degree in philosophy, a public worker union organized my colleagues, and then later the UAW organized graduate student instructors like me when I was at the University of California at Berkeley. I was a steward for my Rhetoric Department for a while. For me, organizing to gain the collective standing to bargain for better conditions and to solve shared problems is simply a straightforward commonsense sort of thing that people do. Of course I recognize that there are problems with unions themselves, as there are with any collective formations, especially formations that are large and complex, but I also recognize that unions are indispensable both to larger aspirations for social justice and to ground level practical problem solving. SFAI's administration is a stakeholder with a different perspective on our shared problems and aspirations than that of adjuncts, in the nature of things, and I would expect them to take up a firm position in the present struggle in advance of the eventual negotiations unionization would bring. As I said, I consider all that only natural. I guess, however, I did not expect the kinds of misinformation, aggression, and scarcely stealthed threats that are coming from administrators at this time.

Read the full story here.