Bringing Free Speech to the University Workplace: Adjuncts and Graduate Workers Unionizing Under Trump by Edna Bonhomme

University administrators say they tolerate free speech and association of students, expect for when their students and adjuncts exert their rights as workers. This has recently taken on purchase since the  National Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that student-workers at private universities could form and join unions. At the core of the wave in United States higher education unionization has been workers wanting control over their labor, transparency in their work place, and higher wages. For example, graduate worker have been seeking unionization at Boston College for the past three years demanding better healthcare and at Grinnell College in Iowa student workers hope to unionize their entire student body. Of late, Ivy league institutions in the United States have taken national spotlight on the unionization which has been met with defeat and success. In the early part of 2017, Cornell University and Harvard University were unable to whip up the votes for their campaigns marking massive anti-union campaigns by university administration as one of the obstacles.

 

At the same time, Columbia University graduate workers won the right to unionize in October 2016 and Yale University also voted for unionization in February 2017. Both campaigns encountered pushback, even when graduate workers led a prosperous democratic election, thus leading to a hunger strike at Yale University. On 22 May 2017, more than 1000 protestors joined Yale University hunger strikers as they fought to have their unionization vote recognized by the University. To date, this is marking one of the largest solidarity efforts since the surge of unionization campaigns at private universities. The organizers resorted to the hunger strike as a tactic, precisely because Yale University’s administration would rather elide a democratic process than to see their graduate workers exercise their collective power.

 

Graduate unionization campaigns are not entirely new in the United States but part of a tradition where graduate worker unionization began in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights movement. The first graduate student labor union to win legal recognition in 1966 was the Teaching Assistants Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison which emerged after a massive wave of sit-ins to protest the United States war in Vietnam. The graduate student unionization campaigns during the 1960s was where anti-war activists, socialists and civil rights leaders put labor at the center of their campaign for a democratic university education. Yet, the material conditions and the political demands have shifted since the 1960’s especially with respect to the rise in student loan debt, poverty among adjunct workers, and the rise of the far right on campuses. These issues and more have generated anxiety but also come with an explosion of activity on campus with material realities and free speech at the center of those conversations.

 

Austerity and neoliberalism have been a centerpiece for why graduate workers have taken on unionization efforts. On a structural level, austerity is immolating the humanities insofar that public universities such as the University of Wisconsin will reduce the state’s public budget by $300 million. Adjuncts are at the center of the unionization campaign—in some cases pointing out how graduate workers and adjuncts necessitate a revolt to upend the poor working conditions, limited resources, and low pay. Most adjunct professors are not provided with stable income and offices, subsequently, leading many to juggle between multiple jobs and working from their cars and cafes. Some have argued adjunct positions are driving people to poverty, yet dovetailed with this neoliberalism distress is a deluge of student loan debt among many students and graduates.

 

In the United States, the $1.3 Trillion student loan debt crisis is a central feature of national debate in higher education. Ellen Tara James-Penny, an adjunct professor in English at San Jose State recently attracted national attention for living out of her car despite her salaried position. Although she takes in $2500 per month, she has a debut of $143,000. Another adjunct professor, Mary-Faith Cerasoli also reported to The New York Times that she is homeless and resides in her car. The precarity of these two professors are not exception but a rule insofar that the rising cost of living and austerity is driving up debt and desperation. In addition, these anecdotes are not merely hyperboles to dramatize the predicament in US higher education but they are confirmed by the American Association of University Professors which has documented that 76% of higher education are adjuncts with many of them living below the US poverty line.

 

Uncertainty has become the norm. That is to say that academic labor has shifted from a secure and well-paying professorship to contractual and low-paying jobs. A recent National Institute of Health study showed that of the 86,000 PhD students in biology in the United States, only 29,000 will get a tenure-track position—leaving 57,000 graduates with non-tenured academic positions or positions outside of the academy. These dynamics are taking on a new tune in the current political moment where conservative ideologues in the White House and the streets are explicitly anti-labor and targeting leftists on campuses.

 

As Thomas Frank surmised in The Guardian, Trump will most likely appoint an anti-union justice who will overrule the August 2016 NLRB decision yet some of those anti-union campaigns are coming directly from US campuses. At the University of Pennsylvania, the unionization campaign has dealt with massive anti-union propaganda from graduate students who oppose collective bargaining. One key organizer of the Graduate Student Union at the University of Pennsylvania campaign proclaimed that the anti-union groups are part of “a right-wing ideologue to hijack this process.”

 

Despite the national political mood, graduate workers have remained tenacious. At the University of Chicago, the Graduate Students United have scheduled an upcoming vote for 17-18 October to decide whether they will have a union. In response, the university has requested a stay—which would derail the mobilization efforts and the enthusiasm that has kept this issue going. One could also surmise that this could also be read as in concert with the projected conservative appointment of the Supreme Court Justice. However, the US Supreme Court has recently decided to take on the case  Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which would hinder a public sector’s union ability to collect union dues—thus causing a detrimental impact on the existing public sector unions as well as the campaigns that are ongoing.

 

Free speech on university campuses has also emerged insofar that university administrators have used university-distributed e-mails to caution against responses from far-right attacks and have advocated for impartiality. In response to recent debates on US campuses about the rise of the right, Princeton University administrators decided to put for their own perspective about the free speech debate. The Vice President and Dean sent an e-mail to the student body indicating:

 

Regardless of where you stand on issues such as climate change, white nationalism, the rights of transgendered [sic] people and immigrants, and many more, we encourage you to learn from the divergent perspectives of others, including our many faculty whose expertise provides nuanced and varied analyses of just these topics.”

 

Nevertheless, students resist and construct their own narratives to combat the growing hate on US campuses. In a rejoinder, graduate student workers from the Princeton Graduate Students United, Black Student Caucus, Latino Graduate Student Association, Queer Graduate Caucus, and the Princeton University Democratic Socialists of America stood above the fray in their response. They exclaimed:

 

“There is no room in civil, democratic society for these two positions to ‘debate’ on an even playing field. Allowing or encouraging such “debate” does not affirm ‘free speech’ but instead threatens many people whose safety and personhood has long been devalued.”

 

What makes the graduate workers commentary so powerful is that the unionization efforts are uniting groups that have otherwise organized separately and they are putting forth a live debate about the free speech and hate speech debates brewing on US university campuses. While the university exclaims “neutrality,” the far right feels emboldened. As such, it is noteworthy that graduate workers are taking a principled stance that is also channeled through collective organization. They recognize that the university is not merely a place of rhetoric but where policies can shape vulnerable populations.

 

Relatedly, with the wave of deportations in the United States, immigrant students—especially Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA, immigrant students have faced major scrutiny under the Trump administration. Graduate students and unionization campaigns have tapped into the pulse of a growing and vibrant immigrant rights movement to stand alongside and with immigrants who fear possible deportation. Ancillary to that, Donald Trump’s new iteration of the Muslim ban on 24 September, restricting travel of most citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, will disproportionally be detrimental for Muslim students from these respective countries—something tied to the US government’s exercise of militarization in the Middle East.

 

Graduate student unions are not merely linked to austerity in the states, but it also a question of using the university system to decolonize education as is the case at the University of Cape Town. In the South African context, student-workers have called for national strikes and an end to discrimination in higher education. Their unionization mobilization has made explicit how the continuation of apartheid-like policies has perpetuated a systematic exclusion of Black South Africans from higher education. During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015, Black American students were explicit about making links to how American universities profited from settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people, leading many to believe that the movement has reinvigorated breathe into university campuses.

 

Moreover, graduate student unions have the potential to gather students from various class backgrounds, ethnic groups, and immigration statuses. The battle for unionization for higher education in the United States reflects the fault line of universities today. They are not sites where people can collectively learn and flourish but are institutions that reinstitute power dynamics, rather, they are becoming a place where the right wing is encroaching and progressive professors such as Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor are under attack. Groups such as the Campus Antifascist Network have been mobilizing across the United States to challenge these attacks by the so-called, alt-right. Much has changed from the 1960s where unionization efforts dovetailed with a massive anti-war movement, the upending of legalized segregation, and cultural shift in mainstream politics. At the same time, many of the graduate workers are living and breathing through the recent history of the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The experience of cohering at Zuccotti Park, Tahrir Square, and Ferguson has shown that people can and will collectively organize and the union can be that space where power is further realized.

 

 

Migration by Edna Bonhomme

Migration can be unsettling mostly because of the material costs of moving, the everyday miscommunication, and the feeling of exclusion. For many people who have had to flee from war, famine, cholera, and occupation, it is especially heartbreaking. I have come to terms with the fact that home has been and will always be contingent, fleeting, and precarious--especially since contractural, short-term labor has become the norm for my generation. But I have never been able to digest that as Black woman, I am regularly disregarded by others, subjected to street gendered/racial harassment, and stared at & touched by strangers. These interactions are not unique to Berlin but emulate some of the encounters I have had in Brooklyn, Cairo, Managua, Paris, and Port at Prince. Nevertheless, there is beauty in hearing raindrops hit the tin roof, smelling the morning dew during an early morning run, and reading a good book. There is solace in running one's finger through the grass and having the wind blow on one's eyelid. The late Black American playwright, Lorraine Hansberry wrote:


"I wish to live because life has within in it, that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all these things, I have found them to be reason enough and--I wish to live."

Like Lorraine, I wish to live but I want to go a step further and thrive and love even when the world is telling me otherwise. Perhaps that is an essential feature of the Black radical tradition--or perhaps it is product of being a spore that wishes to find roots. Convening with nature and literature shows that the world is beautiful even when it is not apparent from looking in the mirror or floating through the world. Yet, working in concert with the living and learning from the ancestors who have wanted to make it more humane will be a key feature to our collective liberation.

Graduate Students Are Workers by Edna Bonhomme

In light of the Cornell University Graduate Students Vote I am posting an unpublished piece that I wrote on the importance of graduate worker unionization especially in a moment of austerity and attacks on academic freedom. Enjoy!

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Unionization is in the air. Across the United States, graduate students, non-tenured faculty, and undergraduates are beginning to organize union drives.[1] Over the past several years, graduate students at Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania, have started unionization drives to represent graduate workers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling from 23 August 2016 stated “that student assistants working at private colleges and universities are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act” which means that they have the right to collectively organize and form a union.[2] This is historic in that it overruled the 2004 NLRB decision with Brown University (342 NLRB 483) which previously argued that graduate workers were primarily students and could not be classified as employees.[3]

 

Graduate students want better protection for their labor, academic freedom, more transparency against discrimination, better health and childcare benefits. Moreover, they want to have meaningful connections with other graduate workers at public universities who have been engaged in collective bargaining and labor rights in higher education. For many people who have taken part in the unionization drives, they recognize the work produced by graduate students for the university and ensures that the university consider working conditions of graduate students a priority as well as the social dimensions that effects their ability to work. In an era of academic corporatization and the increasing reliance on contingent researchers and teachers over tenured faculty, graduate worker unions give us a powerful voice in shaping our working conditions as well as the future of academic work and the university as a whole.

Graduate student unionization is not entirely new but began during a period of high radicalization in the 1960s.[4] Students from the New Left Movement and the Berkeley Free Speech movement recognized that unions were integral to fair treatment and protection with their university. At the University of Wisconsin graduate teaching assistants were part of the anti-war movement, led sit-ins, and began the core of forming the graduate union on campus.[5] Since the 1960s, graduate worker unions have given students the power to improve their economic benefits, health benefits, job security, and better protection for undocumented students. They have made connections between the fight for labor, anti-war movement, environmental movement and broader progressive issues.

 

In the current neoliberal moment, unionization campaigns are simultaneously addressing the working conditions of graduate workers and challenging the precarity of the academy. The 2008 global financial crisis has exacerbated austerity in higher education, which has meant that administrators have pushed for neoliberalism within the system—even going so far as to undermine collective bargaining for unionized faculty. In September 2016, the administration at Long Island University—in Brooklyn, New York—took a draconian measure to lockout faculty members as they were negotiating their contracts.[6] Outside of the attack by administration, the academy has less tenured track academic jobs available for people graduating with a doctorate. The prospects are even more dire for women and people of color.[7] Furthermore, humanities have taken a toll since the economic crisis resulting in the state of Wisconsin significantly reducing the state budget for the University of Wisconsin by $300 million over the next two years.[8] For graduate students who want to continue working in the reduction of tenure track positions and university the budget cuts are related to the movement to organize graduate workers. They matter insofar as we have the ability to shape a broader movement about academic freedom, labor, and job security.

 

Emergent Unionization Drives

 

In the northeastern region of the United States, graduate students at private universities have begun or strengthened unionization campaigns with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the United Autoworkers (UAW) having a major influence in higher education organizing. Those institutions include Cornell, Columbia, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Northeastern, Fordham, New York University, Princeton, and Yale. Of these, NYU’s graduate student union—GSOC UAW local 2110—has one of the strongest positions.

 

During the spring of 2016, graduate students at Princeton began meeting regularly to discuss the possibility of forming a union keeping in mind the efforts that were being done at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale. What emerged was a provisional group of graduate workers and postdoctoral fellows that formed Princeton Graduate Students United (PGSU). After the NLRB decision in August 2016, a larger layer of Princeton University graduate students began an outreach campaign that to help make unionization possible had two goals of pursuing an affiliation vote and getting more graduate students involved. After having been approached by representatives from AFT and SEIU, PGSU disseminated information and held a two-day election. Of the 2500 graduate student body, over 6% voted (approximately 162) for an affiliation vote. In the end, graduate students overwhelming supported AFT (with 77% of the vote) because it would allow for more local autonomy and connections with other higher education unions in the state of New Jersey. What this vote for affiliation meant is that an already established union would help graduate students begin a unionization drive on campus thus lending the he resources, experience, and legal protection for forming a union.

 

The actual campaign to form a union at Princeton will be a multi-step process that will include the entire graduate student body. Since November, Princeton members of PGSU have been getting students to sign mission cards. In addition to this, students are engaged in a campaign to make Princeton a sanctuary campus. This has been met with various e-mails from the university president condemning this. The Dean wrote, “We are a close-knit and intimate academic community, one that strives to be responsive both to each individual and to the student body as a whole.” For students from working class, LGBT, and ethnic/racial minority backgrounds this is not always the case. In a moment where students, faculty, and staff from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen face condemnation from the Trump regime,[9] the administration has not taken a formal stance to make Princeton a sanctuary campus. Which means that they will be vulnerable to the woes of discriminatory national policies and challenges as they enter and leave the United States. Graduate student unionization would provide another layer of protection to ensure that all students—no matter their national origin—are provided the protection.

 

Moreover, the anti-unionization rhetoric of the Princeton University administration has been disingenuous to labor struggle at best and patronizing at worst. After several meetings generated by PGSU—town halls and general assemblies—we have received explicit e-mails feigning objectivity while explicitly discourage graduate students stating: “I again encourage you to defer any decision to sign a union authorization card until all of your questions about unionization are answered to your satisfaction.”

 

In order for both unionization drives to be successful, at least 30% of the bargaining units at Fordham and Princeton need to vote to approve the union before being officially recognized by the university. That means raising consciousness about the importance of unionization, designing a fair contract, and having an open election. Graduate students are organizing for a host of reasons. Not only do they want to connect people throughout campus but they want to ensure that they can help shape an open and inclusive university. But this also comes in a politically volatile moment where it is not clear that the August 2016 NLRB decision will be upheld. Trump’s cabinet pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, and his potential nominee for the Supreme Court justice may do a disservice to the many gains that graduate workers have been having on campuses.

 

The Necessity of connecting graduate worker unions with broader labor issues

While graduate workers do not neatly fit the campus framework their struggle in labor has opened up broader questions on campus about endowment, cross campus labor coalitions. For one, administrative attacks on graduate workers and their organizing drives has broader implications for developing more precarious labor in academia, i.e., contractual adjunct positions. Moreover, the struggle around academic freedom in higher education will also be fragile in this political moment.[10] Moreover, the anti-union campaigns by administrators often take on the similar language and intimidation.[11]

 

Despite the steps forward at Princeton University and other institutions, there has been tension between pro-union graduate students and their anti-union peers. Anti-union constituents have often argued that graduate students are receiving professional training and that collective organizing would undermine their professional development.[12]  However, this perspective elides the fact that graduate students often provide a range of services for universities including but not limited to teaching undergraduates, conducting innovative research, and participating in a vibrant intellectual life.

 

The graduate unionization campaigns are not unique to Princeton but they have entered the mainstream media as was the case with the Columbia University legal controversy[13] and Harvard’s close but ultimately unsuccessful vote.[14] Brown University graduate workers recently made a decision to cast a vote between AFT and UAW in an effort to develop a successful campaign.[15] Graduate workers at Penn recently posted a statement about the history of their unionization efforts, the August NLRB decision that says graduate students are workers, and the conditions of their labor on campus. Graduate works have been organizing for the past several months and they went public about their drive and the necessity for solidarity, which also shows the willingness of graduate workers to have agency and power in their academic future. In light of the growing movements, this is an amazing victory for increasing labor union membership and taking on broader questions about academic freedom, austerity, and inter-union solidarity on university campuses. Moreover, at Princeton we had 120-150 people at our last union organizing meeting; many of whom are also part of efforts to get our university to be a sanctuary campus.

 

Overall, these campaigns are beneficial for socialists and the left because they are revealing the extent to which universities are undemocratic and the lengths to which university administrators are undermining social movements on campus. Organizing graduate student workers can be one of the many sites to strengthen the sanctuary movements on college campuses and to connect with other unionized workers on campuses—including but not limited to facilities and dining workers. Moreover, the mobilization will especially be crucial as higher education and academic freedom are sidelined with the upcoming four years of a Trump administration. In a moment where the left is growing and more people are interested in socialist politics, organizing within higher education labor can provide an opening to further strengthen anti-racist struggles and austerity measures on university campuses.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/04/graduate-students-of-the-world-unite/390261/).

[2] https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/board-student-assistants-covered-nlra-0

[3] http://apps.nlrb.gov/link/document.aspx/09031d45800076ac

[4] http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37393-graduate-students-are-workers-the-decades-long-fight-for-graduate-unions-and-the-path-forward

[5] http://taa-madison.org/history/

[6] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/15/union-announces-end-faculty-lockout-long-island-u

[7] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/22/study-finds-gains-faculty-diversity-not-tenure-track

[8] http://inthesetimes.com/article/17962/how-austerity-killed-the-humanities

[9]https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/new-executive-order-bans-travelers-from-six-muslim-majority-countries-applying-for-visas/2017/03/06/3012a42a-0277-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.1047ebee2296

[10] https://www.aaup.org/our-work/protecting-academic-freedom

[11] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/30/crop-anti-union-university-websites-sparks-criticism-proponents-graduate-assistant

[12] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/30/crop-anti-union-university-websites-sparks-criticism-proponents-graduate-assistant

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/nyregion/columbia-challenges-vote-by-graduate-students-to-unionize.html

[14] http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2016/12/23/harvard-union-vote-close/

[15] https://brownsugs1.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/reportongraduatestudentunionaffiliationoptionsatbrown3-15-2017.pdf

In honor of Derek Walcott, a great Caribbean poet by Edna Bonhomme

The poet and Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott passed away today at the age of 87 leaving behind a corpus of verses about the Caribbean, the sea, and love. The prolific writer not only described the alluring and ever changing landscape of the Caribbean present but the horrific tragedy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. His poetry gave breathe to a place where Indigenous people were massacred, Africans brought to work endlessly, and where European tourists have begun to use as their playground. His poetry brought life to a region who's archive was living amongst the population, i.e., saturated in the West African syncretic religions of Santeria & Voodoo and the Creole languages that persist on the Anglophone, Francophone and Dutch Islands. Not only do the people from Jamaica, Haiti, Aruba, and St. Lucia hold on to these members, Walcott managed to show how the sea--in its contours, waves, and dimensions--provide a glimpse into the history. As he noted in the poem, "The Sea is History":

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

In The Haitian Trilogyhe captured the revolutionary spirit of the Black slave uprising on the Island of Hispanola. Not only was this text a testament to a revolution that is so often overlooked by historians, it also pointed to the political tensions and concerns in the aftermath of liberation. Where should power lie? How does one transition to freedom? Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe appear as the main figures who appear flawed in their political squabbles but also humane in their attempt to make a country anew. Religious figures and aristocratically hungry people are the villains while the mostly slightly Black majority are being rooted for. The Haitian Trilogy picks up from the lively fervor of C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins yet it often comes across as more sanitized and less political. Yet, what Walcott provided in his capacity as a poet and playwright is the flexibility to add dimension to these characters.

Literature has the capacity to provide strength and reprieve when the world is harrowing. Walcott's legacy will live on because he provided hope and beauty for a region whose resilience lays in the aftermath of force migration and enslavement.  As a Haitian-American woman, Black Caribbean writers such as Aimé Cesaire, Audre Lorde, Claudia Jones, and Frantz Fanon were part of my upbringing and tradition. They were the fore bearers who gave me hope in internationalism and radical politics. Derek Walcott was part of a generation of writers who used their craft to bring light to the world--while also witnessing the Civil Rights movement from afar. May his legacy and those who are fighting for internationalism, beauty, and the sea continue honor his works.

Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt: The attack on academics, journalists, and leftists by Edna Bonhomme

Since July 2013, a number of academics, artists, and journalists have been arrested, censored, or tortured by Egyptian military. Egyptians and foreigners have been quelled by the state leading revolutionary socialists such as Sameh Naguib to propound that repression under the current regime are worse than they were under former President Hosni Mubarak. The repression began with the June 2013 coup that ousted former President Mohammed Morsi and his fellow Muslim Brotherhood supporters but it shortly extended to high journalists and researchers who were based in Egypt.

Egypt was never immune to censorship legislation but the practice of arresting Egyptian and foreign-born journalists that critique the military, president or government has led to the arbitrary arrest of a host of reportersAl Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste were detained for over a year by the Egyptian state for allegedly “aiding a terrorist organization.” At the same time, Egyptian journalist Rasha Gafaar was arrested for filming polling stations. French journalist Alain Gresh was arrested for having a conversation with an Egyptian female journalist in a Cairo cafe in November 2014. Journalists, in their power to relay the suppression of the state, are a target but they are not the only ones.

Within the academy, scholars have been detained or tortured. In July 2015, a French master’s student was deported after conducting research with members of the April 6th movement in Damietta. Most recently, Cambridge University doctoral student Giulio Regeni was murdered and tortured by the Egyptian government. Like other scholars who conduct research in Egypt, Regeni’s murder not only undermines one’s ability to conduct research in Egypt but it can potentially rupture academic partnerships between Egyptian and foreign scholars.

In rhetoric, the Egyptian government has mostly directed its counterrevolutionary tactics towards the Muslim Brotherhood, however, in practice they have extended their tentacles to all forms of opposition–including Egyptian leftists. Most notably, the anti-protest law from November 2013 that bans public demonstrations. The Egyptian state murdered poet and Socialist Popular Alliance Party activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh on 24 January 2015 during a peaceful protest in Cairo. Her death was not only a loss for those she inspired but it was also a temporary defeat for public demonstrations by the organized left in Egypt. Most notably human rights lawyer and socialist Mahienour al-Massry was detained for allegedly violating anti-protest laws. Moreover, Dr. Taher Mokhtar, Ahmed Hassan, and Hossam al-Din al-Hamady are leading activists for the Egyptian Doctor’s Union who were detained by authorities on 14 January 2016 for wanting better conditions for health workers. The doctors were detained for protesting and allegedly “possessing publications calling for the overthrow of the regime.”

The attack on the journalists, academics, and leftists are embedded within two facets of the counterrevolution and both have stifled democratic organization from below. On the one side, the state has cracked down on broader political movements and lumped together all forms of resistance as “terrorist” activities. On the other side, there are armed terrorist groups that have exercised violence and sabotaged the bona fide demands for bread, dignity, and freedom from the 2011 uprisings. The rebel violence directed toward the state has been initiated by such groups as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis. Based in Sinai, they have taken credit for some of the bombings in Egypt including a series of attacks in 2014 and 2015. In one attack, the group bombed the Islamic Art Museum which is adjacent to the Egyptian National Library. It must be noted that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis’s violence are counterproductive, sectarian force that gives the Egyptian regime legitimacy in cracking down on everyone. The assassination of Hisham Barakat on 29 June 2015 also heightened the regime’s surveillance. These counterrevolutionary tendencies do not happen in isolation but are part of a broader contingent that go against the hope and prospects of the Egyptian masses.

Counterrevolution has also been coupled with the imprisonment and detention of Muslim Brotherhood supporters or those presumed to be part of it. The Egyptian state is using such repression to demonize all Islamist and secular organizations as “terrorist”—under the guise of Islamophobia—while also criminalizing everyone who dissents. Death sentences have become commonplace and these jurisdictions have lacked fair and speedy trials. They have also gone so far as to sentence a four year old to a life sentence.

President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has relied on populist authoritarianism by invoking a neo-Nasserist program and rejected the upsurge of class struggle. When collective actions of workers and peasants exceeded authorized boundaries and challenged the regime, they were quashed. Similarly, in 1952, the Free Officers suppressed the textile workers’ strike at Kafr al-Dawwar by hanging two of its leaders. The Egyptian state has asphyxiated dissent through arrest, disappearance, and torture. Prior to the fifth year anniversary of the Arab Spring, the government arrested four key April 6th movement activists (Source: http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2015/12/29/april-6-leaders-detained-ahead-of-anniversary-of-25-january/). Since March of 2015, over 1,840 people have disappeared.

Whenever the masses lead a rebellion authoritarian regimes go on the offensive and quell the vestiges of resistance. Socialists should unequivocally condemn the oppression of the Egyptian state against academics, journalists, and revolutionaries. As the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt have indicated in a solidarity statement:

“Every dictatorship uses terrorism as an excuse to increase repression and create a state of national panic and hysteria across the widest sections of the masses in order to force everyone to close ranks behind the dictator. However, this hysteria now extends to liberal and leftist opponents of the regime, who at least in theory are opposed to Sisi’s coup and his counterrevolution, and this is creating surprise and disgust.”

Similar to the 1973 coup in Chile, the Egyptian security apparatus is a bulwark against democracy. However, it is key to look to domestic and international forms of struggle to challenge Egypt’s repression.

Resistance within the sea of state suppression can take on a variety of forms but it is essential for the working class to use its powers in the ways that they have yielded substantive results. At the domestic level, the April 6th movement and the strikes in Mahalla were key to putting forth economic and political demands under the Hosni Mubarak regime. Moreover, the Ultras and soccer’s popularitywere able to garner public protest with a working class and left base during the 2013 coup.

International solidarity has particularly been key for challenging the regime. The Al Jazeera journalists were able to be free after a year of campaigning and international support. On the question of arms, the European Union parliament passed a resolution to suspend military cooperation with Egypt because of Giulio Regeni’s murder. The United States could follow suit to honor the lives of the many people who have disappeared.

As it currently stands, Egypt has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world. The global economic recession has hit Egyptians hard and the working class wants to improve their materials conditions—even at the behest of the current regime. President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi recently indicated that he would be cutting water and gas subsidies. However, President Sisi received high levels of criticism when he delivered this news after walking on a 1.6 million Egyptian pound ($200,000) red carpet. In the context of the economic crisis and the callousness of the elite, it is important for Egyptian labor to exercise its power in a collective fashion. Recently in Alexandria and the Delta, public sector workers utilized their power in a strike wave and demanded that they be paid their overdue bonuses.

At the same time, the counterrevolutionary forces must not solely be defeated on Egypt’s terrain. Rather, it is essential to end U.S. military funding to Egypt. The money spent on suppressing the population could be spent on housing, education, etc. At the same time, terminating military contracts would also make the state less capable of repressing its population. As of October 2015, Egypt spent $2.6 billion on French warships and the Russians provided the Egyptian government with $1 billion in equipment.

Dovetailed with these other initiatives, it is imperative the Egyptian state allow for free press to reign and to free all political prisoners including individuals such as Mahienour al-Massry, Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Maher, Aya Hegazy, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, and countless others. Of these, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein is Egypt’s youngest political prisoner and he was arrested for wearing a t-shirt that read “A nation without torture”.

Finally, if the revolution will continue then the working class must be able to democratically assemble and labor must be able to freely organize. Labor was and will continue to key to challenging the regime. In 2011, Egyptian doctors held sit-ins and teachers led strikes thus revitalizing the previously sedentary labor movement. In fact, it was the strikes led by transportation and dockworkers in Egypt that were tipping scale for Mubarak’s fall. The latest phase of worker militancy in Alexandria, Aswan, and the Delta actually shows that the Egyptian working class is bringing material concerns to the forefront. It is in this vein that the political strategy is key and that Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists were right when they proclaimed:

The only revolutionary road is to revive the weapons of mass struggle through strikes, sit-ins and protests against the corrupt military dictatorship that will bring us nothing but poverty, repression, violence and terrorism.”