APSA moves

by Henry Farrell on August 5, 2005

A minor victory for San Francisco hotel workers, who are fighting a divisive battle over contracts with their employers. The American Political Science Association has announced that it is “moving its 2006 meeting”:http://www.apsanet.org/content_18472.cfm to Philadelphia, “[d]ue to the lack of progress in the protracted labor-management dispute in San Francisco.” This is the result of a deliberate strategy by the hotel workers’ union, which has been working on persuading academic organizations not to host conferences at the hotels in question, while they continue to try to hold out. Union officials figure that it’s time for academic lefties to put their money where their mouth is, and they’re damn right. I’m delighted that the American Political Science Association has done this.

Update: I should make it clear that my understanding isn’t that the APSA is taking a political stance on the underlying merits of the issues here. Instead, I read the press release to say that given the likelihood of disruption (which would stem from leftwing political scientists boycotting, or organizing pickets, alternative meetings etc in solidarity with the hotel workers), the APSA has decided to move to a less controversial location.

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Left In SF » Political Scientists say No to SF
08.08.05 at 7:51 pm



Peggy 08.05.05 at 7:17 pm

Good for them. Cancellations have impact.


david 08.05.05 at 10:45 pm

AAA and APSA now; anybody else moved?

Was it ugly with APSA? The AAA fiasco yielded lots of good stories, and an ambiguous ending.


Brian 08.05.05 at 10:58 pm

The LSA moved across the bridge to Oakland, which seems a whole lot easier than moving to Philadelphia.


Ted 08.05.05 at 11:25 pm

This is great news. It will be easier
to find hotel rooms in San Francisco now. :-}

You guys can’t really think this will have
ANY meaningful affect on the strike, do you?

I’m sure it will be much cheaper for the
bulk of attendees who are mostly from the
east coast anyhow. It’s fine to show
solidarity with workers and all that,
but academic budgets are REALLY tight
in 2005-2006. I’m sure that’s why it
was so easy for APSA to make this decision.


dr ngo 08.05.05 at 11:34 pm

The AHA, if I’m not mistaken, moved from SF to San Jose – again, less drastic than going all the way cross-country.


RedWolf 08.06.05 at 12:26 am

A little surprised by the opposition to the substitute site and lack of support for Henry’s main message (my interpretation): “support working people, it’s the core of the left’s belief system.”


Ted 08.06.05 at 1:15 am

Redwolf wonders:

“lack of support for Henry’s main message
(my interpretation): “support working people,
it’s the core of the left’s belief system.”

uh … maybe it’s because to most objective
observers the “core of the left’s belief
system” is “the United States – and
Western Civilization – is wrong”.

And please, spare me the BS that I must
be some extreme right-wing fascist blind
supporter of Republicans/Libertarians.

My bumper sticker says “Kerry for President”.
NOT “Kerry/Edwards”; I sent him money BEFORE
he won the nomination.

It’s just that these days most of the Left
seems to be suffering from what some have
called “Bush Derangement Syndrome”.

Yup … that man in the White House
isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in
the drawer.

But blind opposition to his policies …
and sheer hatred of the US … seems to
be the current core of the left’s

Support for the working people might be
somewhere on page 5 or 6 of the manifesto.

It sure as heck isn’t in the “misson statement”.


Jacob T. Levy 08.06.05 at 6:22 am

Hurm. “Academic professional associations” =/= “academic lefties,” and APSA has a strongly-entrenched rule against taking political positions on questions unrelated to academic freedom or the institution of professional political science (i.e. it’s allowed to favor NSF budget increases but not to have a view on whether these should be financed by tax increases, deficits, or spending cuts elsewhere.)

I don’t know anything about the merits of the SF labor dispute. But APSA’s statement, “The current and future labor disputes compromise the Association’s ability to do the advanced planning needed for the 2006 meeting. In addition, the prospect of disruptions during the meeting meant the Association could not guarantee it would be able to deliver the quality meeting its members expect,” doesn’t take a position on those merits either. It can’t be equated to “academic lefties to put[ting] their money where their mouth is,” unless the former is a sham to cover for the latter, in which case ASPA’s council has violated APSA rules.

The decision seems plausible to me, for APSA”s stated reasons. A strike poses logistical problems, regardless of the merits. But Henry’s gloss is objectionable and, I think, inaccurate. It tends to misstate what kind of precedent has been set. In my view no precedent has been set for, e.g., APSA joining in boycotts of states which have something in their politics (Confederate flags, Colorado Amendment 2, etc) to which lots of members object.


Brian 08.06.05 at 6:23 am

How on earth do you get “lack of support” out of these comments redwolf? One could perfectly well support the move of venue and still think that the change should be less dramatic to cause fewer problems for people who have planned to go to the conference (e.g. poor grad students from California who could go to something in the Bay Area but couldn’t afford to make it all the way to Philly.) Or are you just unhappy there aren’t more loyalty pledges in the comments here?


Tom T. 08.06.05 at 8:32 am

Well, the switch now benefits the poor grad students in New York, Pennsylvania, and DC who couldn’t afford to make it all the way to California, so that consideration is probably a wash. Purely in terms of desirability as a vacation spot, though, switching from San Francisco to Philadelphia is an awfully steep drop.


Henry 08.06.05 at 8:57 am

Jacob, given the particular nature of the dispute (it’s an ongoing contract dispute rather than a strike, with little if any visible inconvenience for guests), the “prospect of disruption” referred to in the press release can only be the prospect of disruption from left wing members of the APSA, myself included, who would have refused to attend, and very likely have set up an alternative meeting, and perhaps pickets. See, for an example of what can happen, the anguish at the American Philosophical Association meeting last year. You may find still find this “gloss” to be “objectionable” (although I’m not sure why) but there’s no necessary contradiction between APSA’s stated position of not taking political positions, and the fact that this decision is clearly the result of an union initiative to build solidarity with left wing political scientists, as my post argued. Accepting that the disruption caused would outweigh the benefits of having the meeting in San Francisco is not taking a political position (you might well have preferred that the APSA resisted these pressures, but that’s another argument).


Russell Arben Fox 08.06.05 at 10:37 am

I’m with Henry, Jacob. No, I don’t think this decision means that you are obliged to understand your APSA dues as supporting a left-wing organization, because I don’t think that’s the case. But the APSA exists to serve the discipline, which is made of political scientists and theorists, quite a large number of whom (like myself) tend to automatically give the benefit of doubt to unions. If unions who reach out to members of APSA can persuasively make the case that their organization can serve the discipline (by, for example, hosting conferences) in a way that can satisfy those who respond the unions’ arguments without at the same time compromising its duties to anyone else (by, in this case, moving to a location not contested by unions), then it makes good sense for the organization to respond accordingly.

Theoretically, of course, this means that I don’t think it would be impossible for APSA to at some future time similarly respond to complaints over the examples you mention: the Confederate flag, etc. That’s the price to pay, I think, for a more democratic organization.

“Purely in terms of desirability as a vacation spot, though, switching from San Francisco to Philadelphia is an awfully steep drop.”

I disagree, Tom. Philadelphia is one of my favorite cities in America; if I’m to be stuck within a city’s boundaries, then unless I was looking for either 1) sunsets or 2) Chinese food, I’d pick Philly over San Francisco any day of the week.


Jacob T. Levy 08.06.05 at 11:19 am

Hmm. Maybe I read too much into Henry’s post, which I took to equate APSA as an institution with “academic lefties” etc. If the idea is that the academic lefty members would have been the source of the “disruption,” and that APSA institutionally is then reacting neutrally to the facts as created by others, then I guess I withdraw the objection– though the consequence Russell admits is one that would worry me a great deal, as it seems to leave the organization’s commitment to nonpartisanship as one that’s easily taken hostage.

I’m entirely with Tom and not Russell on SF vs Philadelphia as desirable destinations! But of course there’s no reason for that to be determinative.

Given a decision to move, I think it makes good sense to move to one of the other venues on the APSA circuit with which there’s a known relationship, ability to handle a convention of the relevant size, etc– that is, Philadelphia rather than San Jose or Oakland, even though I’d rather go to the Bay than to Philly.


Matt 08.06.05 at 12:19 pm

Well, I’m from Philly, and have been living in san Francisco all summer, so know something about the relative merits of the two. Both have good and bad points, but in the summer I’d much rather be in San Francisco since it’s not sweltering here, as Philadelphia is. But, I’ve yet to see a sunset from anywhere in the city (by the time the sun is setting, if you are in a place high enough to see the sunset, it seems there is too much fog to see it, at least most days.) And at least in china town it’s not clear to me that the chinese food in the China town in Philadelphia is significantly worse than that in China town in SF. But maybe I just don’t know which resturants to go to. (Sushi might be a different matter.)


Nicholas Weininger 08.06.05 at 1:54 pm

Not that this will convince anyone on the left, but one point against the SF hotel unions is that they have at least one city supervisor in their pocket, and have used that clout to push through an unbelievably stupid moratorium on the conversion of “historic” hotel towers to condominiums. In a city where housing is as tight as it is in SF, this is utterly inexcusable; it’s nothing but French-style dirigisme and it serves to confirm the worst stereotypes people have about unions.

In general, the political power of unions here serves to do little more than block economic progress and wealth creation in the name of preserving existing sinecures. I intend to recommend the boycotted hotels to anyone I know looking for a place to stay in SF.


Henry 08.07.05 at 11:01 am

Jacob – in fairness, my original post didn’t specify the mechanism through which lefties were being called into service, and so was setting itself up for misinterpretation.

Nicholas – I look forward to seeing how this counter-initiative progresses, given libertarians’ historic prowess in organizing collective action towards a common cause ;)


Eszter 08.07.05 at 11:26 am

The Am Soc Assn meetings for 2006 are also scheduled for San Francisco. I’ll be curious to see what happens.


cranky 08.08.05 at 7:20 am

ASA’s 2006 meetings won’t be in SF next year, as scheduled. The meetings are in Phillie this year, so that’s out. So far, the frontrunner seems to be Montreal.


Jim Miller 08.08.05 at 9:17 am

American universities, I have been arguing for some time, are in great need of reform. Henry’s post on this decision by the APSA (an organization I belonged to years and years ago) is one more bit of evidence for that conclusion.

And I have concluded, sadly, that the universities are incapable or reforming themselves and that the reform will have to come from those who pay the bills, the taxpayers, the parents, and the donors.

I assume the rest of the argument is so obvious that I don’t need to fill in the details.


The Navigator 08.08.05 at 1:04 pm

First of all, Philly is a great town. Any APSA member who hasn’t been to the National Constitution Center has no excuse not to make Philly their next vacation/convention stop. Plus, in early September, you should be able to catch the start of the Live Arts festival, or see the Phillies’ beautiful new ballpark. And it won’t be uncomfortably cool, like San Fran in August.

Secondly, Nicholas,
“the political power of unions here serves to do little more than block economic progress and wealth creation in the name of preserving existing sinecures”

hmmm…. you don’t know many hotel workers, do you? I know a few, and I assure you, having union protections and contracts matter a great deal more to them then city council resolutions that may temporarily prevent a few buildings changing from one form of residence to another, horrible and dastardly though the latter are. So, if you’re wondering what union power accomplishes, I suppose it depends on your perspective.


Nicholas Weininger 08.08.05 at 8:51 pm


I don’t doubt what you say about the rank-and-file workers. But the political leadership of the unions does in fact spend time and resources driving through these assaults on other people’s property, whether or not that’s what the rank and file care most about.

And as to “uncomfortably cool”: well, 55 and foggy isn’t exactly Edenic, true, but I’ll take it over 85 and stormy/sweltering any day.


Michael Kochin 08.08.05 at 11:57 pm

The APSA does have a tradition of political boycotts. A while ago they broke their contracts in order to boycott Phoenix, back when Arizona refused to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a state holiday.

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