The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

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Marc Kagan, PhD candidate, on his arrest at the PSC protest

(In case you hadn’t heard – “Fifty three CUNY faculty and professional staff were arrested on Wednesday, November 4 demanding a contract that will help CUNY retain excellent professors, ensuring a quality education for the 500,000 CUNY students across the city. They blocked the doors to the midtown office building housing CUNY’s central administration and refused to move until the university management made a fair offer to resolve their long-expired union contract. 800 faculty, staff, students and supporters rallied to support them.”)




Here’s Marc’s report:

Last Wednesday, while hundreds protested, I was arrested outside CUNY’s headquarters on 42nd St. The arrest itself was unexceptional. But I am convinced that PSC members’ civil disobedience – along with the protests of many many more in the last month – has forced CUNY to finally, after 2 years of negotiations, put a wage offer on the table.[1] That offer is still far from adequate and far below what the various municipal employees have received. The next step in our union’s escalation is a mass meeting on November 19 at 6:30 PM at the historic Cooper Union Great Hall to discuss this fight and consider the timetable toward a strike authorization vote. Speaking as a historian, this is what class struggle looks like in our era. Of course, this class struggle directly affects your (our) economic interests and working conditions. (You should also come see where Lincoln spoke!)


As a recent member (I was an Adjunct last year), there’s a lot I don’t know about the PSC and this contract fight. I need to learn more. What I do know is that Graduate students Employees and Adjuncts – who, collectively, make up a substantial percentage of PSC’s potential membership – have historically, been inactive in the union; and so, we are forced to rely on the goodwill of the leadership to protect and fight for our interests. Those interests, at a minimum, include wage increases (for additional adjunct work as well) and health benefits beyond the five years. Undoubtedly, some of you have additional and imaginative ideas, better than mine, about how our union can and should support our intellectual efforts.


I happen to come from a union background. But, just like all of you, I have a million things on my plate and I have to allocate my time carefully. Moreover, for many years, there was, apparently, no real operational union chapter at the GC. (My history may be wrong on this.) Now there is more activity – or, at least a new chapter chair intent on making the chapter effective; that is, getting our voice heard within PSC, and helping PSC be more powerful in general.[2] As historians, you know that there is no magic wand he can wave to make this happen. This is contingency at work – i.e., what can we do, strategically, productively, to improve our lives.


How do we justify the importance of History as a subject matter to our students? We believe our subject is the most important, that it encourages them to be active participants in the world, to strive for as much agency in their lives as possible. So, it goes without saying, the same should be true for us. In the next few weeks, I’m going to try to organize a meeting where we can talk about our collective interests. And, by all means, plan to be at Cooper Union on November 19.[3]


Marc Kagan

Graduate Assistant B

[1] You can see press coverage and PSC’s statement at CUNY sent out its statement in last week’s “Thursday Brief.”

[2] His name is Luke Elliot-Negri. You can reach him at or 718-710-0020.