‘Introduction to Labor Studies’ – My First-Hand Account

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Reprinted from biggovernment.com.

My name is Philip Christofanelli. I was a student in the University of Missouri’s “Introduction to Labor Studies” course.  The class was taught simultaneously by Professor Don Giljum of University of Missouri-Saint Louis (UMSL) and Professor Judy Ancel of University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) through the use of a live video feed that linked the two classrooms. The class met every other Saturday for seven hours, including breaks. All of the classes were recorded and put on the class website.

Since that time, an organization known as Insurgent Visuals has released videos of the class, which have gained considerable media attention.  To be clear, I am not Insurgent Visuals, nor am I associated with them.  I did not edit any videos or put them online. I did, however, download the original videos off of the class website and give them out in their entirety to a number of my friends in order to obtain other opinions on the propriety of what occurred in the class, and of the steps I should take moving forward.

In this post, I will try to describe, with careful attention to context and accuracy, what occurred in these public classrooms over the course of the semester.  I believe that any reasonable person who takes the time to read this post in full will come to the same conclusion that I did: Professors Giljum and Ancel used a public university class to promote their own radical political opinions and organizations, and to train students and union members in negotiating tactics that are apparently illegal, and profoundly unethical.  Their behavior was highly unprofessional and inappropriate, and the University of Missouri should simply admit that fact and take steps to ensure that classes are not taught in that way ever again.

I am in fact a Washington University student.  I needed three more credits for my degree, and I chose to pick them up at UMSL.  When I saw “Introduction to Labor Studies” in the course catalog, I expected a fairly straightforward class about unions, their internal structure, and their relationship to management.  I signed up because I have always been fascinated by unions, and nothing similar was ever offered at Wash U.

After the first day of class, I realized I had gotten myself into something entirely different than what I had expected.  It seemed almost as though I had signed up for some informal Labor Club whose goal was to share complaints about the American political system in a casual manner.  In my opinion, the atmosphere was not one of a credit-worthy course at an established public university.

The time had passed, however, for me to find a new class, so I decided I would suffer through it. I reasoned that even if I was not going to learn much from the class, I would at least be able to learn from the textbook, and perhaps obtain some sort of worthwhile knowledge in return for my investment.

The textbook turned out to be anything but an unbiased source. The book was called Why Unions Matter by Michael Yates, editor of the socialist magazine, Monthly Review. I thought that surely a textbook book had to be published by some sort of university press or notable textbook publisher before being made the sole text of the class.  Instead, I discovered that the book was published by the Monthly Review Press, the publishing arm of the author’s own socialist magazine!  The magazine describes itself as follows:

From the first Monthly Review spoke for socialism and against U.S. imperialism, and is still doing so today…. In the subsequent global upsurge against capitalism, imperialism and the commodification of life (in shorthand “1968”) Monthly Review played a global role. A generation of activists received no small part of their education as subscribers to the magazine and readers of Monthly Review Press books. In the intervening years of counter-revolution, Monthly Review has kept a steady viewpoint. That point of view is the heartfelt attempt to frame the issues of the day with one set of interests foremost in mind: those of the great majority of humankind, the propertyless.

You can imagine the kind of knowledge that I gained from such a source, but allow me to remove all doubt with a few quotes:

  • An entire television network, Fox, spreads pro-business and anti-labor propaganda twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. (p. 132)
  • First, the Republican and Democratic parties are most obviously allied with and subservient to the most powerful employers in the nation.  The Republicans may seem to be more ruthless in their willingness to obey the dictates of capital, but the Democrats, in practice, are no different…[S]ince they are perceived as more liberal than they are, they are able to get away with more vicious attacks on workers. (p. 133)
  • If labor ties its star to the Democratic Party, it is tying itself to its class enemy. (p. 133)
  • Over the last ten years, especially during the administration of George W. Bush, our government has been increasingly under the thumb of corporate interests. (p. 12)
  • The AFL-CIO actively rejected the Republican Party’s Contract with America, which threatened vital social services. Its research department developed good materials that exposed the bogus statistics and analysis on which it was based. (p. 12)
  • Large numbers [of Mexican immigrants] have come to the United states intensifying competition in some labor markets, allowing employers to divide and conquer their workforces, and giving an excuse for xenophobes like CNN’s Lou Dobbs to foment anti-immigrant hysteria, which helps to keep domestic workers from seeing that it is their employers (and the employers’ allies in government) that are their true enemies. (p. 12)
  • In general terms, the employer must come to be understood as the class enemy of the workers, one that can only be defeated if workers stick together, acting as if an injury to one is an injury to all. (p. 64)

All of these assertions were made without presenting a shred of evidence or data.  The book made very little effort to hide the fact that it was a piece of political propaganda, and not an academic text.  Nonetheless, the professors saw no problem with making it the sole text for the entire class.

The story gets worse.  The assignments for the class were bizarre, to say the least.  While I was expecting tests and quizzes about facts such as labor history and law, our entire grade was based on our completion of opinion papers about very political issues.

Our first assignment was to interview people and then write a letter to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, providing answers to questions such as: “What is it going to take to convince younger, future workers that belonging to and supporting a union’s organizing effort is in their best socio-economic interest?” and “What do unions have to do to strengthen their existing ranks and solidify the current union members’ support for the labor movement.”

The next assignment concerned the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–popularly known as “card check.”  After reading in Yates’ book about EFCA, we were instructed to write a letter to our U.S. senators and representatives about our position on the bill. Since our only materials were Yates’s very one-sided account of the legislation, and the professors’ similarly one-sided account, how could any student be expected to produce a different position? It is unclear whether or not our letters were actually sent to Washington, D.C, but given the determination of the professors, I wouldn’t be surprised if our letters had been bundled up and were en route right now.

Another assignment was to evaluate unions’ political strategy “supporting its political friends and defeating its political enemies.”  The syllabus said: “Based upon both its economic support and campaign support, [labor] has given to primarily Democratic and some Republicans has Labor benefited legislatively sufficiently to continue this political approach or should it seek to establish its own political party as suggested by Yates in Why Unions Matter.” (Try, for a moment, to forgive the professors’ egregious syntax.)

That assignment was due the week following the class in which Prof. Giljum had discussed at length his membership in the Communist Party.  He said he had joined because, in his words, “the American Communist Party was essentially the only party political group that was seriously focusing exclusively on the working class and labor issues and the rights of workers.” He added that one of the political goals of the Communist Party was to “recapture that party [i.e. the Democratic Party] and have it merge with ours.”

Prof. Giljum then introduced Tony Pecinovsky, a local organizer for the Communist Party, who proceeded to speak to us for two hours about the beliefs of the Communist Party and the benefits of membership.  That’s right–the Communist Party was allowed two hours of publicly subsidized class time to recruit. Thank you, Missouri taxpayers!

Mr. Pecinovsky, who has worked in the past for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), informed us about legislation that is pending in the state legislature.  He said: “Here in Missouri, the Republicans who control the house and the senate are trying to push through a number of pieces of legislation that would really, really devastate Missourians.”  He then informed us that State Senator Jane Cunningham (R) was “crazy.” Pecinovsky also described the dues requirements and initiation procedures of the Communist Party, and gave out his phone number several times, offering to stay as long as anyone wanted to talk to him about joining.

Prof. Ancel acknowledged that joining the Communist Party could cost students their future security clearances, make them less desirable to future employers, and potentially put them on federal watch lists.  Still, she and Prof, Giljum invited this organization into class to recruit.  Call me crazy, but I thought universities and professors were supposed to help students become more appealing to employers, not hook them up with questionable organizations that by their own admission could cost students their future livelihood.

In the same vein, the professors frequently used the class to mock and cajole Republicans and conservative policies.  In one lecture, Prof. Ancel put up as part of the class notes a cartoon showing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi saying, “I don’t believe in collective bargaining either.”  She went on to compare Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, to a repressive authoritarian seeking to emulate dictators and fascists in their “repression of labor.” She then put up another cartoon called “Republican Workplace Bill of Rights,” which showed a number of employees gagged, blindfolded, and handcuffed. In another lecture, she blamed conservatives for what she perceived as media bias against unions, and stated: “The Republican party has done a great job of reducing class to a bunch of tastes, and demonizing liberals because their taste is different from ‘rednecks.’”

Another slide of notes labeled all of the following concepts as “anti-worker attacks”: elimination of collective bargaining for public sector workers, restriction of bargaining and political activities of public sector workers, restriction of what public sector workers can bargain about, the introduction of merit pay, and the elimination of tenure.  (Because, you know, when you don’t have tenure, you can actually be fired for turning classes into political indoctrination courses).

I have attended many political science classes, taught by some of the best political scientists in the country, at Washington University.  Labeling complex pieces of legislation as “anti-worker attacks,” and using political cartoons as lecture notes, is not political science; it is partisan politics and pure propaganda. Credible political scientists are supposed to be able to tell the difference; these professors did not and perhaps could not.

Prof. Ancel presented students with a distorted view of economic history. In one lecture, for example, she told students: “I would argue that fascism absolutely means capitalism, that’s part of the definition [of fascism].” The professors both took a keen interest in the (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts of public sector unions to block Walker’s labor reforms. At one point, Prof. Giljum showed students a live feed of rallies around the state capitol in Madison, WI–and, ironically, broadcast Andrew Breitbart’s Tea Party speech directly into the classroom, followed by that of “Joe the Plumber,” whom Ancel mocked. She described the the protests against Walker’s bill as “a wonderful, welcome thing to see.”

As if indoctrinating students were not enough, the professors dedicated considerable class time to activities that can only be described as training students in tactics to fight the right-to-work legislation that is currently pending in the Missouri state legislature.  An entire day,was devoted to organizing students against right-to-work legislation. Our training included a lecture on tactics from  Jerry Tucker, who Prof. Giljum introduced as the “point person for the UAW’s 1978 Anti-Right to Work campaign.” Much like Tony Pecinovsky, Tucker had nothing of academic value to offer the class. His insights were meant to help us shape a successful campaign against right-to-work in Missouri today. He spent several hours discussing political tactics and strategies, and speculating as to what would be the most appropriate strategies for labor unions and their allies to deploy.

His speech was followed by a lesson by Prof. Ancel on how conservatives have “framed” the right-to-work issue, and a class activity where we were told to “re-frame” right-to-work from the perspective of the working class. She even provided a slide suggesting talking points to use in “state battles” against right-to-work in Missouri and elsewhere. She explicitly told students to describe right-to-work legislation as “payback for CEOs giving money to politicians, OK. So the Republicans and their deep-pockets backers are rewarding the corporations for having put them in office.”

By this point, you should be thoroughly convinced that this public university class was being used for explicitly political purposes. That fact alone should be enough to persuade most reasonable people that something must be done to address how classes are being taught within the University of Missouri system.  This abuse of power and authority by Prof. Ancel and Prof. Giljum, however, was not the most outrageous feature of the class.

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  • kafir4life

    Whenever possible, I purchase right-to-work goods and if I have a choice between union made and not union made, I buy non-union. I have nothing against union workers, I know many, and used to be one myself (forced as most are). I try to prevent my hard earned money from going to the tip jars of the likes of a pelosi, reid, capo schumer, or barry the (not so) great through forced union dues.

    Most union workers (at least the ones who want to be productive) wouldn't join a union unless forced. By "forced", in my case, I was informed that even if I didn't join, they were entitled to take my money in union dues, and it would get expensive replacing tires and windshields.

  • aspacia

    Yikes, this is horrible. Those professors should be disciplines and dismissed. I have had many communist professors, but they were fair to the more conservative students, and my grade never suffered for my opposing opinions.

    It is important to remember, that workers often need protection from unscrupulous supervisors and businesspeople who forced employees to work in unsafe conditions and many died or were maimed.

    I am a union member who at the moment, along with several other teacher holding seniority are fighting an administrator who actually argues that a person does not know a subject unless he or she has taught it. His hit dog Dean, is thrill with the pretty posters my students draw, but not their formal and informal typed essays.

    Okay, I am off my soapbox.

    • qpro4inc

      You would be much more persuasive if you could write a sentence in correct English. If you are a teacher, as you claim, you have no business teaching student until you can write proper English.

      • GKC

        Nothing to add, I take it?

      • aspacia

        Yikes, you are correct, I made numerous mistakes in my previous post. I am duly reprimanded. Just remember, this is an informal board, and most do not proofread their posts, and my eyesight "sucks" (metaphor), and I am nearly blind in my right eye.

        • Jim_C

          Don't even sweat it. It should be understood that you are posting to a message board and that we all make a few errors, here and there. People who have nothing to say go after the grammar.

  • tanstaafl

    A larger question is what purpose does a union serve once workers have gained safe working environments, reasonable hours and wages? Once the revolution is over, what do the revolutionaries do?

    • coyote3

      A very good point. Unions are kind of a victim of their own success. Many of the things they originally struggled for have been enacted into law, and agencies now exist to protect the working environment that did not exist when unions began. What this is, is a struggle to keep a power structure in place. Indeed, the proof of that is in the public sector unions. I remember working in the public sector when unions could care less about those employees. In fact, they even socialized with the politicians who were doing things to their employees that no union would tolerate. For all sorts of reasons, the private sector union memberships, and jobs, decreased dramatically. The unions had to do something to preserve their power. That is the only reason they went into the public sector.

  • Questions

    If these "professors" seek to be union organizers, then they should do the honest thing: Leave academia and become organizers. There is no place in higher education for indoctrination like that. These professors not only are rigid ideologues, they also are getting a whole lot of naive, well-meaning kids in trouble.

    • SM ISAC

      Seems like they are there to recruit and brainwash America's youth. That's exploitation

  • StephenD

    There is a place for an advocate to speak for a worker to ensure safe, healthful and fair practices prevail in the work place. This is ultimately to the benefit of the Company as well as the worker. We've all had those tyrannical bosses and maybe a safety hazard that would otherwise have been looked over. Now after having said that, I can tell you that there is absolutely NO NEED for National and International Labor Unions to effect such conditions in the American work place. They have served their purpose and are now a tool for Fascists and Marxists.

  • 080

    I can't give you an exact citation but during a strike unions are permitted by law to use violence.

    • Questions

      What you have in mind is a case that went before the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Enmons (1973), in which the Court ruled that union violence is exempt from prosecution under the Hobbs Act, the 1946 law making it a federal crime to inhibit interstate commerce through robbery or extortion. Union bosses have used this decision repeatedly to engage in intimidation, violence and vandalism against nonunion workers and employers.

      • Amused

        080, you are in error ,you can't give "an exact citation " BECAUSE THERE IS NONE > As for "Questions " statement , I suggest you reread what you wrote , it is self-contradictory and wrong . There is no exception under any US law which exempts ANYONE from prosecution for VIOLENCE . Do you guys make this stuff up as you go along ?

        • Questions

          You're barking up the wrong tree. I did not say there are laws permitting union violence. I said that a misguided Supreme Court ruling in 1973 exempts such violence from Hobbs Act coverage so long as it furthers "legitimate" union objectives. That's right in the decision. And yes, plenty of unions have used this loophole over the years to justify their members' violence.

          Maybe you should do some homework before questioning the competence of others. Check with the National Right to Work Committee before being a crabby fool.

  • Jim_C

    I agree with posters here. If you want to go be a union advocate, do so. But if you are teaching a course called "labor studies," you have an obligation to present the material non-ideologically.

    This does not mean the professor can't have a point of view. This does not mean the material can't have a point of view. But the other sides need to be represented and taken seriously. Students should be aware of all points of view.

  • BuschmanBob

    I assume that getting an A in this class requires one to agree with everything the professor says, So, when they ask you to write an opinion and your opinion differs from the professor's opinion….. nevermind. I just answered my own question.
    O.K., how about this:
    If a union member is performing his loyal union member duties during a "lock-in" style strike by sabatoging his employer's machinery and then the machinery malfunctions causing a massive fire killing himself and several other fellow union members, does he or she become a hero to the cause? Will the union then pay for the upbringing of the children of those that died? Does the ends justify those means?

  • Oren Cookingham

    Nah, he is only gay to the insecure straight men who for whatever reason actually feel threatened by a picture of him.