I have an idea for bringing down the pulvarchy (or pulverarchy - I made up the word, I can change it). My idea is something I’m calling a “worker’s association”. I just made up the name — it’s not specifically related to any prior organizations by that name.

What is a Worker’s Association?

A worker’s association focuses on information sharing and resource pooling. It collects information on what employers force workers into unsafe situations, or steal from their employees, and so forth. What’s the going rate in the industry. Workplace conditions, pay advancement, adversarial contracts, etc. Resource pooling for employment lawyers. Actually insert contract terms. Sexual harassment investigations, workplace maltreatment investigations, workplace safety investigations.

It’s intermediate to a union. Unions are industry-wide or corporation-wide, which make them powerful, but hard to create. Moreover, unions are dependent on the government for their power. Unions are also at risk for falling to the pulvarchy - mob-controlled unions, for example. None of this is to dispararage unions, which I think are by-and-large wonderful at helping people and resisting the pulvarchy.

In contrast, a worker’s association has no overhead to set up, no hoops to jump through, doesn’t require government backing, and has less centralization, and thus less risk of falling to the pulvarchy. It should be seen as a complement to a union - another option wherever unions don’t exist. Also, worker’s associations can be pathways to unionization.

Essentially, it’s a way to unify the inherent power of workers to share knowledge, to choose where they’re going to work, and so forth. It doesn’t have the additional power of striking, like a union, but it’s much better than going alone.

Does this exist? Is there interest?

Worker’s Association in Academia

Could this be a thing for grad students? Postdocs? Faculty?

What such an organization could provide:

  • Workplace safety - especially important in experimental chemistry, experiemental physics, biology, material science, mechanical engineering, etc. You can’t trust your PI to use good safety practices, especially when they’re constantly pushing for speed and there’s no chance of oversight or reporting mechanism or anything. The WA can help.

  • The WA can collect and share reports of unethical behavior - sexual harassment, overwork, etc. This can help prospective students avoid horrible faculty. It can also establish patterns and put external pressure on universities, where the pressure is applied by people who aren’t worried about backlash, because they’re in different fields and at different universities.

  • The WA can help academics who aren’t associated with specific universities, like contract-work adjuct faculty, and give them the contacts and instutitional power to improve conditions.

  • The WA can help share information on funding, like what grants are getting funded by what funding institutions, what topics or manners of presentation of grants are succeeding.

  • Sharing information on faculty pay, postdoc pay, grad student pay, and the conversion of grant money into each category and associated overhead ratio, as well as pay for TAing and so forth.

I think WAs would be a good complement and/or addition to unions for improving labor conditions in academia. I likewise think it would be well-suited to many areas of work.