'Introduction to Labor Studies' - My First-Hand Account

My name is Philip Christofanelli. I was a student in the University of Missouri’s “Introduction to Labor Studies” course. The class was taught simultaneously by Professor Don Giljum of University of Missouri-Saint Louis (UMSL) and Professor Judy Ancel of University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) through the use of a live video feed that linked the two classrooms. The class met every other Saturday for seven hours, including breaks. All of the classes were recorded and put on the class website.

[caption id="attachment_266640" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Class slide by Prof. Judy Ancel instructing students on how to "re-frame" messages for "State Battles" against right-to-work legislation in Missouri and elsewhere"][/caption]

Since that time, an organization known as Insurgent Visuals has released videos of the class, which have gained considerable media attention. To be clear, I am not Insurgent Visuals, nor am I associated with them. I did not edit any videos or put them online. I did, however, download the original videos off of the class website and give them out in their entirety to a number of my friends in order to obtain other opinions on the propriety of what occurred in the class, and of the steps I should take moving forward.

In this post, I will try to describe, with careful attention to context and accuracy, what occurred in these public classrooms over the course of the semester. I believe that any reasonable person who takes the time to read this post in full will come to the same conclusion that I did: Professors Giljum and Ancel used a public university class to promote their own radical political opinions and organizations, and to train students and union members in negotiating tactics that are apparently illegal, and profoundly unethical. Their behavior was highly unprofessional and inappropriate, and the University of Missouri should simply admit that fact and take steps to ensure that classes are not taught in that way ever again.

I am in fact a Washington University student. I needed three more credits for my degree, and I chose to pick them up at UMSL. When I saw “Introduction to Labor Studies” in the course catalog, I expected a fairly straightforward class about unions, their internal structure, and their relationship to management. I signed up because I have always been fascinated by unions, and nothing similar was ever offered at Wash U.

After the first day of class, I realized I had gotten myself into something entirely different than what I had expected. It seemed almost as though I had signed up for some informal Labor Club whose goal was to share complaints about the American political system in a casual manner. In my opinion, the atmosphere was not one of a credit-worthy course at an established public university.

The time had passed, however, for me to find a new class, so I decided I would suffer through it. I reasoned that even if I was not going to learn much from the class, I would at least be able to learn from the textbook, and perhaps obtain some sort of worthwhile knowledge in return for my investment.

The textbook turned out to be anything but an unbiased source. The book was called Why Unions Matter by Michael Yates, editor of the socialist magazine, Monthly Review. I thought that surely a textbook book had to be published by some sort of university press or notable textbook publisher before being made the sole text of the class. Instead, I discovered that the book was published by the Monthly Review Press, the publishing arm of the author’s own socialist magazine! The magazine describes itself as follows:
From the first Monthly Review spoke for socialism and against U.S. imperialism, and is still doing so today.... In the subsequent global upsurge against capitalism, imperialism and the commodification of life (in shorthand “1968”) Monthly Review played a global role. A generation of activists received no small part of their education as subscribers to the magazine and readers of Monthly Review Press books. In the intervening years of counter-revolution, Monthly Review has kept a steady viewpoint. That point of view is the heartfelt attempt to frame the issues of the day with one set of interests foremost in mind: those of the great majority of humankind, the propertyless.

You can imagine the kind of knowledge that I gained from such a source, but allow me to remove all doubt with a few quotes:

  • An entire television network, Fox, spreads pro-business and anti-labor propaganda twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. (p. 132)

  • First, the Republican and Democratic parties are most obviously allied with and subservient to the most powerful employers in the nation. The Republicans may seem to be more ruthless in their willingness to obey the dictates of capital, but the Democrats, in practice, are no different...[S]ince they are perceived as more liberal than they are, they are able to get away with more vicious attacks on workers. (p. 133)

  • If labor ties its star to the Democratic Party, it is tying itself to its class enemy. (p. 133)

  • Over the last ten years, especially during the administration of George W. Bush, our government has been increasingly under the thumb of corporate interests. (p. 12)

  • The AFL-CIO actively rejected the Republican Party’s Contract with America, which threatened vital social services. Its research department developed good materials that exposed the bogus statistics and analysis on which it was based. (p. 12)

  • Large numbers [of Mexican immigrants] have come to the United states intensifying competition in some labor markets, allowing employers to divide and conquer their workforces, and giving an excuse for xenophobes like CNN's Lou Dobbs to foment anti-immigrant hysteria, which helps to keep domestic workers from seeing that it is their employers (and the employers’ allies in government) that are their true enemies. (p. 12)

  • In general terms, the employer must come to be understood as the class enemy of the workers, one that can only be defeated if workers stick together, acting as if an injury to one is an injury to all. (p. 64)

All of these assertions were made without presenting a shred of evidence or data. The book made very little effort to hide the fact that it was a piece of political propaganda, and not an academic text. Nonetheless, the professors saw no problem with making it the sole text for the entire class.

The story gets worse. The assignments for the class were bizarre, to say the least. While I was expecting tests and quizzes about facts such as labor history and law, our entire grade was based on our completion of opinion papers about very political issues.

Our first assignment was to interview people and then write a letter to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, providing answers to questions such as: “What is it going to take to convince younger, future workers that belonging to and supporting a union's organizing effort is in their best socio-economic interest?” and “What do unions have to do to strengthen their existing ranks and solidify the current union members' support for the labor movement.”

The next assignment concerned the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)--popularly known as “card check.” After reading in Yates’ book about EFCA, we were instructed to write a letter to our U.S. senators and representatives about our position on the bill. Since our only materials were Yates’s very one-sided account of the legislation, and the professors’ similarly one-sided account, how could any student be expected to produce a different position? It is unclear whether or not our letters were actually sent to Washington, D.C, but given the determination of the professors, I wouldn’t be surprised if our letters had been bundled up and were en route right now.

Another assignment was to evaluate unions’ political strategy “supporting its political friends and defeating its political enemies.” The syllabus said: “Based upon both its economic support and campaign support, [labor] has given to primarily Democratic and some Republicans has Labor benefited legislatively sufficiently to continue this political approach or should it seek to establish its own political party as suggested by Yates in Why Unions Matter.” (Try, for a moment, to forgive the professors’ egregious syntax.)

That assignment was due the week following the class in which Prof. Giljum had discussed at length his membership in the Communist Party. He said he had joined because, in his words, “the American Communist Party was essentially the only party political group that was seriously focusing exclusively on the working class and labor issues and the rights of workers.” He added that one of the political goals of the Communist Party was to “recapture that party [i.e. the Democratic Party] and have it merge with ours.”

Prof. Giljum then introduced Tony Pecinovsky, a local organizer for the Communist Party, who proceeded to speak to us for two hours about the beliefs of the Communist Party and the benefits of membership. That’s right--the Communist Party was allowed two hours of publicly subsidized class time to recruit. Thank you, Missouri taxpayers!

Mr. Pecinovsky, who has worked in the past for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), informed us about legislation that is pending in the state legislature. He said: “Here in Missouri, the Republicans who control the house and the senate are trying to push through a number of pieces of legislation that would really, really devastate Missourians.” He then informed us that State Senator Jane Cunningham (R) was “crazy.” Pecinovsky also described the dues requirements and initiation procedures of the Communist Party, and gave out his phone number several times, offering to stay as long as anyone wanted to talk to him about joining.

Prof. Ancel acknowledged that joining the Communist Party could cost students their future security clearances, make them less desirable to future employers, and potentially put them on federal watch lists. Still, she and Prof, Giljum invited this organization into class to recruit. Call me crazy, but I thought universities and professors were supposed to help students become more appealing to employers, not hook them up with questionable organizations that by their own admission could cost students their future livelihood.

In the same vein, the professors frequently used the class to mock and cajole Republicans and conservative policies. In one lecture, Prof. Ancel put up as part of the class notes a cartoon showing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi saying, “I don’t believe in collective bargaining either.” She went on to compare Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, to a repressive authoritarian seeking to emulate dictators and fascists in their “repression of labor.” She then put up another cartoon called “Republican Workplace Bill of Rights,” which showed a number of employees gagged, blindfolded, and handcuffed. In another lecture, she blamed conservatives for what she perceived as media bias against unions, and stated: “The Republican party has done a great job of reducing class to a bunch of tastes, and demonizing liberals because their taste is different from ‘rednecks.’”

Another slide of notes labeled all of the following concepts as “anti-worker attacks”: elimination of collective bargaining for public sector workers, restriction of bargaining and political activities of public sector workers, restriction of what public sector workers can bargain about, the introduction of merit pay, and the elimination of tenure. (Because, you know, when you don’t have tenure, you can actually be fired for turning classes into political indoctrination courses).

I have attended many political science classes, taught by some of the best political scientists in the country, at Washington University. Labeling complex pieces of legislation as “anti-worker attacks,” and using political cartoons as lecture notes, is not political science; it is partisan politics and pure propaganda. Credible political scientists are supposed to be able to tell the difference; these professors did not and perhaps could not.

Prof. Ancel presented students with a distorted view of economic history. In one lecture, for example, she told students: “I would argue that fascism absolutely means capitalism, that’s part of the definition [of fascism].” The professors both took a keen interest in the (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts of public sector unions to block Walker’s labor reforms. At one point, Prof. Giljum showed students a live feed of rallies around the state capitol in Madison, WI--and, ironically, broadcast Andrew Breitbart’s Tea Party speech directly into the classroom, followed by that of “Joe the Plumber,” whom Ancel mocked. She described the the protests against Walker’s bill as “a wonderful, welcome thing to see.”

As if indoctrinating students were not enough, the professors dedicated considerable class time to activities that can only be described as training students in tactics to fight the right-to-work legislation that is currently pending in the Missouri state legislature. An entire day,was devoted to organizing students against right-to-work legislation. Our training included a lecture on tactics from Jerry Tucker, who Prof. Giljum introduced as the “point person for the UAW’s 1978 Anti-Right to Work campaign.” Much like Tony Pecinovsky, Tucker had nothing of academic value to offer the class. His insights were meant to help us shape a successful campaign against right-to-work in Missouri today. He spent several hours discussing political tactics and strategies, and speculating as to what would be the most appropriate strategies for labor unions and their allies to deploy.

His speech was followed by a lesson by Prof. Ancel on how conservatives have “framed” the right-to-work issue, and a class activity where we were told to “re-frame” right-to-work from the perspective of the working class. She even provided a slide suggesting talking points to use in “state battles” against right-to-work in Missouri and elsewhere. She explicitly told students to describe right-to-work legislation as “payback for CEOs giving money to politicians, OK. So the Republicans and their deep-pockets backers are rewarding the corporations for having put them in office.”

By this point, you should be thoroughly convinced that this public university class was being used for explicitly political purposes. That fact alone should be enough to persuade most reasonable people that something must be done to address how classes are being taught within the University of Missouri system. This abuse of power and authority by Prof. Ancel and Prof. Giljum, however, was not the most outrageous feature of the class.

On the first day, there was a discussion about the tactic of a sit-down strike, in which union members occupy a plant in order to prevent their replacement, and to hold the property of the business owner hostage. When I asked Prof. Giljum why workers wouldn’t be prosecuted for doing that, he laughed and said:
Negotiations. I mean the--there’s nothing that would prevent them from pressing charges other than making it a condition of the agreement. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be an agreement, and the sit-down strike would not end, and your equipment could ultimately be destroyed. And how much money does a group of workers in a union have, OK? That’s what is key here. A lot of the tactics I’ve used with employers, you know, they’ve got a right to sue us, but Jesus Christ, you know, suing our union is like maybe picking up one hour of production, OK? It’s going to cost them a hell of a lot more than what they are going to get in return. So what they really need is their property back. They need their equipment back so that they can be profitable. If it’s gone and they sue us, they’re not going to be able to replace their property. Not with something like that, OK? And often times your insurance policies, unless you take out specific strike violence policies and things like that, aren’t going to cover their equipment and that when it’s (waves hands) as a result of a labor dispute. Most of the time there’s exceptions to that in their insurance and that. So those are why. And again, personally to this day, and you know, again, the things that led up to accomplishing legislative change and reform in this country that were positive for labor weren’t done through legal methods, OK? (Laughs). They were done by violating the law. Even this, after the passage of the Wagner Act, you still had to bring people along, kicking and hollering, to comply with it, OK. And it required taking property over, which then and now is illegal because, what is it? It’s trespassing. All right? But, I can tell you, nothing gets an employer to respond better, especially one where you’ve got facilities, large facilities like that still today. And I had this with Ameren [company supplying power in Missouri and Illinois] in the negotiations. I told my guys and put the word out... ‘Start bringing supplies in. I want you to start stocking up your shops with foods, with all kinds of bedding equipment, stuff like that, in preparation for a work stoppage. You know, and they kept scratching their head saying, ‘What the hell are these guys doing? They’re bringing all this crap in here. They’re bringing televisions in. They’re bringing radios in. They’re bringing all this stuff to work and unloading it here. What the hell’s going on?’ Well then one of them realized: ‘Oh shit! We’re going to have a hell of a time getting these guys out of here.’ You know? And I got a call, [and he] said: ‘You know, what you’re doing is --will be illegal?’ and I said, ‘So what? I don’t give a shit! Sue me! Arrest me! I don’t care! I could use a break. I could use a vacation.’ OK? So, but then what happened is when they realized that, well, this ain’t going to work, [they said] ‘Okay, let’s negotiate, let’s resolve the dispute,’ because now they’ve got some real skin in the game.... You have to be able to do that, you know, the strike itself anymore is useless. Once you go out and you go on strike, generally the employer is going to continue operation, they’re going to bring people in, they’re going to get enough security to protect their property and protect the replacement workers, and it’s useless, so what you’ve gotta do is create other alternatives. Even the threat of a strike is greater than the strike itself. But you’ve got to do things during that period of time when you’re trying to threaten a strike.

It was clear to me that Giljum was not merely drawing from past examples, but from his ongoing experiences as a union leader. He told students that these are the tactics they must use in order to be effective against employers.

So let’s be clear: Prof. Giljum was teaching tactics which are, by his own admission, illegal and destructive because, in his view, the ends justify the means. Is it really the position of the University of Missouri that this sort of instruction is appropriate?

Giljum discussed tactics such as these numerous times throughout the semester. In the third class, for example, the professors described various ways to strike. Giljum then talked about actions that can be taken when unions do not have a credible strike threat. He said:
[I]f you don’t [have a credible strike ability], what can you do then to maximize your impact on the employer’s operation that can bring about pressure for them to make concessions to your proposals? That’s the key. You generally have to have a coordinated strategy between how you are going to approach negotiations at the table along with a membership action plan so as to bring that about. You know, an example right now. You don’t have a credible strike threat, really within the electric utility industry, in the power houses, because employers can idle their units and transport power in from across the country and operate for months, and months, and months. So that doesn’t become a viable threat. However, taking control of their system is a viable threat, OK? If they can’t get in there to idle or do things, you can really create some havoc. So that’s why you look at, OK, ‘Let’s set it up to where we’re not going to go on strike, we’re going to strike in. Everybody is going to lock the doors. We’re going to slam the doors shut, we’re going to occupy and take over the plant, and we’re going to lock management out.”

You would think that Prof. Ancel, being the director of the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC, would have taken that opportunity to say something along the lines of, “Hey Don, we at the University of Missouri aren’t in the business of teaching students to take over power plants when they don’t get their way.”

She, however, said nothing like that. Instead, she interjected to tell her own tale about a friend in Peru who helped to destroy the power plant at which she worked by setting numerous feral cats free inside to short out the system.

But wait--there’s more. In the fourth lecture, we learned about bargaining tactics. Prof. Giljum, having bargained with many employers in the past, was able to draw from his experience in order to inform the students about some creative tactics that could be used to get employers emotionally invested in the negotiations.

He said:
You need to make the negotiations personal to the man across the table from you. You’ve got to put a face to the demands and that, and to the demands he’s making on you to show you that these are not in the best interest of these people. Because, they’re going to want--that’s why you don’t have CEO’s at the table a lot of times. They don’t want to--they can make the decisions in a vacuum, and they don’t have to see the consequences of them. That’s why they put other people out there to do that for them. But in this case, we did have the CEO there at the table, so he could see what the consequences are. We had to make him feel the concern and the anxiety that he was going to have to live with. So we, you know, made all kinds of overtones about sabotaging the equipment, OK? We downloaded a lot of articles off of the Internet and laid them around the plant (Prof. Ancel laughs), about this equipment being sabotaged or that equipment being sabotaged. That’s all they were, nobody was doing anything. (Prof. Ancel interjects: “You never said anything, did you?”) No, no! We just downloaded the articles and laid them out there, OK, for people to read. ‘Hey look at this article I found!’ You know? It wasn’t us, it was members that would do that. We had a group of guys that would always end up at the same shopping center, at the same church as the CEO would on Sundays and that in the evenings. Wouldn’t say nothing, just kind of bump into the guy and say, ‘Hey, how you doing?” you know, that’s it, “How’s negotiations going? Heard they’re not going too well.’ And then walk off, OK? It got to a point where the guy became very paranoid, very concerned, when he would walk out into the plant he would wear a flak jacket and a helmet with a face guard on it because he was afraid of being shot. I don’t know why, nobody did anything like that or threatened anything like that..... We had no bargaining power before that. As Judy said, It’s a power struggle there. They’ve got all the power, especially if you’ve got people who aren’t willing to go on strike or be militant, so you’ve got to make it as if they look militant, OK? You get a few guys to do a few things and that’s it. Very mundane, very quiet things, very non-threatening things...

So let’s recap. In our lesson on bargaining we learned that we should use fear and intimidation--which Prof. Giljam falsely described as “mundane” and “non-threatening”--to play on the emotions of management. We were told that we should frighten a man to the point where he is so afraid for his life that he wears body armor at work. And all the while we were learning these profound academic insights, Prof. Ancel was heard in the background laughing, just tickled pink at the idea of terrifying management by making one’s union appear more militant than its workers actually want it to be.

I will give one more example. In the sixth class, we watched a movie about Memphis sanitation workers and the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his life was cut short horrifically. In the video, some of the civil rights leaders expressed impatience with non-violence. Following the film, there was an intense discussion about the propriety of the use of violent tactics as a means to accomplish unions’ political goals. It was in that context that Prof. Ancel, now somewhat infamously, misquoted a person in the film by saying, “Violence is a tactic and it is in your toolbox of tactics.” (The man in the film actually said, “Non-violence is a tactic.” Minor details!) A student responded by pointing out several revolutions that would not have occurred without violence. Ancel responded to that by saying, “Also, the CIO wouldn’t have made it either [without violence].” There was more banter back and forth between students, and Prof. Giljum chimed in and said:
I think if you look at labor’s history over the years, you’ll find that, you know, we’ve had a very violent history, with violent protests, and reaction to suppression, OK, but as time has changed the tactics have changed or the need for those have changed, OK? Now, you know, that’s not to say that in certain instances, strategically played out and for certain purposes, that industrial sabotage doesn’t have its place. I think it--it certainly does. But, as far as--you know, and I can’t really honestly say that I’ve never wished, or have never been in a position where I haven’t wished real harm on somebody, or inflicted any pain and suffering on some people (“We’re all human,” someone interjects) that, you know, didn’t ask for it, but, you know, it certainly has its place. It certainly makes you feel a hell of a lot better sometimes, but beyond that I’m not sure as a tactic today, the type of violence or reaction to violence that we had back then would be called for here, and I think it would do more harm than good.

So there we have it. At least at the end, Prof. Giljum was reasonable enough to deem looting and riots en masse as an ineffective approach to social change. Of course, the professors now point to the few caveats they applied, as above. Still, as I have demonstrated, at various junctures throughout the course, Prof. Giljum proudly endorsed industrial sabotage, the destruction of property, the use of fear and intimidation, and limited violence, “strategically played out.” Prof. Ancel, was delighted when Prof. Giljum told these stories, and shared similar, second-hand anecdotes or histories.

The professors, however, seem to have the utmost respect for the law when it comes to the remote possibility that I may have violated a copyright in releasing the footage of our class. They have since said that whoever could do such a thing, in Prof. Ancel’s words, must be “part of a broad agenda to weaken unions and the public sector as well as public education,” and “to undermine the academic freedom that is required to study, better understand, and hopefully improve our conditions of life.”

Let me be clear: I am none of those things. Both my grandfathers were proud union men, and I respect their hard work, which provided my parents and my family with a comfortable lifestyle today. I resent the fact that these professors’ irresponsible approach to this course has made legitimate union members appear ridiculous. I hold academic freedom as one of the most important tenets of our Constitutional Republic. It the stubborn unwillingness of radical professors like Prof. Ancel and Prof. Giljum to provide unbiased information from which students can freely draw their own conclusions that has really destroyed academic freedom in this country.

In fact, I believe, they are the real opponents of academic freedom. Prof. Ancel wants to make classes like hers “part of every school’s curriculum, certainly in our universities.” That kind of indoctrination is directly contrary to the mission of a university.

Concerning privacy, both the professors and students knew that they were being recorded and that their recordings were not only posted on the class website, but also broadcast simultaneously across the state. To suggest that there was any reasonable expectation of privacy in the class is laughable. The videos did not have a copyright mark on them, and at no point did the professors say that the videos could not be shared or ask students to sign a release. In fact, Prof. Ancel said: “All labor education materials are uncopyrighted and to be shared. We do not believe for the most part in intellectual property rights. That’s one of the principles of labor education: we share.” Well, Prof. Ancel, by that standard, I guess I should get an A.

Around the nation, there have been similar reports in the past few days of university professors using their classrooms to push their students into left-wing politics. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, for example, has investigated a professor who told students to sign a petition demanding the recall of Republican governor Scott Walker. The chancellor of that university stated that students “should benefit in an unbiased, open-minded classroom where everyone is informed.” Incidentally, in our own classroom, both professors actively supported Gov. Walker’s recall as part of a broader political campaign. Prof. Ancel stated: “I heard that they can’t recall Scott Walker for a year after his election. So--so then we’re gonna see a recall petition on him, and hopefully they’ll keep this thing alive all the way to 2012.” And Prof. Giljum responded: “I hope so.”

UMKC Provost Gail Hackett holds that “A number of the clips [in Insurgent Visuals’s videos] were pulled out of context” and do not accurately portray what occurred in the class. Insurgent Visuals is standing by their edits. As interesting as that debate may be, in my view it distracts from the real issue at hand: the abuse of a public university classroom for far-left political organizing and indoctrination.

Today, UMSL has released a statement defending the course. It is shocking that the university, after watching the entire course, could conclude that nothing inappropriate had occurred.

The University of Missouri system needs to stop stalling with semantic debates and apologize for its abject failure of oversight in these classes. I hope that it will have the courage to admit that it made a mistake, and to take steps to ensure that classes will not be taught in this highly inappropriate manner in the future.

I believe that it is my obligation as a student, and an American, to expose what occurred in these classes. People on the left, right, and center should be able to stand together and agree that public classrooms should not be used to teach activities that are criminal, or to promote the political causes and organizations that professors support. Let us take this opportunity to put aside our individual differences and work together to ensure that students are taught legitimate material in an unbiased way. I urge anyone who has taken the time to read this to take the next step and tell the university, their state legislators, and Governor Jay Nixon that the time to clean up Missouri’s college classrooms is now!


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