Higher education is the site of an ongoing conflict. At the heart of this struggle are the precariously employed faculty 'contingents' who work without basic job security, living wages or benefits. Yet they have the incentive and, if organized, the power to shape the future of higher education.
Power Despite Precarity is part history, part handbook and a wholly indispensable resource in this fight. Joe Berry and Helena Worthen outline the four historical periods that led to major transitions in the worklives of faculty of this sector. They then take a deep dive into the 30-year-long struggle by California State University lecturers to negotiate what is recognized as the best contract for contingents in the US.
The authors ask: what is the role of universities in society? Whose interests should they serve? What are the necessary conditions for the exercise of academic freedom? Providing strategic insight for activists at every organizing level, they also tackle 'troublesome questions' around legality, union politics, academic freedom and how to recognize friends (and foes) in the struggle.
About the Author
Joe Berry is a founder of the Chicago Coalition of Academic Labor and a long-time leader of the international COCAL and New Faculty Majority. He has served on many national contingent faculty committees. He is the author of Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education (Monthly Review Press, 2005).
Helena Worthen is a novelist, union activist and retired contingent faculty worker. Her book, What Did You Learn at Work Today?The Forbidden Lessons of Labor Education (Hardball, 2013) won the 2014 Best Book award from the United Association for Labor Education.
'A masterful look at the challenges involved with organizing workers in higher education. Berry and Worthen provide excellent recommendations regarding vision and strategy, making the book valuable beyond the field of higher education' Bill Fletcher, Jr., author of 'They're Bankrupting Us: And Twenty Other Myths about Unions' (Beacon Press, 2012)
'Academic precarity screws over teachers by stealing our access to memories of how precarious workers have risen up to win better conditions in the past. Who fought for something better? How did they define what 'better' meant? What strategy and tactics did they use to make progress? 'Power Despite Precarity' is an essential primer on these questions and more' Alyssa Picard, Director, American Federation of Teachers' higher education division
'Empowers us to fight for the higher education and unions we believe in, uniting theory and practice to chart an inspiring path toward labor and education justice' Mia L. McIver, Ph.D., Lecturer, UCLA, President, University Council-American Federation of Teachers
'Written from both an organizer's and historian's perspective, 'Power Despite Precarity' is essential reading for anyone working in higher education who wants to make a better world and wonders what it takes. Berry and Worthen provide a handbook on how the growing number of contingent faculty can unite in common cause. While it is about education, many of the lessons dealing with internal problems inside unions are not issues confined to the education sector (alas) and I especially enjoyed those parts' Elaine Bernard, Fellow at the Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School
'Essential for anyone concerned about higher education. It is impossible to separate the working conditions of faculty from the learning conditions of students, and Berry and Worthen explain how it is possible to transform both for the better of all' Maria Maisto, President of New Faculty Majority, Maryland
'Power Despite Precarity' is not just a solid guide to best practices in day-to-day trade union work within higher education. It's also a rousing call for the contingent faculty movement to embrace grassroots, rather than top-down, organizing and break out of the narrow confines of collective bargaining' Steve Early, national staff member of the Communications Workers of America
'A nuanced guide for organizing which develops a historically informed analysis of the current state and likely direction of higher education today' Jack Metzgar, author of 'Striking Steel'
'A roadmap to thinking and acting like organizers' Fred Glass, 'Jacobin'
‘A rousing call for the contingent faculty movement to embrace grassroots, rather than top-down, organizing and break out of the narrow confines of collective bargaining’ ‘LA Progressive’
‘Berry and Worthen, who combined have decades of teaching and academic organizing experience, offer the reader an extended, classroom-level case study of how educators in the California State University system organized and built power’ Jonathan Rosenblum, ‘Truthout’