Equity Week speech

[Given at SF State’s Malcolm X Plaza at an event organized by the local CFA chapter.]

Let me ask you a question, who washes your floor at home? If this work is kept up regularly you don’t have to think about it. If it weren’t done for a while you would eventually notice and then it would get to a point of intolerance—especially if you tired the four-second rule on a filthy dirty floor.

Second point. Drive by any auto sales lot and what do you see? The hoods are open. Why is that? Because when you buy a car you want to check to see if there is an engine in there and whether you are getting your money’s worth. So then, why would you purchase an education without looking “under the hood”?

Let me guide you “under the hood” for a moment. As you go about your current job of getting an education, think about all the work done behind the scenes, the mostly invisible work that’s done every day. Look at the park-like surroundings on campus. BTW—those workers and the ones who clean the classrooms start work at 4 a.m. What if it suddenly weren’t done? What if your classrooms were filthy, or your chemistry experiments were not set up, or you were given all the wrong classes, or the wireless went down? It might just interfere with your job, wouldn’t it?

The staff here enable the faculty to do their jobs. The staff enable you to focus on learning. As they cut staff and push more of the behind-the-scenes support work onto fewer of us, or onto your faculty, or hire high-priced, low-quality contractors, you are the ones who are buying a car with a lemon for an engine. We do our best but the CSU has been less than appreciative of both our heroic efforts and that of the faculty to keep SF State an institution of quality higher learning despite the obstacles.

Do me a favor. Don’t wait until after you graduate to look for and join a union. Join the statewide student union movement, CASU, now. We are told we live in a democracy, but at best it is of a very limited kind. Everywhere our society is structured in hierarchies, where power is concentrated at the top. The university is no exception. Unions, by the way, are a keystone to democracy because they can redistribute some of that concentrated power.

The floor washers thank you for your support. We are proud of what we do and you should take pride in improving yourselves through study. Now, go out and make a better world so that the toilet cleaners have hope, if not for themselves, at least for their children.

The history of this nation has been the struggle to always expand the limited democracy the framers started us with. The deck has always been stacked against working people. Just recognize the work we do for you and we will be empowered. Respect and support our union and we will be even stronger. Join your own union and then join up with the faculty union and the staff unions and then we can begin to put the demos back in democracy.

Remember, staff and faculty working conditions are your learning conditions and SFSU stands for Students, Faculty, and Staff United. Peace.


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