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On the picket line

October 15, 2004 | Page 11

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
Million Worker March
City Colleges of Chicago
Ohio State University

Northeastern Illinois University
By a UPI member

CHICAGO--Every week for the first three weeks of the semester, faculty, staff and students turned out to rally in increasing numbers to demand a fair contract for Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) staff and faculty. The protests swelled from 100 to more than 300 and culminated with students turning their backs on President Salme Steinberg's annual "state of the university" address, holding signs reading, "I am NEIU."

Steinberg's speech--about "enlightening" the working class with art and bringing a new sculpture called "Serenity" to campus in the heat of this contract battle--only managed to show how disconnected she is from the concerns facing the rest of the campus. In response, faculty, staff and students began wearing buttons reading "No contract, no serenity."

On October 15, a federal mediator will join the negotiations--at the request of our union, University Professionals of Illinois--after the administrations' demand for a concessionary contract.

The administration's proposal contained a measly 2 percent raise--after we received no raise in 2002 and a 1 percent raise in 2003. The deal also calls for requiring employees to pay more for benefits, increasing the workload of faculty and staff and replacing academic freedom with a list of banned activities.

At a recent rally on campus, our union president said that we would need to decide which of our demands to sacrifice in mediation. But as other members spoke about the contract fight, it became apparent that we can't give up on any of our demands. The administration has imposed takebacks for years. We can't afford to give in on salary. And paying more for benefits leaves the membership vulnerable to ever increasing costs.

NEIU faculty members work an average of 60 hours a week to keep up with teaching, research and service demands, so giving in to larger workloads or less academic freedom would be disastrous--for our quality of life and for the quality of students' education.

An array of student groups has offered support and solidarity to the union--attending and announcing rallies, distributing petitions, attending union meetings and wearing buttons. Winning our demands will depend on keeping the pressure on the administration and building strong solidarity on campus.

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Million Worker March
By Lee Sustar

THE MILLION WORKER march is set for October 17 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

While the march has been opposed by the AFL-CIO as a distraction from get-out-the-vote efforts to elect Democrats to the White House and Congress, it has gained endorsements from a number of labor organizations, including the National Education Association and the big AFSCME District Council 37 in New York City. However, few of these unions have committed real resources to the effort.

Thousands of labor activists and leftists will attend anyway in support of the march's demands--which include antiwar positions, a living wage, funding for public education, improved retirement pay, taxing corporations and the wealthy, and more.

Nevertheless, the gap between the march's name and the turnout may disappoint many. The leftists and trade union activists who were the backbone of the organizing march mainly International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10--intend the event to be nonpartisan.

Yet several of the most prominent speakers--including Rev. Jesse Jackson and several union leaders--can be expected to push the Anybody-But-Bush line on the elections despite the pro-war and pro-corporate positions pushed by Democrat John Kerry. The raises the possibility that the main message of the march will end up very different from what organizers and activists intended.

The most important thing is for activists who mobilize to continue organizing after the march--and carry on the argument for a new direction for labor.

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City Colleges of Chicago

CHICAGO--On October 4-5, members of the Cook County Community College Teachers Union (CCCTU), Local 1600 of the American Federation of Teachers, voted by a margin of 701 to 23 to authorize a strike against the Chicago City Colleges (CCC). Turnout for the vote was 93 percent--a response to the CCC administration's attempts to force a contract that would severely weaken the union.

When the CCCTU's contract expired July 15, the administration tried to avoid even putting a full set of demands on the table. When an offer finally was put forward in September, it included a 0 percent salary increase over four years and an increase in annual employee health care costs that totaled between 15 and 17.5 percent--meaning HMO family contributions would rise from $720 to $4400 per member.

Union leaders, under pressure to fight, mobilized a picket of about 300 the second week of September, and then called for federal mediation. This forced the CCC to modify their set of demands--increasing the salary offer to a minimal 3.2 percent per year, while demanding severe employee health care increases.

On October 6 there was a second, well-attended picket by the union in front of the Central Administration building. Inside, union president Perry Buckley told the CCC Board of Directors that if no significant change has been offered by the administration to its set of demands by October 15, the union will go on strike by October 18.

As Socialist Worker went to press, the CCC administration had dropped its demand for an increase in annual employee health care costs to 12 percent--still outrageously high, but a sign that union organizing is having an impact.

The key question now is whether the union leadership will be willing to strike. While part-time faculty would be forced by their contract to teach while the full-time faculty is out on strike, their union has agreed not to scab teach any section taught by full-timers. The aid of the students is critical, with some beginning to organize petitioning in support of the union.

The CCC administration is hoping to teach a lesson to the faculty: that the union is no good, and if you strike you lose. But we need to make sure that the lesson learned will be the opposite: you win only if you fight--and that includes striking.

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Ohio State University
By Pranav Jani

COLUMBUS, Ohio--About 50 graduate students at Ohio State University launched a campaign to organize a union October 9. Supported by representatives from the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Ohio, speakers emphasized why graduate students need unions to protect their rights.

"Ohio State always wants to remain competitive with Big Ten schools in sports, but not when it comes to graduate students' salaries," said one speaker. The University of Michigan pays its graduate students a minimum of $1,500 per month, while Ohio State only pays between $900 and $1,000.

Health care remains a central concern for graduate students. "It's not fair that graduate students with kids have to pray that their spouse has good health care," said Matt Williams, a geology grad student.

Electrical engineering grad student Yuan Tian described the difficulties facing international students whose visas banned them from finding outside work--and who didn't know their rights within the American system. "We need our own union to stand for our rights," Tian told Socialist Worker.

"Graduate students are providing cheap labor to the university by doing a great deal of work that has nothing to do with their own research," said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio AFT.

Last year, rallies, petitions and a press conference forced Ohio State to deliver a 40 to 60 percent increase in health care support, with a 75 percent increase promised next year. "It doesn't happen automatically," Tian said. "You have to press them. That's why we need a union."

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