03 December, 2005

Story: Collective Bargaining

I was inspired to post this story because Pink of Pink Bottomed Girls requested some ideas. I wrote this story several years ago, and posted it to the SSS newsgroup. It's fiction--sorry to those of you who might want to transfer!

Collective Bargaining
or, A Voice in the University Community

The latest membership meeting of the incipient graduate students’ union was nearly finished, when Marjorie stood up. “Okay, everybody, it seems like we’ve got a credibility problem. We’re telling the university that we need a union because it will enhance our status as professionals. The problem is, apparently, a lot of you have incompletes. If we’re not getting our work done, then how can we convince people we’re professionals?”

The room erupted in irritated whispering. Marjorie continued, “I know, I know, everyone’s got a very good reason for all of their incompletes. But the fact remains: we’re acting like kids, and waiting for someone to make us get our work in. The administration is never going to take us seriously if we can’t even manage our time well enough to do our own work!”

The buzz continued, as people thought about this, and continued to voice their excuses.

“So, what should we do about it? We shouldn’t expect the faculty to nag us to get things finished on time. So, I’ve got a proposal: the union should have a discipline committee. And the discipline should be…” she paused, and then went on, “I think the punishment should be a sound paddling, and then five strokes of the cane for every incomplete. It would certainly inspire us to get our work done, but it wouldn’t cost us any money.”

The air in the room electrified. Eyes widened, and graduate students looked around the room. A hand went up in the back. “Ummm, who would administer the discipline?”

“I think there should be four members of the committee, freely elected by the membership of the union. If someone has an incomplete, the committee member of their choice could administer the discipline after the next meeting.”

People considered the suggestion. I wasn’t sure what I thought. On the one hand, I thought, it would encourage people to get their work finished. On the other hand, I had three incompletes, and I certainly didn’t want a paddling or a caning. But, after discussion, we decided it was the best move. Most people thought it would provide us with incentive to finish our work, and any incentive seemed like a good idea. The graduate students voted overwhelmingly in favor of Marjorie’s idea.

Just as everyone began to stand up, a guy in the front row raised his hand. “Marjorie, since this was your idea, I think you should be the first to go.”

Marjorie blushed. “But, um, I thought we agreed there would be a grace period until the meeting next month. And, well, we don’t have a discipline committee set up yet.”

But the woman sitting next to him said, “I think you should go first, just so people can get an idea of the consequences for not getting their work done.”

Marjorie stalled, but she finally acquiesced. The meeting officially ended, and we agreed to take a break while Marjorie selected someone to give her the punishment, and while the guy in the front row went to his car to get a cane and paddle he “just happened” to have in the trunk.

Very few people moved from their seats. Five minutes later, when everyone was back in the room, and the pamphlets and empty coffee cups had been moved off the table in the front of the room, Marjorie and another woman stood at the front of the room.

“Ummm, this is Helen,” Marjorie offered, and then stared very firmly at her feet.

“Hello.” Helen spoke calmly, with great assurance. “I think this will help to set the tone for the rest of you. Depending on how this works out, I may decide to run for the discipline committee.” She smiled at us, and added, “I haven’t had a single incomplete since coming here, and I’m well on my way to finishing my dissertation. I am very much in favor of discipline.” She motioned to Marjorie, and Marjorie leaned across the table.

I was in an excellent position, in the front row, well over to the side. I could see both Marjorie’s red face and her bottom, in profile.

Helen placed the paddle and cane on the table. She pulled Marjorie’s pants and underpants to her knees. “In my experience, discipline is most effective when applied directly to the skin.” She lifted the paddle, and (to my great relief) she stood on Marjorie’s other side. I watched people on that side of the room shifting into the few empty seats, and even standing up, for a better view.

SMACK!! I think everyone in the room gasped. Helen caught my eye, and I shivered. The paddling continued. Even though I could see her bottom turning bright red, Marjorie took the paddling well. She only squirmed a little bit. Helen continued the paddling, and Marjorie began to grunt and sniffle.

No one else in the room moved as we watched. I know I wasn’t the only person planning on a more rigorous work schedule. Finally, Helen put the paddle back on the table.

“Marjorie let me know she’s got two incompletes,” Helen announced, “so she will be getting ten strokes.” If it’s possible, the room became even more still.

Helen held the cane, and flexed it. She turned slightly towards the audience, and waved it briskly in the air. I flinched as I heard it whistle. Helen turned back to her task, catching my eye again. I felt an unpleasant electric shock in my chest. Somehow, I suspected Helen would easily win a position on the discipline committee.

Without warning, the cane lashed through the air, and landed on Marjorie’s bottom. “OWWWwww.” The next four strokes came almost without warning. Marjorie’s knuckles turned white, grasping the far end of the table, and she cried out with each stroke.

“Oh, no more, I’m sorry, I’ll get it in, I promise, I promise.” Marjorie’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but I could hear her desperation. Helen ended the respite, and the cane was a blur as she delivered the next five strokes. Marjorie didn’t cry during this set. Instead, she desperately repeated, “Nomorenomorenomore,” almost as a mantra.

And then it was over. Helen lay the cane on the table, rearranged Marjorie’s clothes, and then led her gently towards the bathroom, shutting the door behind them.

The rest of us regarded each other nervously. I know I wasn’t the only one squirming. But, gradually, we returned to normal. Except, instead of our usual post-meeting drinks, most of us either went to the library or home to our computers. And I don’t think we were checking email….


Pink said...

As a grad student with an incomplete (no, I'm not kidding), I felt quite the sinking feeling while reading your post... eek! brat just laughed, looked at me with a smile, and said, "so, you have an incomplete, right?"

Dyke Grrl said...

Glad I could help!