I’m as deeply committed a union member/activist as they come. Standing shoulder to shoulder with something like 500 of my fellow APSCUF (Associated Pennsylvania College and University Faculty) members in the frigid cold for several hours in peaceful (though loud—at least me) protest of a contract proposal offered by the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) whose transparent aims are the conversion of the 14 PASSHE universities into training depots, public relations centers, and employment offices for corporate America may be Governor Corbett’s dream, but it’s not mine.
It’s also not any of my colleague’s dreams to convert from substance to mere shadow the quality of the educational opportunity they’re now able to offer their students. No such quality can be maintained under the working conditions the governor thinks good enough for a university faculty whose mission according to his corporatist agenda is not the education of citizens, but simply the manufacture of workers whose critical thinking skills extend no further than the choices available at the drive-thru window of a fast food.
From class size, to the swapping of in-class for inferior on-line courses, to pay for temporary faculty, to access to healthcare, to benefits for retired faculty, Mr. Corbett would not only see the transformation of PASSHE schools into work-force recruitment and training depots, but would have the PASSHE faculty—6,000 of us—sell out both our younger and more economically vulnerable colleagues and our retired fellows in the name of “efficiency” and “solvency.”
These, however, are nothing more than fear-mongering tactics. Mr. Corbett can afford to offer Shell a 1.65 billion dollar deal to build a polluting behemoth of an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County (Ethane Cracker | StateImpact Pennsylvania).
But he’s comfortable with the prospect that a person who has undertaken the immensely arduous work of earning a Ph.D., is hired as adjunct faculty at, say, Bloomsburg University, might earn little enough to qualify for food stamps (food stamps « APSCUF-KU xchange). He’s also quite comfortable with the sale of the contract to run the $1.5 billion Pennsylvania lottery to an off-shore corporation—potentially jeopardizing the jobs of hundreds of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers—not to mention the beneficiaries of those lottery dollars, senior citizens (AFSCME reacts to Corbett’s notice of intention to award contract to outsource lottery’s management | PennLive.com).
Dave Fillman of AFSCME, Counsel 13 may have put the point best:
“Apparently, the governor wants to privatize something – anything – no matter the costs to Pennsylvanians,” Fillman said. “Our lottery is one of the best in the nation and this administration just two weeks ago was congratulating our team for the great work they’re doing. Now, they’re telling people thanks, but we’re terminating your job.” (AFSCME reacts to Corbett’s notice of intention to award contract to outsource lottery’s management | PennLive.com).
And then, of course there is the complete transformation of the Department of Environmental Protection via appointment, the misapplication of law, the creation of law written by and for the corporations, the gutting of staff, and just plain old corruption, into the Department of Extraction Protection—at any and every cost to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Hopefully, Pennsylvania’s 51st Auditor general, Eugene DePasquale will make good on his promise to audit the DEP (Eugene DePasquale Auditing Pennsylvania DEP). He’ll need some tall boots, heavy gloves, and a thick skin to get to the bottom of what we all know is a feces-fettid hole of corruption, influence, donor pay-offs, and other icky varieties of hand-greasing.
We’d be missing a crucial part of the picture, however, if we concluded that the Corbett administration was motivated by greed alone in that avarice, by itself, doesn’t supply the strategy by which it is affected. I take Corbett to be making good on his campaign promise to “get the government out of,” well, everything—including all of those tax-payer subsidized things that could be making the Friends-of-Corbett barges full of money.
The only real difference between privatizing the PASSHE universities and effectively privatizing the PA-State Game Lands of, say, Sullivan County for fracking corporations like EXCO is the union that stands in his way.
Tea Party god forbid that fracking industry workers decide that collectively bargaining might be a good idea for them too.
Put differently: insuring that the PA Big Corporation Employment depots—PASSHE—produce precisely the workers whose labor guarantees the ongoing profitability of the Big Energy friends of Corbett requires insuring that their educations out-fit them to these “jobs of the future.”
No way to get that with, for example, uppity humanities faculties working their keesters off to teach critical thinking skills.
No need for critical thinking skills once you’ve sold-out human goods like art, music, literature—citizenship—for the money that the “good American” has been persuaded is the only measure of freedom (well, besides the right to buy an assault rifle) (Why Fracking Epitomizes the Crisis in American Democracy: Profiteering and the “Good American” | Raging Chicken Press).
Perhaps this sounds conspiratorial.
Corbett ran for the governorship on the platform that he’d cut state spending, privatize public services, and lighten the regulatory load of the extraction industries.
Despite his promises that he would not follow the examples of Wisconsin’s or Michigan’s union-busting Governors, it’s clear that his strategy is to render the unions as powerless as possible through other means: “right-to-work-for-less-money” legislation, shoddy contracts, steep budget cuts for unionized public institutions—including K-12 public education—and all kinds of dollars, breaks, and other perks for the Big Extraction corporations who are set to hire the newly minted truck-drivers, rig workers, etc., from PASSHE: the Pennsylvania Shale System for Hiring in Extraction, or just PA, Inc. for short.
APSCUF, however, is going to make the implementation of Corbett’s Tea party worldview very much more difficult. As was in clear evidence yesterday at the picket we orchestrated at the Board of Governor’s meeting at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg, a fair contract, safe and reasonable working conditions and hours, access to good health care—these are at minimum the rights of all workers, including faculty, rig rough necks, nurses, fire-fighters, prison guards, custodial staffs, and truck drivers…
This brings me to one of my pictures. Occasionally, frack workers will wander onto one of my photographs on Facebook, in this case, what’s become a kind of iconic picture of the eviction of the Riverdale Mobile Home Community, Summer 2012. One such worker identifies himself as Cody Conner, but his friends, RJ Mundrick, Darren Mundrick, Justin Butterorff, Nevin Weaver, Randall Lee Hummer, Luca Antonio, Randy Ings., Joshua Schaffer, and Brandon English all feel the need to chime in too. Predictably, Connor proclaims the miraculous benefits of natural gas, the great jobs, the safety of fracking, the hypocrisy of the opponents, and “you better just get used to it” inevitability of BIG Extraction (which, of course, undermines the “hypocrisy argument” on its face).
Each of these claims can certainly be de-bunked—thrashed to pieces in fact—as I and many others have shown over and over. Hence, I am going to put these aside for now. My argument here is two-fold:
- It’s hard to imagine a better example of the patriarchal and bigoted culture of the extraction industry than this exchange. Just a few un-edited examples—but you might want the kids to leave the room now:
- Nevin Weaver: “I’m glad they cleaned up that part of the highway, the water extraction plant is much more appealing than the trailer trash that was goin on there. You should just let this die, nothing you say will ever change what happened, thank god”
- RJ Mundrick: “And let me just add. You trailer trash did not own the ground. So why bitch about being booted. He gave u fucks money to move. I sure as hell wouldnt have paid a dime. U people sound like a bunch of fuckin babies. Get over it and go find something productive to do”
- Darren Mundrick: “Yall are fuckin nuts your all up on ur high hill driving Mercedes and shit bein “drs” or sitting in a nice heated office working 8 hours a day not one of you know what its like workin 20 hours a day 7 days a week for a month straight or how bout u try to pull a 45 hour shift in the freezing cold everyone who works in the gas industry does hey i bet if u clowns did it you wouldnt have time to come up with all this shit against the industry…I cant wait till someone steps up and tells these people the natural gas industry is staying it created jobs that werent here unless you came from a snob nose rich family went to college or wanted to make 30 grand a year it brought money to people who werent doing anything with there land and could barely afford the taxes and at least it just takes up a little spot and u can barely see it when its all done like cody brought up earlier what about the huge ugly windmills poached up on the mountains killin birds so damn noisey you can hear them a mountain away but yall dont want them down do ya no cause theyre “environmentally friendly” so maybe u should look into things a little more before you go talking bad about all this shit of natural gas and see how many people couldnt feed there families if it was gone cause its there lively hood explain that to their children that they cant have a toy at a store cause their dad lost their good paying job and is now flipping burgers all thanks to u suit and tie wearing office working people or drs”
- Justin Butteroff: “Well said darren well said. I know what its like and riverdale needed go it was starting to look like shit anyways. God dam welfare mother fuckers.
- And, of course, the original post that touched off what became a poo-storm, Cody Connor: “That place was a trailer court that was the best thing to happen…ol ok I went to jersey shore that place looked the same the last 20 years…Your one of the statistics that came to protest right and you don’t even live in jersey shore ???? Your one of the ppl that don’t get anything from this industry and are pissed off and hate it ? How’s this turn off your furnace, park your car and don’t use anything that’s plastic don’t give any money or promote any where else that is heated by natural gas or oil , and that electric car that’s so efficient, that power plant where that electric is coming from might be fueled by natural gas you guys are absolutely out of this world , gasland is an absolute joke…I nothing Against the trailers at all those people had the option of getting money to move…What I know, dear mrs lee what i know is I go to work every day , and when I drive by somewhere and see people perfectly capable of working and knowing some of them were offered jobs and diDNt want them is beyond me village lol yea it’s a village alright”
The stereotype, bigotry, illiteracy, and ignorance evidenced in these posts needs no explanation.
And it’s no wonder, given this lethal combination of willful ignorance and the arrogance that comes with money-sans-conscience, that we’re seeing a rise in crime in regions subject to the sorts of man camps in which it’s easy to imagine fellas like this living (Fracking Communities—Now Add Crime to the Laundry List of Problems Drilling Brings to Your Town – EcoWatch: Uniting the Voice of the Grassroots Environmental Movement) . What’s especially ironic is that the man camps are often enough trailer courts whose owners have evicted the residents to make room for bigger lot rent paying frack workers, (http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/2012/04/14/new-town-mobile-home-park-residents-protest-eviction-for-workers/), or they’re cleared of their residents to make room for fracking infrastructure like Aqua America’s water withdrawal at Riverdale (Trailer Park Evicted to Make Room for Fracking | Mother Jones).
Deb Eck, one of the last evicted residents of Riverdale also weighs in on this comment thread, “I am one of those former residents cody and you know nothing about anyone who lived there. we all had and still do have jobs or were elderly,retired,or disabled people who know what being a human being is really about and fought for what we felt was right. you should try to put yourself in the shoes of a person who cares about others and our beautiful planet. you need to become human first though.”
Yes—and it should not be lost on us that almost all of the fracking-defenders are men—and that Deb Eck and myself are women. Would Mr. Connor have ventured onto a FB photo uninvited had it been a gentleman’s? I don’t know. Would Mr. Butteroff have felt comfortable using language like “God dam welfare mother fuckers” did he not feel himself to be the superiors to people he doesn’t know—especially women he doesn’t know? Don’t know.
But what is abundantly clear is that these gentlemen epitomize the culture that is fracking—and it is bigoted and it is violent. And that brings me full circle to the PASSHE proposal for public university faculty contracts.
2. Cody Connor, et. al, is precisely what we are going to get more of if we continue to underfund, privatize, and Wal-Martize higher education.
Note, I’m not claiming that Governor Corbett condones the bigoted attitudes evident in the Facebook exchange. But what I am saying is that he condones them indirectly because he knows—he cannot not know—that Cody Connor and his friends represent the future of the Commonwealth, whether they choose to live here or not. The governor knows that an education that merely out-fits you for workforce membership, but not for citizenship, is not an education at all; it is being trained to be satisfied with the indentured servitude of the company town ethos steeped in the fracking culture.
So this is my plea to my fellow APSCUF members: the fight for a fair contract is simply one minute—a crucial one albeit—in a far more important and titanic battle: the place and reach of higher education, of citizenship, of critical examination, of imagination beyond a choice from a fast food menu. Not only is the rural culture of Pennsylvania threatened by the environmental and social costs of fracking, so too is our very comprehension of Pennsylvania as a state. A state requires a discerning electorate—not just a workforce. A state demands its democratic institutions be actively engaged—not neglected while money is to be made. Pennsylvania, Inc., is not a state; it is a sprawling industrialized company town sitting atop the Marcellus shale. Its fortunes have become, indeed, fortunes for some but travesty for other “shalers.”
Our resistance as professors is captured by the demand that we be allowed to teach, to conduct scholarship, to participate as public intellectuals in our communities. That demands a collectively bargained contract in which the conditions for these noble aspirations—academic freedom, reasonable class size, protections for our untenured, temporary, and retired faculty, control over the content and modality of our curriculum, and access to health care—can be realized.
It demands, in other words, the sorts of things we recognize as human rights—the things Mr. Connor and his friends insist do not belong to economically vulnerable people.
EXCO may be able to afford lots of Cody Connors. EXCO doesn’t care if Connor and his friends are racist, sexist, ignorant, and illiterate. After all, EXCO’s interests are not in the promotion of any of the sound-byte we all know: energy independence. Their interests are in selling the products of extraction to whoever will pay the highest price. And they obviously don’t need an especially literate or even humanly decent workforce for that.
That’s apparently OK with Tom Corbett.
It’s not ok with me—not as an anti-fracking activist, not as an APSCUF union member,
but more than anything, not as a teacher.
Wendy Lynne Lee | Professor of Philosophy, Bloomsburg University