Where labor rights and social justice meet: AFT launches Anti-Oppression Committee (AOC)
By Rika Yonemura-Fabian, AFT 1493 Skyline Chapter Co-Chair & Doniella Maher, AFT 1493 Cañada Chapter Co-Chair
A recent study published in the American Journal of Political Science shows that union membership lowers the racial and gender bias among white union members. White workers who belong to a union show a greater capacity to work with racially diverse colleagues and support policies that benefit African American communities.
The struggle for labor rights and the fight for racial, gender and other forms of social justice may be intrinsically connected as this study shows–but only if we are intentional about it. How can we advance the voices and interests of faculty of color? How do we fight the culture of silence toward gendered micro-aggressions? How are the rights of faculty with disabilities to be addressed? How can we equip our union with more robust and intentional efforts and a structure to address these issues that many of our colleagues face in our workplaces?
Driven by these questions, AFT1493 launched the Anti-Oppression Committee. The committee was initially formed at the AFT-organized teach-in, “Social Justice Unionism in Practice: From Part-Time Pay Parity to Anti-Oppression Organizing.” As a team of rank-and-file members, students, and AFT officers, we want to facilitate the recognition among our members that social justice unionism requires going beyond “bread and butter” wage and benefits issues. Labor rights are inextricably linked to social justice and the realization of fair working conditions for all members in our union is only possible if we build our solidarity through active education and conversation on, and actions against, anti-blackness, misogyny, ableism, ageism, cis- and heteronormativity, and other systems of oppression.
Class size is a social justice issue!
As a committee, we are pursuing our first campaign, Class Size is a Social Justice Issue! In response to the wave of BLM protests and uprisings, the District has launched a series of initiatives on social justice. These are all positive efforts, but we believe that they have not done enough about one thing that they have control over: smaller class sizes. It is no secret that connection through regular, meaningful contact with the instructor is one of the most obvious ingredients for the success and retention of our students of color, LGBTQ+ students, working-class students, and students who come from other places of historical and structural marginalization. In the current virtual learning and teaching environment, class size has additional importance as a condition for our students’ success.
The committee is organizing to ensure smaller class sizes are addressed in the Spring MOU and beyond. Our first step is to bring a discussion on class sizes and the pedagogical benefits to the District Academic Senate. The issue is on the agenda for the November 9th District Senate meeting where we hope to work with the Senate to advance an effective policy for improving pedagogy by reducing class sizes in our District.
Small class sizes make the learning experiences of students more meaningful and our students deserve the best. (See readings on the effects of class size on online instruction.) The District has been using the rhetoric of access to justify current large class sizes. But at what cost? What are the educational effects on our students who have felt marginalized in higher education systems?
Fighting for smaller class sizes isn’t just about the numbers either. It is a recognition that the kind of teaching necessary to close gender, race, and preparation achievement gaps depends on investment in student-centered teaching that incorporates engaging and innovating strategies.
This class is too large to enable the instructor to engage struggling students
If you are interested in more information or in joining the committee to work with us, please contact Doniella Maher (firstname.lastname@example.org), Michael Hoffman (email@example.com) or Rika Yonemura-Fabian (firstname.lastname@example.org.)