Sunday, December 05, 2004

Defeat the Hayden Resolutions

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to ask you to oppose Dr. Robert Hayden's proposed resolutions for the 2004 American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting. These resolutions are here and here.

This is a critical time, in which we can and should evaluate the AAA's mission(s) and the role of the Executive Board (EB). However, these resolutions limit discussion rather than facilitate it. Further, they border on sanctioning the AAA EB for the widely-supported, ethical stance they took in moving the Annual Meeting from the the San Francisco Hilton during the worker lockout.

There are three reasons to oppose these motions:

1) Opposition to the "corporate culture" of the AAA has been clearly voiced in the past several weeks. The language of both of Dr. Hayden's resolutions supports further corporatization of the AAA and clear prioritization of fiduciary over ethical responsibilities.

A full accounting of the costs of the move to Atlanta must be done. Likewise, while there are questions as to the soundness of the AAA Counsel's advice and the actions of the AAA leadership regarding this advice, it is not clear that the EB or the membership would benefit from training the EB in corporate law. Neither an accounting of the recent move's costs nor actions regarding the AAA EB and the AAA Counsel should be conducted under the terms suggested in Dr. Hayden's resolution.

2) Although Dr. Hayden cites the AAA Mission Statement and the Long-Range Plan in his proposed resolutions, he chooses his citations in a manner that depict an Association that few among us would recognize. He, correctly, points out that the "duty of corporate officers runs to the corporation in support of achieving its stated goals," yet he chooses carefully among the goals of the AAA. He has left out the portions of the Mission Statement that refer to the goals of "the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems" and "represent[ing] the discipline nationally and internationally, in the public and private sectors." Further, in choosing only these two documents, Dr. Hayden neglects the Code of Ethics of the AAA, the AAA Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights, and the goverment relations and public policy efforts of the Association.

The cumulative effect of AAA and other groups moving meeting business out of San Francisco MEG hotels built political pressure which resulted in an end to the lockout. This is entirely consistent with the goals and efforts I cite above.

3) Just as there is no "value-free" science, there is no position that the AAA can take that leaves us out of the labor struggle so long as we continue to hold conferences.

The AAA has two options -- to oppose labor's efforts or to get behind them.

Roughly one-third of the hotel industry's business in the US comes from conferences held by groups like academic and professional organizations, labor, and progressive clergy. Although business and vacation travelers make up almost two-thirds of hotel business, these consumers are increasingly fickle. Hotel chains count on our return business -- as witnessed by the contracts we've maintained with Hilton and Marriot over the years and into the next decade. Academic conferences alone account for more than $65 million in hotel business annually. We also tend to spend more money on ancillary services like audio-visual equipment than business and vacation travellers.

The struggle continues, at both Local 2 -- as they negotiate their contract and fight to retain healthcare and pension benefits, fair working hours and jobs -- and throughout the industry -- as an effort to strengthen collective bargaining and the right to organize in the form of nationally coordinated contract negotiation.

UNITE HERE has developed a strategy that puts pressure on the employers without putting hotel employees at risk. This offers us the opportunity to, as Leith Mullings has called on us to do, use our relatively privileged position as academics to solve people's real problems. While it is odious to many of us to discuss inequality and suffering inside the Grand Ballroom of some corporate hotel, moving out of these hotels takes away from the power we can bring to bear on these very hotels. By using this leverage, UNITE HERE has been able to get "card-check neutrality" agreements to unionize new hotels. What this means is that they use the economic leverage of the AAA, the ASA, the NAACP, and others to increase worker opportunities for organizing. In this way, vulnerable workers have not had to deal with the employer intimidation that comes with organizing in the US.

The success of this strategy can best be seen in UNITE HERE's history of organizing the gaming industry in Las Vegas. Over the course of a decade, the city's union workforce grew from 10,000 to 45,000, making it the most densely unionized city in the US.

The AAA can (and in my mind should) be central to the realization of these efforts. Defeating this resolution is one step in the right direction. EB passage of the restriction of all conference business to union hotels is another.

In solidarity,

Rob

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