College Professors and the Working Class

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Tue Aug 1 18:19:33 MDT 1995


To Louis: I wasn't trying to be picky but you unintentionally hit a nerve
that evoked a strong response.  Let me explain:

As a trade union member (and former trade union representative) at a
college (actually three), I am continually frustrated by *false
consciousness* on the part of many faculty who view themselves as
"professionals" and "middle class", rather than workers and trade
unionists.  This makes it very difficult for unions at colleges to bargain
effectively with management or to develop effective trade union strategies.
It also makes it difficult for faculty unions to express solidarity with
non-faculty trade unionists at colleges (such as secretaries, support
staff, etc.).  In fact, faculty often regard themselves as the
"professionals" and other wage earners at colleges as mere workers worthy
only of contempt and disdain.  It is enough to make any class conscious
worker (of which I consider myself one) sick.  The elitist and patronizing
way in which faculty relate to other workers, of course, also frequently
extends to students as well.

The perception that college professors are "middle class" by other
workers is also a problem.  Firstly, we are workers in the classical
Marxist sense -- we are wage earners [*some* of whom are productive (of
surplus value) laborers (more later)], rather than capitalists or members
of the petty-bourgeoisie.  Secondly, the idea that we are part of the
middle class (a very confusing and non-Marxist designation, in my view)
is based on a false perception regarding our salaries, benefits and
working conditions.  Most faculty today in US colleges are part-time
employees rather than full-time employees (this has been an on-going
trend, at least, since the late 70's) who generally receive very low
wages, few (if any) benefits, and usually have no job security. Also, most
full-time faculty are non-tenured rather than tenured and management
frequently subjects the former group to all kinds of pressures and
stresses. [The disparities in wages, benefits and relative power among
these classifications also gives rise to additional tensions among these
trade unionists which further complicates trade union organizing].To give
you an idea, I am currently teaching at three colleges
(Pratt Institute; LaGuardia Community College -- a part of CUNY; and
Empire State College- HVA School of Labor Studies -- a part of SUNY).  My
*combined income* at these schools is significantly less that the nominal
income I was earning as a factory worker over 15 years ago! I have no job
security and only receive health benefits if I meet rather stringent
requirements concerning workload. Moreover, my total workload is
generally about 50% greater than is the case typically for full-time
faculty (e.g. I taught 6 classes -- 19 credits -- since January).  I am
super-exploited!

Connecting this thread to a previous thread on productive and
unproductive labor, I would say that my labor at Pratt Institute (a
private school) is productive labor and my labor at LCC and ESC (public
colleges) is  unproductive labor (with a qualification that I will get to
shortly).  The content of my labor at each of these schools remains the
same but I produce surplus value for Pratt but receive a wage that is
drawn from state revenues at LCC and ESC.

Now, actually the formula given above isn't quite complete since teachers
at public schools can be partially productive if their labor results in
increased skills (and productivity) for students who are productive
laborers.  For instance, if I taught robotics  programming at a public
college to students who  are (or go on to become) robotics
technicians employed as wage laborers  for private capital, then my labor
might be seen as being partially productive labor.  However, since I am a
radical economist, my students generally learn how to become *problem
workers*  (from the standpoint of capitalists and/or the state) and this
could hardly be seen as making their labor more value-producing.

Jerry

PS: The list must have gone down again this afternoon after 4 PM EST.  I
am re-sending this post with minor changes.  If you receive another post
that looks like this one, please ignore it.


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