A Texas union stands with Salaita

October 6, 2014

The firing of Prof. Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois for exercising his right to free speech is a matter of concern for all public-sector workers, explains Dana Cloud.

THE DELEGATES of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) general assembly on September 28 unanimously approved a resolution in support of Steven Salaita, the professor who was fired by University of Illinois in response to his public remarks condemning Israel's war on Gaza.

The resolution demands the reinstatement of his position at the University of Illinois and calls on Chancellor Phyllis Wise to honor the university's offer of employment. The language of the resolution upholds academic freedom and the right of all public employees, including academic employees, to speak their mind without fear of losing their jobs. In addition, it recognizes TSEU as a social justice union that "should not abstain from movements for social justice nationally and internationally." Passed without controversy, the resolution calls for a broad effort by labor unions in support of Salaita.

Anne Lewis, a lecturer at the University of Texas and a member of the TSEU resolutions committee, said that the committee recommended the resolution unanimously "because the right to freedom of speech and the right to have a dissenting opinion are critical to our democracy and to academic freedom."

Students rally for fired professor Steven Salaita on the University of Illinois campus
Students rally for fired professor Steven Salaita on the University of Illinois campus (Eric Ruder | SW)

"With the recent attacks on tenure and continuing concerns about academic freedom, we must fight for that dissenting voice," she added. "While neoliberals run rampant along with the atrocities of war on civilian populations in the name of 'freedom,' we are desperate for dissent, protest and the idea that capitalism does not equal democracy."

Members of other unions--including the AFSCME local at the University of Illinois, the American Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union, and the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois--have demonstrated in support of Salaita. TSEU is the first union local to pass a resolution in his defense.

The delegation also approved a resolution against police brutality and in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Mo.

TSEU is Local 6186 of the Communications Workers of America and organizes thousands of workers across the state in various agencies and universities. By law in the "right to work" state of Texas, it is forbidden from collective bargaining. It largely focuses on lobbying the Texas legislature and organizing local activist campaigns such as the one against the Shared Services management scheme at the University of Texas in 2014.

However, this assembly delegation also added the demand, proposed from the floor, for collective bargaining to the union's political program and a statement committing the union to social justice unionism and stressing the importance of activism to its organizing program.

The demand for collective bargaining has been historically rejected by union leaders as too radical for the legislature and ordinary Texans. The leadership has not suddenly radicalized. However, the approval of these measures as well as the resolutions for Salaita and Ferguson may signal a greater openness on the part of the union membership to an activist, social-justice-oriented approach to organizing.


Resolution of the Texas State Employees Union Supporting Professor Steven Salaita

WHEREAS, the University of Illinois offered professor Steven Salaita a tenure-track position to begin Fall 2014; and

WHEREAS, the University of Illinois subsequently revoked this position because Professor Salaita publicly criticized Israel's war effort in Gaza in his role as private citizen on social media; and

WHEREAS, we should defend all scholars against the capricious denial of employment on the basis of unpopular beliefs; and

WHEREAS, universities thrive on the presence of disagreement and debate about knowledge and society; and

WHEREAS, Steven Salaita represents public employees at state universities; and

WHEREAS, the revocation of his employment offer represents an infringement on his academic freedom and right to free expression; and

WHEREAS, all public employees should be able to speak their mind without fear of losing their jobs; and

WHEREAS, members of many unions, including the AFSCME local at the University of Illinois, the American Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union, and the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois have come out in support of Salaita; and

WHEREAS, the American Association of University Professors has declared its support for Salaita; and

WHEREAS, a broad effort by labor is necessary to defending the rights of all US workers; and

WHEREAS, labor should not abstain from movements for social justice nationally and internationally; and

WHEREAS, the Texas State Employees Union stands in defense of state employees;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT The Texas State Employees Union stands in support of Professor Steven Salaita in demanding the reinstatement of his position at the University of Illinois and calls upon Chancellor Phyllis Wise to honor the University's original offer of employment.

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