Grad workers shouldn’t give up our right to strike

November 21, 2018

After a long campaign for union recognition that included a week-long strike last April and plans for another next month, members of the Graduate Workers of Columbia University (GWC), part of UAW Local 2110, were informed that the university is willing to recognize the GWC in exchange for a pledge not to strike until at least April 2020.

In response, the Barnard-Columbia branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has issued a statement explaining why ISO members in the GWC are voting against the proposed framework agreement and urging others in the GWC to do the same. For more information, read the proposed agreement here. To sign on to a petition opposing the agreement, click here. And check out the statement from graduate workers at NYU—also members of Local 2110—urging GWC to reject the no strike clause.

WE, MEMBERS of the Barnard-Columbia branch of the International Socialist Organization, are excited about the successful recognition of the Graduate Workers of Columbia as the exclusive bargaining agent for graduate employees at our University. As graduate employees, undergraduate students, and workers on and off this campus, we know that this legal recognition and agreement to bargain from the Bollinger administration comes after years of organizing and struggle, and we commend all of the union activists and organizers from the past and present who’ve fought to win this step forward.

It was the years of organizing work, as well as the recent strike and the current preparations for a second work stoppage in December, that finally forced Bollinger to accede to union demands. And yet, we are troubled by the UAW’s willingness to trade away this very tool until April of 2020, in exchange for union recognition, in a critical section of the framework agreement.

Graduate workers rally for union recognition at Columbia University
Graduate workers at a rally for union recognition

The dam is continuing to break for graduate employee unions at private universities. Just yesterday, Brown University graduate workers voted to unionize, and some weeks before so did workers at Georgetown, which in turn was preceded by Harvard’s agreement to bargain with the UAW in May of this year. Now is not the time to hold back — it is the time to recognize that the tide is shifting in grad workers’ favor and to take advantage of it by demanding more.

The union movement has been tripped up time and time again after giving up the right to strike. Striking is the means through which workers at this university and throughout history have been able to improve their conditions of work and win strong collective bargaining agreements. Given that the UAW has reportedly been in secret negotiations with the Bollinger administration for some weeks now, and knew of their potential willingness to recognize the union, we don’t see why it makes any sense to give up the ability to strike for the next 18 months while a contract will be bargained. A no-strike clause would tie the union’s hands before they even get to the bargaining table.

We are also concerned about the undemocratic manner in which the agreement was reached: apparently the GWC’s elected bargaining team played little or no role in negotiating the terms of the framework agreement, and only found out the details hours before the general public. Union members deserve more transparency and accountability in the negotiation of contracts and agreements with employers, not more deals negotiated behind closed doors away from the oversight and input of elected bargaining team members.

For these reasons, our members in the Graduate Workers of Columbia are voting against the proposed framework agreement and we call on any other grad workers to do so as well. Now that the administration has publicly declared a willingness to recognize the GWC, we do not think that it is the time to give up the strike, our side’s most effective tool. In fact, it is during contract negotiations that the power to strike will be critical.

We should keep up the fight and negotiate from the picket lines. An escalated strike would certainly be impactful, and we can call upon the broader labor movement in New York City and around the U.S. to stand with GWC members on strike and support their struggle. We’re ready to contribute everything possible to a successful strike and will work with anyone and everyone towards a maximum impact work stoppage.

GWC members deserve better. All workers have the right to strike — our power is our labor.

In solidarity,
Barnard Columbia International Socialist Organization

Further Reading

From the archives