The Labor Movement’s Newest Warriors: Grad Students

Adrian Mandeville

"...on May 20, the graduate students voted 1,134 to 112 in favor of an “industrial action”—effectively a strike..."

The New Republic - June 6, 2019

"The administration is finally promising to improve these conditions, but only now that unionization is a credible threat."

... This has been a long time coming. Writing a dissertation at a prestigious university no longer guarantees a stable academic job, even after many years of higher education. The old promise of a middle-class job for PhD candidates is disappearing. Particularly since the 2008 recession, the generation of tenure-track jobs has slowed to a trickle. There are more classes held than ever before, especially at UChicago, which expanded its undergraduate population steadily over the past few decades. But these classes are being taught by contingent workers: graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty with less job security, lower wages, and fewer benefits. These are the positions that await the majority of freshly minted PhDs.

Faced with this increasingly precarious future, graduate students at prestigious private universities—including Columbia, Harvard, and Yale—are organizing to improve their conditions. After all, many graduate students work to support themselves through school, as teaching and research assistants. Wages are low and payments frequently late. Students sometimes accumulate mountains of debt while conducting their research. Given their terrible job prospects, they know they will find it difficult to pay off these debts after graduation.

The administration is finally promising to improve these conditions, but only now that unionization is a credible threat. “When I came here I was involved in a couple of diversity and inclusion initiatives,” Piland said. “Our groups got invited to sit at the table with the dean of students, some faculty, and administrators to talk about what the university could do to support minority students. We would say the same things every time and they would dismiss it.” ...
Read full article at The New Republic

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