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The Point: Catch a Wave!


Subject: The Labor Movement and the Education Sector

Action: Support Education Workers However You Can (Donate to strike funds, join pickets, sign solidarity statements)

Greetings, Colleagues:

In last week’s Point we kept the focus tightly on our own campus and encouraged you to consider joining our contract action team for the coming round of bargaining.  You have until end of your workday Friday to let us know if you are interested ( and

This week we want to pull the camera back and offer up a quick overview of some of the highlights of the academic labor landscape of the past few months.  Whether or not we are officially in the midst of a “strikewave” is a question for the labor historians, political scientists, journalists, and others to battle out: from the perspective of FSU’s leadership it is important to notice that across the educational sector—from graduate workers around the country, to K-12 teachers right here in the Commonwealth, to dining hall employees at Northeastern University, to the historic organizing of undergraduate workers at Wesleyan—there is palpable enthusiasm, militancy, and commitment. 

It is hard to keep up with labor news, I know: but it is worth taking note of the successes of countless academic unions around the country as we begin to organize our own priorities and fight against the shortsighted and cruel austerity issuing from Beacon Hill and from the third floor of Quinn.  Even if you cannot join the contract action team, there will be plenty of opportunities on campus and off to join the effort to create a more just working (and learning) environment.

So, a few highlights from the past months:

  • K-12 Strikewave in Massachusetts?: Too often we repeat the (false) axiom that it is impossible for teachers to strike in our Commonwealth.  It is illegal, but that simply means that there are fines to be paid.  (Note that the MTA has made the right to strike one of its five major legislative initiatives this year.)  K-12 teachers have led the way in using strikes as a way to get to fair contracts: literally the day I sat down to write this communication, the Globe—consistently anti-teacher union—has a major story about Woburn teachers authorizing a strike which acknowledges that in numerous towns and cities in Massachusetts, strikes (or threats of strikes) “have largely proven effective as contract agreements have followed shortly after each one.”
  • Graduate Worker Organizing Around the Country: It is not simply that graduate workers from Boston University to Yale University to Northwestern University are voting to form unions: what is perhaps most noteworthy is the absolutely stunning margins by which these victories have been achieved.  The victory at Yale is particularly sweet, given that it is the culmination of literally decades of organizing (including the efforts in the 1990s of one former president of UMB’s FSU!).  In recent days it has become clear that graduate workers and contingent faculty have come to form some kind of vanguard in higher education labor organizing and it is nothing short of thrilling to observe—and learn from—these efforts.
  • Faculty Strikes and Other Organizing Efforts: Just last week our colleagues at University of Illinois-Chicago went on strike and they quickly won a very impressive contract which includes substantially higher base salaries, more job protection for NTT faculty, and expanded non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.  It was also fascinating to see NTT faculty win a contract at the New School, where parents of students appear to have worked in a very focused way to help pressure the administration there to deal fairly with its contingent academic workers—who make up something like 90% of the teaching faculty. Such coalitional politics were also at play in a recent action at Gateway Community College in Connecticut, where students and faculty joined forces to fight tuition hikes.  Our attention was also compelled by reports from Evergreen State, where faculty worked in truly innovative ways to avoid massive threatened layoffs.

Of course not all the academic labor news was sunny and bright: the resolution of the huge strike across the University of California system raised quite a bit of dissent (particularly among workers at non-flagship campuses, in disability activist communities, and from workers who are also parents) that focused on questions of union democracy.  I joined the FSU Executive Committee some years ago largely as a result of organizing done by the now-dormant Caucus for a Democratic Union right here at UMB and I remain mindful that “union democracy” is an ongoing and difficult process—not a one-and-done. 

This is your union. Please let us know at how we can keep working to support labor activism on campus and off.


Jeff Melnick

Vice President, FSU