Students are the Key Swing Constituents in the UC Grad Worker StrikeBreaking News
tags: strikes, academic labor
Tensions escalated last week between the University of California system and the New School and their respective striking academic workers. As both labor actions entered their fourth weeks, more than two dozen UC workers were arrested at two protests in California, and the New School in New York started withholding pay and benefits from part-time faculty strikers and told student workers to sign work attestations. The New School also floated the idea of hiring replacement graders for the fall term and said it was doing “contingency planning” for the spring.
Then, later in the week, came compromise. The New School, which already had been in mediation with its part-time professors striking for better pay and working conditions, put forth a proposal that was closer to the United Auto Workers–affiliated union’s demands, including annualized status after 10 semesters of term-to-term service. On Saturday night, the university and the union reached a tentative agreement, ending the strike.
“This is a strong, fair, five-year contract that increases compensation significantly, protects health care benefits, and ensures that part-time faculty are paid for additional work done outside the classroom to support our students,” the two parties said in a statement.
The UC system, where four separate groups of UAW-affiliated workers had been on strike, saw the ratification Friday of contract agreements with two groups—postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers, who will return to work—and moved into private mediation with the graduate assistants, readers and tutors who remain on strike seeking stronger contracts. Inflation and housing costs have been key issues.
While the past month has certainly involved ups and downs and hardship for striking workers and their universities, in the middle of the fights on both coasts are undergraduate students. Many of these students’ college experiences already have been impacted by COVID-19, and this new disruption is especially challenging due to the internal nature of the conflict and the lack of clear guidance about how to proceed.
Colleen Macklin, an associate professor of media design at Parsons who presented at Strike School to support her part-time colleagues and who visited students occupying the University Center last week, agreed that learning didn’t cease entirely during the strike.
“Learning is social. It’s emotional as well as intellectual,” Macklin said. “Messages from the administration have missed this important point, describing learning as something that only happens in the classroom, at designated times, measured by individual progress defined by grades. The students I talked with described learning that is relevant to their lives, intrinsically rewarding, collective and immeasurable. They are learning about life, work and its possibilities in a capitalist system—systems that impact all of us as creative workers and thinkers.”