October 30, 2004

A letter to anthropologists

Category: Politics — Biella @ 9:32 pm

What an ‘exciting’ evening: I deliced my blogs of spam and looked up all the call numbers for the books and articles I need to put on reserve for the course on hacker ethics and politics I am teaching next quarter. So I have a little time to kill before crashing in bed (still not quite over this stomach turmoil that has hit my life this week) I will just ramble with some random stuff I wanted to blog this week.

So first off because blog is such an atrocious name, it repels. I am convinced that if blogs were not called blogs there would be way more bloggers in the “blog0Sphere” yet folks eventually get the itch, and get over their understandable name repulsion. You see more and more folks I thought would never have a blog, like espe and dilts now have them and I find them pretty darn pleasant to read. Dilts actually had a specialized blog to prepare for his exams which is pretty clever thing to do. I imagine that blogs will become pretty standard for teaching and I personally will use IRC for non-essential office hours type stuff (and as a great way to cut down on the administrative email which can be a nightmare).

So, speaking of the academy and academics…. It has been surprising how few established (ie tenured) professors have spoken out against the AAA’s actions in the face of the striking workers in Atlanta. I think the reasons for this are complex, but it seems to be part of it is just a general trend towards public silence in the academy. It is not like it is entirely silent it just seems like silence is the norm and then there are a few outspoken critics. I think if a few more of them took the plunge into the icy waters, I bet more would follow. And you know if these older tenured folks were writing blogs, they would for sure just spend like 15 minutes firing off an excellent letter.

Today one such letter popped into my inbox, written by Philip Bourgois Like much of his writing, it does not mince with words. Its simplicity is what grips:

Dear Anthropologists,

Please do not go to Atlanta for the sake of the workers locked out of the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco and for the sake of hotel service workers throughout the country. The Hilton Hotel in San Francisco has locked its workers out for asking for basic necessities that are common sense in the rest of the industrialized world and should be considered a basic human right: decent minimum wages and health benefits… (for full-time employees!) The conference in Atlanta is at a non-union Hilton Hotel. All sections of the American Anthropological Association should cancel their sessions in Atlanta. The Hilton Hotel and the Hilton Company will benefit financially and symbolically by having anthropologists attend their hotel in Atlanta.

By patronizing any Hilton Hotel while its workers are locked out in San Francisco (or anywhere else in the world or the country) we would be behaving exactly like United Fruit Company executives in Central America and multinational executives throughout the world who break the backs of unions by simply switching production to non-union plantations/sweatshops in neighboring countries when one of its plantations/sweatshops tries to unionize. That is unconscionably abusive and is much more important than any of our anthropology-meeting-related concerns. We should have the decency and humility to realize that whatever we have to say at our academic meetings can wait for another year or six months for the sake of hotel workers. Service workers have a chance of winning this fight for their rights because hotels, unlike plantations and sweatshops, have to stay put. The service workers union will lose if organizations like the AAA move around the country at the will of the Company to whichever city has the cheapest wage and most abusive working
conditions. This is not a complicated issue. It should be easy for anthropologists with a global perspective to understand the stakes.

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