[Marxism] Work-study with a vengeance

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 16 10:01:24 MDT 2008

Students Are Already Workers

"I know that I haven’t updated in about two and a half weeks, but I have 
an excuse. UPS is just a tiring job. You see, before, I had an extra 31 
hours to play games, draw things, compose music . . . do homework. But 
now, 31+ hours of my life is devoted to UPS. I hate working there. But I 
need the money for college, so I don’t have the option of quitting. My 
job at UPS is a loader. I check the zip codes on the box, I scan them 
into the database, and then I load them into the truck, making a brick 
wall out of boxes."

—“Kody” (pseud.), high-school blogger in a UPS “school-to-work” program, 

The alarm sounds at 2:00 am. Together with half a dozen of her 
colleagues, the workday has begun for Prof. Susan Erdmann, a 
tenure-track assistant professor of English at Jefferson Community 
College in Louisville, Kentucky. She rises carefully to avoid waking her 
infant son and husband, who commutes forty miles each way to his own 
tenure-track community college job in the neighboring rural county. She 
makes coffee, showers, dresses for work. With their combined income of 
around $60,000 and substantial education debt, they have a thirty-year 
mortgage on a tiny home of about 1,000 square feet: galley kitchen, 
dining alcove, one bedroom for them and another for their two sons to 
share. The front door opens onto a “living room” of a hundred square 
feet; entering or leaving the house means passing in between the couch 
and television. They feel fortunate to be able to afford any mortgage at 
all in this historically Catholic neighborhood that was originally 
populated by Louisville factory workers. It is winter; the sun will not 
rise for hours. She drives to the airport. Overhead, air-freight 747s 
barrel into the sky, about one plane every minute or so. Surrounded by 
the empty school buildings, boarded storefronts, and dilapidated 
underclass homes of south-central Louisville, the jets launch in 
post-midnight salvos. Their engines lack the sophisticated 
noise-abatement technology required of air traffic in middle-class 
communities. Every twelve or eighteen months, the city agrees to buy a 
handful of the valueless residences within earshot.1

Turning into the airport complex, Susan never comes near the shuttered 
passenger terminals. She follows a four-lane private roadway toward the 
rising jets. After parking, a shuttle bus weaves among blindingly lit 
aircraft hangars and drops her by the immense corrugated sorting 
facility that is the United Parcel Service main air hub, where she will 
begin her faculty duties at 3:00 am, greeting UPS’s undergraduate 
workforce directly as they come off the sort. “You would have a sense 
that you were there, lifting packages,” Erdmann recalls. “They would 
come off sweaty, and hot, directly off the line into the class. It was 
very immediate, and sort of awkward. They’d had no moment of downtime. 
They hadn’t had their cigarette. They had no time to pull themselves 
together as student-person rather than package-thrower.” Unlike her 
students, Susan and other faculty teaching and advising at the hub are 
not issued a plastic ID card and door pass. She waits on the windy 
tarmac for one of her students or colleagues to hear her knocking at the 
door. Inside, the noise of the sorting facility is, literally, 
deafening: the shouts, forklift alarms, whistles, and rumble of the 
sorting machinery actually drown out the noise of the jets rising 
overhead. “Teaching in the hub was horrible,” recalled one of Erdmann’s 
colleagues. “Being in the hub was just hell. I’d work at McDonald’s 
before I’d teach there again. The noise level was just incredible. The 
classroom was just as noisy as if it didn’t have any walls.” In addition 
to the sorting machinery, UPS floor supervisors were constantly 
“screaming, yelling back and forth, ‘Get this done, get that done, 
where’s so and so.’”

Susan is just one of a dozen faculty arriving at the hub after midnight. 
Some are colleagues from Jefferson Community College and the associated 
technical institution; others are from the University of Louisville. 
Their task tonight is to provide on-site advising and registration for 
some of the nearly 6,000 undergraduate students working for UPS at this 
facility. About 3,000 of those students work a midnight shift that ends 
at UPS’s convenience—typically 3:00 or 4:00 am, although the shift is 
longer during the holiday and other peak shipping seasons. Nearly all of 
the third-shift workers are undergraduate students who have signed 
employment contracts with something called the “Metropolitan College.” 
The name is misleading, since it’s not a college at all.

An “enterprise” partnership between UPS, the city of Louisville, and the 
campuses that employ Susan and her colleagues, Metropolitan College is, 
in fact, little more than a labor contractor. Supported by public funds, 
this “college” offers no degrees and does no educating. Its sole 
function is to entice students to sign contracts that commit them to 
provide cheap labor in exchange for education benefits at the partner 
institutions. 2 The arrangement has provided UPS with over 10,000 
ultralow- cost student workers since 1997, the same year that the 
Teamsters launched a crippling strike against the carrier. The 
Louisville arrangement is the vanguard of UPS’s efforts to convert its 
part-time payroll, as far as possible, to a “financial aid” package for 
student workers in partnership with campuses near its sorting and 
loading facilities. Other low-wage Louisville employers, such as Norton 
and ResCare have joined on a trial basis.

full: http://marcbousquet.net/Bousquet_4.pdf

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