Thursday, February 11, 2010

Do picket lines have wireless?

A recent development at the university where I work is for the postdoctoral researchers to join a union. Since this happened just before I arrived, I don't know what triggered the decision but current politics suggests a few speakers had words such as "representation" scrawled on their palms. Over the last week this move has been called into question as the union dues are on the rise and the postdoc community is considering withdrawing.

Generally, I always thought unions were A. GOOD. THING. They band people together to give them a voice, can negotiate changes in unreasonable systems and ultimately force them through by legalising work strikes. But here's the problem:

Postdocs can't strike.

I mean, we can. We could all refuse to go into work tomorrow or the day after but who looses out? Even in departments unlike astrophysics which might contain large laboratories primarily run by postdocs, the people who would most suffer from the lack of work is ... the postdocs. Our fellowship positions are short, normally between 1-3 years, which gives very little time to publish enough material to secure the next job. The holy grail, that tenure-track faculty appointment, is particularly hard to get and so there is really no postdoc who could honestly stop work. They'd just take their laptops to the protest marches.

We shall stand here and do research outside your windows until you agree to our demands! Yes!

Since few have teaching duties, frankly I doubt our departments would notice. Also, since we are contract workers, any special needs can be negotiated on an individual basis before we start our positions. The union, therefore, has acted more as a money drain on our pay-cheques than any form of benefit. Finally, as transitional workers we rather hold the last card up our sleeve ...

.... we can leave.

(And the group meeting cookies will leave with me biatches.)

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