Temple Revives Old-Time Union Busting against Grad StudentsRoundup
tags: unions, labor history, graduate workers, academic labor, Temple University
Heather Ann Thompson is a historian at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, which won the Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize.
It’s not 1913 and 1914, when John D. Rockefeller worked to ensure that all of employees daring to ask for better wages and safe working conditions in the coal mines of Ludlow, Colorado were evicted and ultimately looked on as scores of them, including 11 children and two women, were killed by private guards and the National Guard.
Nor is it 1892, when Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie called in Pinkerton guards to rough up those striking families at a major steel mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania – or 1937, when Henry Ford’s security force used violence to try to stop autoworkers from gaining basic rights on their jobs.
It’s 2023, but the sense that anything goes when it comes to a company’s desire to break a union has not been relegated to history. Union membership is in long-term decline, something a majority of Americans say is bad both for the US and its working people, according to the Pew Research Center.
The harms of the past are echoing loudly in Temple University’s recent decision to undercut the efforts of its graduate students to secure better wages and health care by suddenly demanding full payment for their tuition and then threatening that not paying would result in them being barred from taking classes to complete their degrees.
Graduate students at Temple have been on strike since January 31. In response, the university stopped paying the strikers, deactivated their health care accounts and on February 8, notified them that they no longer were “entitled to tuition remission,” and had until March 9 to pay.
This may seem like a matter of concern only to academics, albeit one that could prevent these striking students from completing their education and keeping a roof over their head. This latest move by Temple University, however, has much wider implications. It is a most serious anti-labor action by a major American employer, and it sends an ominous signal to other employers everywhere.
It’s also serves as a most unsettling reminder that not remembering, or worse, never knowing, our nation’s labor history has had dire costs for ordinary people who go to work each day in this country.
From New York to California and Nashville to North Dakota, so many today just assume that some of the best aspects of being employed are a given and sacrosanct. From the ability to get health care for one’s family when getting hired, to the right to go home from work after an eight-hour shift or be paid overtime, to the right to refuse to work with dangerous or faulty equipment, to the right to stay home when ill, this is what it means to work a job in America. And yet, not only are those very same “rights” hard, and only relatively, won, but while too few working people have been paying attention, a most ugly attempt to erode them has been gaining momentum.