Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Teachers' Associations Need to be Militant fighters for Economic Demands

We are salaried . We are employed, to carry out policies mostly decided by bureaucrats and imposed on us. We need a trade union that will look after our interests. Our predecessors, in very difficult conditions, did build such a union. That was the WBCUTA, and later, at the all India level, the AIFUCTO. Locally in Jadavpur we have had the JUTA. But for these organisations, with all their flaws (discussed below, a few of those) we would be having neither any academic democracy, nor a decent living. My father, who was a WBCUTA leader, with no Ph D (though eventually 15 or so books and over a hundred papers) so I assume in the eyes of professors with foreign Ph Ds little better than a rabble rouser, always told me about the time the first demand on their charter read, A monthly Pay Packet. I never asked what he meant, for my childhood years are filled with memories of my father coming home with an armload of books and the comment, today I got my UGC. To me, UGC meant father getting a relatively good sum of money once in three or four months. They had the basic given by the college. They had the State DA. They had the UGC. No consolidated pay checheque at the beginning of each month. It was a long fight by WBCUTA that changed it, and I am glad WBCUTA did that by prioritising it over getting OPAC for the Libraries.

What does it mean, when the teachers associations are accused of being not interested in proper educational infrastructure? Is the trade union to worry its head off about the improvement of production? I suppose, in certain ways, we do need to. So let me remind people, that it was the teachers' movement that had fought for the democratisation of governing bodies and universities. The place where teachers can discuss such issues is when they get elected to University UG Councils, PG Councils, Faculty Councils if they are in unitary Universities like JU, ECs or Syndicates, etc. But to demand of professional associations that they discuss less of salaries and more of infrastructure is a dubious concept.

It is also interesting that this comment was made in a convention called precisely on education. Attacking teachers unions is dead easy. Ananda Bazar does it all the time. Anyone with rightwing politics, a term I use analytically, not in an abusive way, will do so. For them, building unions is per se harmful. When we do not get our salaries, when lakhs of rupees are robbed from each of West Bengal's college and university teachers, we are supposed to grin, shrug and say, well, we have better things to think about, like how to improve the college library.
We are not supposed to agitate for our basic demands. But we are to think about improved research and all that blarney. My father worked in a college all his working life. My wife has worked in two colleges over 27 years. My father never got a penny for all the research he did, except one book which the ICHR comissioned him to write. I remember him filming Langal and Ganabani (of course, early Commie papers so one wonders whether worth it) and the films were then put on a projector and put against our bedroom wall. My task was to crane my neck (the pictures had come out at 90 degree) and read them at dictation speed. Today, college teachers are asked to carry out research, submit annual reports, and have a 25 hour college week at a minimum, plus evaluate scrips,  in colleges where they do not have ten percent of the infrastructure a Professor in a leading University will get. And yet there are college teachers, who, without sabbaticals, without leave, manage to write several books and papers, try to teach decently, keep up to date by buying the books their libraries cannot buy. I can cite a good number of my former students who do all that.

I would not suggest that unions of teachers have no flaws. JUTA, to which I belong, is elitist, in the sense it is not open (or was not when I last checked some years back) to part time teachers and contract teachers. In earlier years we had evening courses in most Arts Faculty departments, we had a lot of PT teachers getting shit pay, and when JUTA called strikes they went along, yet they were never asked to become members. And I do agree that teachers' associations have often been gender insensitive, supporting teachers accused of sexual harassment. But again, to reiterate a point I made, it was much due to teachers' movement demands that we had democratisation, that we had rotten trust colleges taken over, that we had the College Service Commission and the Security of Services.
The elitist, or rightwing, or "better", if you do not share my perspective, model is of course to do away with democracy, to impose a bunch of mentors and nominated council members, wise men and women who will do the thinking for the bulk of students and teachers, and expect teachers to just carry out their duties as defined bureaucratically. That the bureaucrats might have Oxbridge or Ivy League degrees or job experiences do not make it less bureaucratic.

Of course, all that I say could be put down as sour grapes. I have a perfectly consistent "second rate" education -- B.A. M.A. and Ph D all from Jadavpur University. No Oxbridge, not even SOAS. So let me also put on my aca-bureaucratic hat and mention that while it is about a hundred miles from anything that will get me an Emeritus Prof, I do have 5 books, 9 edited books, international publications, and membership in various committees that have looked at how to improve academic performance. I was the HoD History when we had the first NAAC report prepared, and the Professor in charge of the NAAC report told me, over phone, that he found that History was one of the few departments to do the work exactly as he had asked. Also, that I have done my bits in trying to improve the quality of education, at least in the classroom.

So, I not only disagree with the perspective that unions should not put so much stress on salaries etc, but positively condemn it, regardless of the eminence or otherwise of those who make those assertions. I do it all the more, because, hiding behind the Sukanto Chaudhuris are all the rascal aca-bureaucrats and politicians who have no compunction in getting improved perks themselves, plus ill gotten wealth, but who will reject our demands for more dignity (look at the re-employment situation), lawful promotions, or arrears.