Fred Lonidier on Labor, Arts and UCSD

31 Aug
SOTA Interview with UCSD’s Fred Lonidier, (President of UC-AFT San Diego Local 2034)

Fred Lonidier studied at Yuba College and San Francisco State (graduate work in sociology and photography) before becoming a member of the UCSD graduate program. He joined the faculty in 1972. Lonidier’s work deals with the sociological possibilities of photography applied to social change and has been exhibited at the Houston Center for Photography, the Oakland Museum, the Long Beach Museum, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Focus Gallery, the Kitchen, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, the Los Angeles Institute for Contemporary Art, the Whitney in New York, and the Friends of Photography in Carmel. He has also had exhibits in a number of union halls such as the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, ACTWU, SEIU, CWA, and Gallery 1199 of the NYC Hospital Workers Union. In 1983 he placed a large photo/text installation in the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. He has been the guiding energy behind Labor Link TV which cablecasts on three channels in San Diego County.

“Whither UCSD? Maquiladoras in its Future? or the Business of U.C.S.D. is Business?" 9 digital pigment print panels, 72" x 54"

How do you think that conflicts around labor and economics in the university uniquely effect the arts?

Well, every art department, gallery, performance space, etc. face cuts.  I am not in the loop for everything one would consider the arts in the U.C. System, but at UCSD we will not really have an art gallery any more and spaces we have been in line for in Mandeville Center when music moved out and into a new building are being held up because renovation funds are limited.  There are two HUGE recital spaces empty and unused starting last year due to funding shorts.

UCSD is a science campus with medical and engineering schools and there are privately funded institutes all over the place, so it is just obvious to the eye when driving in and walking around where the power and wealth are.  One measure will show up later as, after a hiring freeze for two years, a few replacement and new FTA (Full Time Employee) are coming.  The arts and humanities will, of course, apply but we will not know until later the allocations across the campus nor the system.

The labor you mentioned must be faculty and TAs?  Last year the department had to give up two new appointments and we have not filled those of three faculty who have left.  The Lecturer situation seems OK for the coming year as well as TA positions.

Last year the UCSD Academic Senate created a “Transparency Committee” to investigate and report on how the campus budget in all aspects.  It has not yet reported so we do have a picture yet: maybe by the first meeting of the Representative Assembly, Oct. 19?  The problem is that the real money is controlled by UCOP (office of the president).  [President] Yudof has often promised transparency at the system level but we never see it.  We hope the committee here will spawn to the same on other campuses and will pass a resolution demanding UCOP to open the books.  The Regents are, of course, the real power…

What are some historical events in the University of California which prefigured or paved the way for the kind of budget cuts happening today?

In the early 1990s California had a major budget crises, but much of the funding was restored.  That one was pretty painful – but the way it is going, this one will likely be permanent in many areas.  We had a salary cut and there is no indication that we will be brought back up or that the cuts will be reimbursed later.  Only merits and promotions will mitigate income lost.  U.C. did protect retirement.  In most ways, U.C. workers covered by union contracts fare better through these things.

The tricky politics of going after UC’s wealth is that the legislators may well lower even more tax allocations to match whatever funds the university would dip into if so pressured.  This would further privatize the system.  However, the very existence of “U.C.’s Hidden Wealth” is a violation of public trust and profound mismanagement in the face of furloughs, pay cuts, layoffs, programs cuts, etc., etc.  Here is an interview on UC finances with Bob Samuels, President of UC-AFT.

“Whither UCSD? Maquiladoras in its Future? or the Business of U.C.S.D. is Business?" 9 digital pigment print panels, 72" x 54"

The first time Dr. Peter Donohue did his research for CUE (Coalition of Union Employees) in the last major state budget crises in the early 1990s, he found that U.C.’s wealth had actually grown during those three years.  Here is the second updated report done for the Coalition of Union Employees at U.C. by Peter Donohue, Phd. This wealth belongs to the citizens of this state and puts a research university in a different class from the community colleges and the state university system.

You have a long history of making art in relationship to labor struggles, what kind of artistic responses do you think would be appropriate to the political/economic transformations happening within the University of California? What kind of work are you making these days?

There have been artistic responses across the system of various kinds though not all by art faculty or students.  One example is I came out of my Intro to Photo class in the spring on day and some class was on its knees crawling along Library Walk writing stuff with chalk about cuts and stuff (yes, I took photos).

I finished a large work last year, “Whither UCSD? Maquiladoras in its Future? or the Business of U.C.S.D. is Business?” which I will try and show in the Faculty Club that cuts right to the core of this corporate university. Whatever, whenever and wherever artists can do things can be to the good but it makes a lot of sense to connect up with the actions on the campuses and in the communities.

This is a 2009 addition to a large body of my project, “N.A.F.T.A. (Not A Fair Trade for All), Getting The Correct Picture: A monolingual, trade union descendent of Swedish immigrants and Cajuns goes across the border of the United States of America and the United States of Mexico” or “N.A.F.T.A…”  This photo/text documentary installation artwork has been shown in numerous spaces and combinations since 1997.

“Whither UCSD…?” is a continuation of “N.A.F.T.A…” but brings things all home, so to speak, in that UCSD may be headed towards direct involvement in maquiladora production in Tijuana just across the border here in San Diego.  Should this happen, most likely it would involve research by UCSD science/technology faculty leading to new products which could be manufactured by Mexican workers.  The potential of UCSD is primarily in the two highly developed areas of biotech and software though many departments have been involved, largely though UCSD’s San Diego Dialog in Extension.  If research by my colleagues leads to production in Mexico, will the high road to labor rights be taken or the low road?

“Whither UCSD? Maquiladoras in its Future? or the Business of U.C.S.D. is Business?" 9 digital pigment print panels, 72" x 54"

“N.A.F.T.A…” is largely about the exploitation of workers in the maquiladoras and their resistance.  These workers are routinely paid poorly, treated badly, work in unhealthy conditions and, in violation of Mexico’s labor laws, denied their rights to form unions which are democratic and represent their interests.  The mountain of documentation there is about UCSD’s intentions indicates little awareness of the problematics of involvement in this kind of production.  While it is noted and even worried about by a few of the research papers sponsored by San Diego Dialog, much of the language boosts the “initiatives” as good for “everyone” in the region.  In other words, the typical Chamber of Commerce spin.  For all the talk about broad input from “the community,” there has been no outreach to the unions nor environmental groups.

The artwork, then, will lay this all out through a device on three sites walls. I have photographed maquiladora walls, maquiladora worker housing walls and UCSD walls.  I have made these walls “speak” by overlaying/juxtaposing texts from the abundant documentation available.

For more information on the artwork or organizations described above, please contact Fred Lonidier: (858) 534-2524 wk

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