In the spring of 2018, a young SEIU organizer, fresh out of Yale, arrived at my college to organize a union. I came on board the following fall and have been working on organizing the campuses ever since.
Organizing an army of adjuncts who have no offices and no connection to each other is a massive undertaking, made far more difficult in our case by Covid and Zoom, not to mention masks.
Kids don’t learn remotely, and workers don’t organize remotely, either. I don’t know why remote learning and remote organizing are so deficient, but they are.
In spring 2019, we won our union 4 to 1.
Then the real work began. As a rookie, I assumed contracts naturally follow unions, but that’s not the case. Some unions never manage to negotiate a first contract at all.
Two and a half years later, on Thursday night, midnight, we won our first contract! I’ve been walking on air ever since — I am ecstatic.
Yesterday morning I spoke to our original organizer, who’s in California now, organizing Uber and Lyft drivers. She told me her blood bleeds SEIU — I think that’s how she put it — because SEIU is committed to organizing workers so difficult to get to that no one else would even try.
Gig workers, group home workers, adjuncts.
Thursday was a long day. We had a strike set for the following Monday–tomorrow–so Thursday was our last chance to avoid a walkout because the committee couldn’t meet on Friday or over the weekend. It was now or never.
Bargaining began at 1, and stretched on ’til midnight.
But this session was different. This was shuttle-diplomacy day. The lawyers and the federal mediator we had called in shuttled back and forth somewhere in the depths of the building while we members of the organizing committee waited upstairs on the second floor.
After hours of this, I felt like a character in a play. The five of us seemed to exist entirely within the four corners of our large, airy waiting room, where our role in the drama was to swap tales with the other characters about cherished, long-closed restaurants in the Bronx. Having grown up in central Illinois myself, I had nothing to contribute on this front, so I was the character sitting silently at the corner of the conference table, racking up record points on day 1537 of her Duolingo streak.
I had recently read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, thanks to Matt Ryan’s Canon Chat, and I kept coming back to the play as day turned into night and we were still there, waiting. I felt like I was in it.
In Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters in a play playing characters in a play. But they’re not the main characters in the play inside the play, and they don’t know they’re characters at all. They think they’re real people with lives; they think they can walk offstage and go home if they like. But they can’t.
That’s how I felt.
For R & G this is confusing but not tragic since they’re a little vague on where home is, exactly, or what might have been going on before they found themselves here, center stage, with not a lot to do.
Since they are minor characters in a play they don’t know they’re in, all the action is happening offstage while here they are, stuck onstage, no exit.
That’s what the day was for me: all the action happening not where I was, and a fading memory of what I used to do when I wasn’t a person sitting at the corner of a table, waiting to hear.
The only difference being that, unlike in Stoppard’s play, nobody died in the end, or disappeared.
Exactly the opposite!
My blood is going to be bleeding SEIU from now on, too.