Corey Robin goes after Yale professor over column on striking grad students

Historians in the News
tags: Yale, unionizing students

Corey Robin is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin and Fear: The History of a Political Idea

It’s not much of a mystery to me why tenured faculty oppose graduate employee unions. What is a mystery is why otherwise intelligent, accomplished, and careful scholars suddenly feel liberated from the normal constraints of argument—reason, evidence, that kind of thing—when they oppose those unions.

Take this recent oped by Valerie Hansen, a professor of history at Yale. In the course of setting out her reasons against the recognition of Local 33 at Yale, Hansen says:

One of the main tools available to unions is to strike. When employees strike at a company, their consumers lose services until management negotiates a new contract with the union. For example, a strike at Metro-North brings the suspension of train service and a decline in revenue until management and employees reach agreement and employees return to work.

So Yale shouldn’t recognize a union of its grad employees because those employees will go out on strike.

Since 1991, by my count, there have been five strikes by Yale’s grad employees: in December 1991, March 1992, April 1995, December 1995-January 1996, and 2003. Five strikes—and probably more—without Yale ever having recognized a union of its grad employees. I know, history.

Oddly, Hansen does go on to mention that Yale’s grad employees have struck in the past (and she should know since she’s been there since 1988), but she doesn’t seem to realize how the evidence she cites undermines her claim: if the fact that grad employees, with a union, would strike is a reason to oppose their unionization, then the fact that grad employees, without a union, have struck, should at least be considered as a reason not to oppose their unionization.

That’s not fancy forensics; it’s actually, um, history.

When Congress and the Supreme Court finally came to terms, in 1935 and 1937, with the idea of a legally recognized right to form unions in the United States, one of the reasons they gave was that workers were already striking and had been striking for some time. While unionized employees might strike, Congress and the Court reasoned that having a legally recognized union would be a way for workers to advance their interests without having to strike. Unions, in other words, would reduce strikes. ...

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