Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Big March

About a week ago, a former student posted an article on Facebook about how all the ISS workers on campus were about to get laid off. All 160 of them. The people who clean stuff and haul stuff and make us tea and generally do all the stuff on campus no one else wants to do. You see them around and talk to the ones who aren't too shy. Pretty much everything would fall apart without them because that's how it is to be a worker, except they're the only ones who know it.

And it's not so much that they're getting laid off. They're still contracted by ISS (a multinational corporation that subcontracts service staff to places like schools, malls, and hospitals) even if they don't continue to work at the university. ISS will send them to jobs really far from their homes (a serious issue here-- I can barely manage to be friends with someone who lives more than 10 miles away), or make them do jobs they didn't sign on for, like getting tea guys to work maintenance at construction sites. If the ISS folks don't like the new arrangement, they can find new jobs and lose their benefits and severance.

I got it why our tea lady has been especially out of sorts lately.

The next day, a call for petitioning and general displeasure with the situation went out on the faculty listserve. I didn't even know we had a faculty listserve. Everyone was pissed off. I read the millions of emails that went around. Unlike most discussions of this sort, the listserve emails were all in English, which implied a desire for participation from the foreign faculty. Usually for stuff like this, we're kind of left out and forced to glean information from rumor, so it was extremely cool to be implicitly included by choice of language. I'm never sure what is foreigners' business to get into.

Getting started.
The story as I understand it is this: the school's contract with ISS had run out, and they decided not to renew it. Several petitions from individual colleges to keep the workers on as university employees were ignored by the Rektör. Over the weekend, the Rektör deigned to respond, with an evasive email in Turkish and an even more vague but much shorter email in English. He failed to respond to anything people were talking about, and instead just described it as a thing that was out of his hands. According to him, the contract wasn't being renewed because they quality of work had declined and there was some bullshit about microfiber rags. He didn't mention that the quality of work had declined because there have been huge staff cuts over the past year and a lot of people are suddenly doing the work of four people. He didn't mention the quality of the work of people who do stuff other than cleaning, like the guys who haul stuff and deliver stuff and office workers and other staff.

The usual amount of crap in a classroom after a regular teaching day.
The students who live in the dorms (and who, bless them, seem completely unable to pick up after themselves in any way) have been bitching about the filth, because apparently there used to be two cleaners per block of dorms, and now there's just one for every two blocks.

In our corner of campus (we're a few steps higher than ISS in the university pecking order), we get stuff like this.

The only reason a windstorm caused the mess was because the ash tray/trash cans (trashtrays?) only get emptied every couple of weeks. A colleague who quit smoking almost a year ago guessed that some of his butts are still in the trashtray because that never gets emptied. I think there is room in it only because of some sort of magical decomposition process. And I'd bloody well empty it myself if the big trash tips weren't halfway across campus and locked in a cage.

This guy used to take care of the area around our office building. He's a really nice guy. I've seen him around, but he does something else now. He followed the march at the periphery, and stopped here to push a chair back into place.

The students got in on the outcry, too. At first, they planned to hold a big round of noisy, misplaced anger near the library, but then they and the faculty joined forces and had a proper meeting in the auditorium and they decided to have a march. Everyone got a chance to speak at the meeting. Some ISS people were invited to speak, but security tried to keep them out and there was a scuffle and eventually they were allowed in.

Some of these guys are security.

Security, after all, also has to do what they're told whether they like it or not. I don't imagine they put up much of a fight, except to make a show of putting up a fight.

This is a picture I couldn't manage to take from the folk music night, of a young ISS guy no older than the students. He'd come in towards the end of the show, probably to pick up the crap students left behind, and was squatting behind the back row with his chin in his hands, absolutely rapt with the music. I would have had to use a flash to take his picture in the dark, but I couldn't stand to treat him that way or break his mood.

So anyway, today was the protest and I cobbled together this crummy little video because it feels good when something is happening for real.

I went with a colleague and we were both a little nervous about getting singled out by the campus surveillance and the administration. Because that's the thing about our jobs, all of us, from the administrative staff to the folks way higher in the pecking order. The prevailing feeling is that if you don't like something, you can just find another job.

Except the thing is, a lot of us don't want to find new jobs. We like this job. So we keep our heads down and do the best job we can, all the while ignoring that wee threat hanging by a thread over our collective heads. It could explain why a lot of us drink so much, because I sure as hell am not the only one.

She does a lot of the catering for conferences and large events. If she catches you eying the food, she shoos you over to it and exhorts you to take some of everything because she thinks you're too thin.

Here is something I'm ashamed of: I would never join a march to protect my own job rights, not if I thought I might be able to protect my job by not joining. I think I might be okay breaking a strike, especially if I felt it wasn't a critical mass. No, not okay. I'd feel like shit. There are some things I've been taught good people don't do.

But I've also been taught that you do what you have to do to get by. This particular tension has been worrying at me today.

It's not something I'm proud of, the death of my convictions, but it's the way it is.

The students in charge of the megaphone had crib sheets with worker slogans written on them. They'd sneak a read of the paper crumpled in their hand, then start shouting the slogan, which everyone then shouted back.

And this made me even more proud of the ISS people who came and yelled and stood up for themselves.


Anonymous said...

Stranger, thanks for these posts. I work at one of the feeder high schools for your uni, and so much of all of this rang true for me (only I don't really bless the hearts of young adults who can't be bothered to clean up after themselves.) I will say that I adore our ISS people, and also, it's really exciting to see some movement on this labor issue. I'm thankful to see students getting involved, and I look forward to more posts....

Stranger said...

I learned today that half of the ISS people were hired by the new subcontractor. The rest were apparently placed appropriately (the uni followed up on all of them, as per the agreement they pounded out), and a few quit. It's so nice to see them back and smiling and palling around with each other.

The part that's exciting for me is that the university, as a part of Koç Holding and the Koç family, actually went ahead and threw around their power to do the right thing. ISS is pissed off for sure, but it was nice to see a corporation (Koç) acting human against another inhuman corporation that does nothing more than farm people out like chattel.

And like you, I was glad to see this side of the students. I still wish they would pick up their crap, though.