BUSINESS CASUAL

I agree with Asheesh that the quality of university teaching by tenured professors would improve if the tenure process took teaching into greater consideration relative to research output. And based on my own college experience (reaching back to a good four months ago), I think the unstated faith that the folks who produce the best research will also produce the best teaching is a faith which dare not speak its name for good reason.

But considering which professors get tenure tells you a decreasing amount about the quality of undergraduate teaching, because less and less of it is done by tenured professors. The trend over the past years has been a shift of teaching hours away from tenured faculty and ladder faculty (those with a shot at tenure) and instead onto various forms of transient teachers: non-ladder faculty, adjuncts, post-docs, and graduate student teachers. The academy is being Wal-Mart-ized – labor is being shifted towards workers with less job security, more precarity, and less institutional support.

This trend poses three kinds of challenges to undergraduates concerned with the quality of their classroom education: First, to protect the presence of enough long-term secure faculty to provide effective mentorship and continuity. Second, to ensure sufficient economic and institutional support for transient teachers to allow them to provide the best teaching they can under the circumstances. And third, to foster progress, rather than backsliding, in the diversification of the academy even in the face of casualization and the coercive economic pressures it intensifies.

That’s part of why undergraduates have so much at stake in struggles like this one.

NYU, NYU, WHY DO WE HAVE A W2?

In the muckraking of tradition of the YaleInsider blog (when are we going to see some new content up there, by the way?) NYU students and NYU alumni now have a new resource to check out for a critical perspective on the latest NYU news: NYU Exposed.

We’ll see how well it can compete for rapid updates with Zach’s blog.

TEACHING IS WORK

Attended a powerful GSOC rally at NYU Thursday. Chris Quinn – proudly introduced by the UAW’s Secretary-Treasurer as the first woman and first gay person to lead New York’s City Council – spoke insightfully about the fundamental rights at stake in these teachers’ fight to save the union they won. The most compelling of the speakers with Amy LeClair, one of the teachers NYU is locking out of future work. As she said:

Teaching is an enormous responsibility, and I take that very seriously. Teaching is work – hard work – and anyone that does not understand that, that teaching is work, should not be in the business of education. The university administration has reminded me time and time again of my obligations to my undergraduate students. And now my stipend is going to be terminated, I am essentially being fired from my JOB for not only the current but future semester as well, because I am not fulfilling my responsibilities. But as one of my colleagues so astutely pointed out, with responsibilities come rights.

From there, I took the A Train over to a great fundraiser for Students for a New American Politics with Geraldine Ferraro, who spoke to the importance of SNAP’s mission:

I wasn’t a student activist in college because my father had died when I was eight and I had to work some nights, most weekends and every summer to help my mother financially. That’s why I’m glad that with the help of SNAP, students who are financially strapped as I was, can still participate in the process.

More on that here. You can donate to help SNAP send students to work on progressive congressional campaigns this summer here.

A few choice lines from Columbia Provost Alan Brinkley’s memo mentioned yesterday:

…we should seek to reduce the possibility of future strikes in response to those teaching fellows who fail to meet their instructional commitments…Anyone wo assumes additional responsibilities, including those graduate teaching fellows who continue to meet their classes, should be compensated financially for the extra work…Part of the teaching fellows’ stipend is distributed as a monthly salary. The University should immediately stop making those payments to any teaching fellows who deliberately fail to meet their instructional commitments…the web site developed last year should be reactivated and updated to reflect current conditions and the University’s new policies for dealing with the strike.

Jennifer Washburn’s piece effectively skewers the illegality and illiberalism of the strike-breaking tactics of universities like Columbia and Yale. At least as crucial to observe in reading a memo like this, however, is how clear administrators like Alan Brinkley (who should know better) are implicitly in the way they privately discuss the issue about what the challenge is that they’re facing: a strike of the labor of a significant portion of their academic workforce. Otherwise, there’d be no place for words like “extra work,” “compensated financially,” “salary,” and “strike.”

An energized rally today on the Green before folks set out for this afternoon’s rally in New York with strikers from Columbia’s CGEU, unionized graduate teachers from NYU preparing for a contract fight, and workers and allies from across the Northeast. I and fourteen other undergads will unfortunately be unable to attend, at this afternoon we’re being brought before Yale’s Executive Committee for consideration of disciplinary action over our sit-in in February. I hope the Committee will recognize the action we took as an act of conscience which used non-violent means with a long history at the university to pursue changes central to realizing Yale’s best values. I hope Yale can turn its time and energy now to furthering the work of realizing equal opportunity for undergraduates and graduate employees alike.

Inspiring picketing today all over campus, including great conversations with other undergraduates and prospective students about what GESO is fighting for and what our stake is in it. Moving words this afternoon from union, community, and political allies, and from several of the men and women striking their teaching this week to defend their rights. As Dick Blumenthal said this morning, “GESO, I recognize you.”

In the wake of Wednesday’s vote by 82% of GESO TAs to authorize a strike, it’s key to remember which camp on this campus prefers negotiations to strikes and which prefers strikes to negotiations. GESO is in the former camp, having spent a decade calling in vain for President Levin to come to the table and just last week once again pleaded with the administration to resolve this labor struggle by recognizing the vote certified by Connecticut’s Secretary of State. President Levin, unfortunately, is in the other camp, willfully forcing another strike on this campus rather than even having a discussion with the union in which a majority of humanities and social science TAs claim membership. At no point this year has this contrast been clearer than at President Levin’s Open Forum in February, at which he responded to a student question by saying “Yes, I would rather have them strike than meet with them, because I believe it would be less detrimental to the university.”

Hard to believe it was only a year and a half ago that President Levin was holding a joint press conference with HERE President John Wilhelm and Mayor John DeStefano to announce the completed negotiation of contracts with Locals 34 and 35 and the end of that fall’s strike. On that day Levin expressed his hope that Yale’s administration and its employees would be able “to build a stronger, more cooperative relationship.” He told reporters that “in the end, it was the conversations that won the day, not the confrontation.” Some dared to hope that the “new era in labor relations” promised at the tercentennial had finally – however belatedly – arrived. Unfortunately, as teaching assistants move to authorize a strike, Levin seems to be working from the same old anti-union playbook. The “stronger, more cooperative relationship,” it appears, does not apply to the teaching assistants who do a third of Yale’s teaching. Here, conversations will have little chance at winning the day as long as Levin continues to maintain that they would be more harmful to the university than the disruption of academic labor.

Levin’s intransigent refusal to talk to GESO about a fair process unfortunately mirrors Yale’s refusal to engage in constructive discussion with the union about the challenges facing the university, be the issue academic casualization’s threat to undergraduate education, the under representation of students of color, or the inaccessibility of affordable healthcare. As the News itself has observed, Yale’s silence in the face of GESO’s articulation of these problems and offering of solutions is too often deafening. Last year, when over 300 GESO members, after trying in vain to meet with Dean Salovey about diversity at Yale, filed a formal grievance with the administration, they waited months before being told that the grievance had been misplaced. GESO went back and again collected the signatures, again submitted the grievance, and are again waiting for a response to their calls for increased funding for the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, institutional support for under-resourced academic fields, and the formation of an independent grievance process.

Like many of us, GESO’s members are still waiting for Yale’s leaders to enter the conversation on how fashion policies which better promote Yale’s stated values of equal opportunity and excellence in education. Meanwhile, the proportion of Yale’s teaching done by transient teachers has risen to more than triple that recommended by the American Historical Association, more graduate students have turned to HUSKY, Connecticut state healthcare assistance for the working poor, to insure their children, and Hazel Carby remains the only Black woman tenured at Yale. Yale’s refusal to address these issues or the graduate student employees working to improve them has only reinforced the determination reached by others over a decade ago that being heard as a Yale employee means being recognized through a union contract.

We as undergraduates face the prospect of another strike because our President refuses to recognize what the United Nations and the Internal Revenue Service do: that the men and women who teach our sections and grade our papers are employees receiving compensation for labor. Levin could avert a strike today by sitting down GESO’s leaders and agreeing to a fair process for union recognition. So far, he’s demonstrated the same refusal to come to the table which dragged out Local 34 and 35’s last contract negotiations two years past the expiration of their contract. After that last strike, Levin told the New Haven Advocate that “Had we been able to sit down” earlier to negotiate, a settlement would have been reached much earlier. But at that same press conference, when Editor Paul Bass asked whether Levin would have come to the negotiating table, as many of us spent over a year urging him to do, without a strike, Levin paused and then answered, “At the right time and place, I would have been there.” History need not repeat itself next week. Levin still has a chance to recognize that the right time has come to negotiate with GESO, and to demonstrate that he too has learned something from the strikes which have been so frequent in this university’s history.

My speech to the Yale Political Union (yes, I even wore a tie…) tonight:
Thanks for having me tonight. All of us in this university community are going to have important decisions to make over the next week, and I appreciate the chance to add my voice to what I hope will be a constructive debate about how we can best see our shared values better realized by our university.

One of the values which brings us together at this institution is a shared commitment to educational excellence. I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve received an outstanding education to this point at Yale, and it’s one for which I’m very grateful. That’s why many of us, with GESO’s strong support, have fought to make that education a realistic possibility for more students. And it’s why many of us are deeply concerned by trends which threaten to erode the quality of undergraduate education at Yale and at universities across the country.

One of these trends is casualization: the transformation of long-term, well-supported jobs into temporary, insecure work lacking the job security and job benefits of their predecessors. Casualization is a national economic trend in which employers cut costs by disinvesting in their workers and cease encouraging workers’ long-term investment in their work. The casualization of academic work is reflected in the national drop from three decades ago when 80% of teaching was done by ladder faculty to 50% today. Ladder faculty have long-term contracts and opportunities for further advancement or tenure. They’re being replaced with a casualized workforce made up of adjunct professors and graduate employee teaching assistants on whom is shifted an increasing portion of the academic workload. Here at Yale, ladder faculty do even less than 50% of the teaching – more like 30%. Adjuncts do another 40%, and teaching assistants do 30%. That means an hour of teaching at Yale University is at likely to be done by a TA as by a professor with a multi-year contract. Needless to say, this is not the academy some of GESO’s detractors are picturing when they refer to its members as “ruling class” spoiled kids biding their time until accepting tenured jobs on completion of their degrees. Instead, they’re doing the teaching work which in another generation was done by ladder faculty, and discovering on graduating that the jobs they may have hoped for at other universities are being done instead by casual employees.

The trend of casualization poses two challenges: How do we make sure universities maintain enough long-term faculty to provide effective mentorship? And how do we make sure that the casual workers who do a majority of today’s teaching have the support necessary to do the best job possible? Around the country, more and more graduate employee TAs, including three-fifths of the ones teaching in humanities and social sciences at Yale, have decided that the answer includes exercising their right to collective bargaining and union representation. As undergraduates, if we want a university which fosters educational excellence, equal opportunity, and democratic participation, then their fight is our fight as well.

This fight is our fight as undergraduates because until Yale fully values the work of our teachers, Yale cannot fully value our education. GESO is right to call for a living wage for graduate student employees to justly compensate the crucial work they do and to enable them to do it better by removing the necessity of working additional jobs on top of teaching, classes, and research. GESO is right to call for paid teacher training to help graduate student employees become better teachers, for smaller class sizes to facilitate better learning, and for office space in which they can better advise students. GESO is right to call for pay equity so that teaching assistants are not paid less the longer they’ve been teaching, and for a rational system for teaching assignments so that teaching assistants are not needlessly teaching far out of their areas of study.

Just as in the campaign for undergraduate financial aid reform, the issue at stake is both how this institution supports the people who are here and who it is that makes it to Yale in the first place. Those who say GESO isn’t sympathetic because most Yale graduate students are white single men in their early twenties are not only wrong about the make-up of Yale’s graduate school – they’re ignoring the factors which make graduate school a more difficult prospect for others. All of us have a stake in the provision of childcare and dependent healthcare for graduate student employees because TAs who didn’t have to spend significant fractions of their pay on childcare and put their kids on HUSKY would be free to be better teachers, and because addressing these injustices would mean fewer outstanding students and teachers kept out of Yale.

Yale cannot be the global leader or liberal educator which we aspire to make it as long as it draws teachers and students disproportionately from a narrow segment of this country. While every individual brings unique perspective to bear on their work, when the voices of swaths of the population are largely absent the ranges of experience narrow. GESO is right to call for full funding for the Office of Discrimination and Equal Opportunity and a formal impartial grievance procedure for discrimination complaints. And GESO is right to call for greater transparency in admissions, hiring, and retention of women and people of color as a spur to further diversification and integration of our community. Today teaching unfortunately mirrors other parts of Yale’s workforce in that women and people of color are concentrated in lower-paying casualized jobs from which it is difficult to rise into the secure well-compensated positions today dominated by white men.

Because they believe in the best ideals of this university, Yale graduate student employees have been organizing for nearly two decades for policies which better support them, their families, and their students, first as “TA Solidarity” and then as GESO. Over this time, GESO has spurred a series of progressive reforms in their working conditions, from stipend increases to healthcare coverage to the formation of the Graduate Student Assembly. Throughout, GESO has recognized that winning requires more than deserving better – winning requires being organized. Everything GESO has achieved has been won through organizing, by building a platform out of the articulated concerns of thousands of graduate student employees and bringing them together to press collectively for change. It’s because the process of agitating for better conditions demonstrated to graduate student employees the urgency of achieving an institutional voice and a seat at the table that they’ve been fighting for over a decade for a union contract.

In pursuing union recognition, these graduate student employees demonstrate their faith in the fundamental democratic principles which inspire this university in its best moments: that justice is best served when everyone with a stake in the result has a part in the process. In signing union cards, they demonstrate their understanding that their rights are best protected and their interests best furthered when they stand together in calling on Yale to do better, be it Chinese students combating discrimination at Helen Hadley Hall, researchers fighting to make the AIDS drug they helped discover available to poor patients, or parents pushing for childcare they can afford and trust. Three-fifths of humanities and social science TAs have joined up with GESO for the same reasons workers in many jobs in many parts of the country do: To make their work more effective and better supported and their voices better heard and respected.

We’ve come to this point because Yale’s leadership has refused to recognize what everyone from the United Nations to the Internal Revenue Service does: that the thousands of hours graduate student employees spend each day teaching classes, grading papers, and conducting experiments constitute labor critical to the functioning of the university, and the people who do it are a workforce. Whether TAs plan to spend their lives doing exactly the same work, whether they enjoy doing it, and whether they learn on the job are all as irrelevant in considering the legitimacy of this union as they would be were it a union of artists or of supermarket clerks or of carpenters. Equally irrelevant is the question of whether Yale’s graduate student employees are better or worse off than its clerical and technical or service and maintenance workers, who’ve shown far less interest in that question than GESO’s student detractors. Instead, Yale’s other service workers have stood with and sacrificed with GESO throughout, just as Local 35 did in staying out on strike for ten weeks to help Local 34 win its first contract at a time when the image of mostly black male blue-collar workers standing with mostly white female pink-collar workers left most observers in confusion or disbelief. These Yale workers stand with GESO because they know from personal experience that the university is stronger and healthier when the people who do the work of this institution have an organized voice in negotiating how that work happens.

Unfortunately, President Levin has not yet come to that realization. Instead he told undergraduates a month and a half ago that he would rather see GESO strike than have even a meeting with GESO leadership because it would be “less detrimental” to the university. This after a full decade of abject refusal to sit down with the union which has each year won the support of a majority of TAs in the humanities and social sciences to discuss GESO’s proposals for change or to agree to a fair process for a majority to make clear whether or not it wants GESO as its bargaining representative. Unless Levin changes course, I’m confident that tomorrow a majority of GESO’s members will vote to strike for a recognized voice, and I’ll be proud to stand with them next week for changes which realize the great potential of this university.

This letter in today’s YDN is a whirlwind ride through the classics of anti-GESO rhetoric:

The Graduate Employee Student Organization (GESO) is not a union. Let’s not call teaching fellows’ failure to show up for work a “strike” (“GESO issues strike threat,” 4/7). Let’s call it failure to show up for work. Yale should withhold pay from and appropriately punish any TF who fails to do his or her work, just as the University would treat any other of its employees.

Yes, you read that right: Yale should treat TAs “just as the University would treat any other of its employees.” But if they are indeed like any other employees, then don’t they have the right to bargain collectively? And when they organize to exercise that right, isn’t that a union? And when the workers in that union refuse to work in order to bring their employer to the negotiating table, isn’t that a strike? The irony is that were Yale to recognize that its graduate employee teaching assistants have the same rights as other employees, there would be no need for this strike. Jon Fougner continues:

It’s unclear to me how GESO ringleaders regularly work up the gall to hijack section time to propagandize.

Funny thing is, when professors and graduate students who oppose GESO use class time to slam GESO, you don’t hear as much concern from the administration about the sacrifice of academic time. Same when it’s, say, graduate students’ advisors making veiled threats about how union support could destroy their career (more about these tactics, and their relationship to Fougner’s citing the 2003 LOWV vote, in this report). Fougner says:

It’s unclear to me why we should be sympathetic to strikes by the ruling class, whether they be professional hockey players or professional academicians.

Not only are GESO’s members, who work for well under $20,000 a year and in many cases will work in not much more lucrative post-Doc positions after graduation because graduate students like them will be doing the jobs they would have wanted, not the ruling class, but to the extent that graduate school’s like Yale’s disproportionately represent particular slices of the American population it’s precisely because of the absence of reforms like dependent healthcare and childcare which, if Fougner had his way, GESO would have nothing to say about and the YDN would give no coverage:

It’s unclear to me that the News ought to let GESO use its front page as a free megaphone…What is clear is that GESO has accomplished little for its own members, and nothing for real laborers. Indeed, in 2001, while Harvard students were courageously bringing Massachusetts Hall to its knees over a “living wage” for university employees, GESO was opportunistically shanghaiing honest-to-God unions into its shifty, self-serving camp.

GESO has accomplished plenty for its members, who are indeed laborers, as everyone from the UN to the IRS has recognized. One of GESO’s ongoing fights is for a living wage for all Yale employees, a fight in which teachers, researchers, service and maintenance workers, and clerical and technical workers – none of them dupes – have stood together with supporters throughout the city in demanding better.

Thursday, my Constitutional Law professor was introduced Youngstown by saying “You need steel to fight a war – much like you need TAs to teach class, which incidentally is why I have some reservations about this GESO business,” holding up a GESO leaflet pushing for greater equal opportunity at Yale as he did so. Funny thing is, if teaching assistants are indeed like steelworkers in that they’re employees who do important work, then under the Wagner Act they have the right to organize a union. And it’s only because Yale refuses to recognize that right, or even to come to the table, that a strike is a looming possibility. Somehow, the University’s rhetoric on GESO is always about its members not being workers – except for when they go out on strike, and the rhetoric is about how irresponsible it is for them not to do their work. It’s preciesely because graduate student employees, like steelworkers, do jobs that get disrupted when they go on strike that they should have a voice on the job through a recognized union.

On Friday, the YDN published a staff editorial to the effect that GESO is right to try to fix things that are wrong with Yale, only they should give up on doing it in ways that institutionally empower some of the people affected, and if they want anyone’s support they should stop being so mean by implying that there are things that are wrong with Yale. Today, Tasha Eccles and Frances Kelley each respond. As Tasha writes:

The issues that GESO has been committed to over the last few years — diversity, child care for graduate student parents, a more equitable relationship with New Haven and support and training for graduate teachers — are ones that are deeply important to me as an undergraduate. And at a time when, as Friday’s editorial so accurately pointed out, “graduate student life has plenty of room for improvement,” it is critical that we have groups like GESO holding Yale accountable to the ideals it publicly espouses — ideals like diversity, quality of teaching and equality of experience. Indeed, I would argue that a university whose tenured faculty includes only one black woman and that fails to support the graduate students who do much of the teaching here, has lots of “room for improvement.” And isn’t that really the point? This is not about Yale being a bad place, but about the fact that, with the right priorities and a real commitment to change, it can be a much better one.

And as Frances argues:

Undergraduates and graduate students do have a common interest in the issues GESO is fighting for, especially issues such as the lack of diversity among tenured Yale faculty and the need for better teacher training for TAs. Yet it is not enough to believe that Yale needs these changes; we must work to make them a reality. The News does not seem to understand how change happens. In the past, Yale has never taken serious steps toward reform without pressure from students and workers, actions that communicate to the administration just how serious we are about the need for change. Some of Yale’s problems may not be that easy to resolve, but they are so important that Yale needs to address them. Indeed, there’s a bigger issue at stake here: making the university more democratic. Yale’s decisions and policies directly affect us; therefore, we should all have a voice in addressing them. For TAs, that voice is a recognized union.

Keith Urbahn makes an unpersuasive comparison between graduate student workers and allies fighting for the right to organize and flat-earthers:

Our lovable but deluded Flat-Earthers are the members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO), the self-proclaimed representatives of graduate students. GESO’s unremarkable history is marred by failure and distinct feelings of apathy and even opposition from many graduate students — both realities the organization continues to deny. Never mind the fact that the Yale administration has always refused to consider it a legitimate interest group, or that over the summer the National Labor Relations Board unequivocally struck down any right for students to organize as employees at private universities, or that GESO just might be the only group in history to lose its own rigged election, as it did in April 2003.

As I argued at the time, the vote by the Bush-appointed majority to overturn a unanimous decision and strip graduate student workers of their rights as employees is one of a constellation of anti-labor decisions pushed through by right-wing activist NLRB judges over the past three years. Other recent targets have included non-union workers, casual workers, and disabled workers. Hell, even the prophets of classlessness at The New Republic have taken notice. It wasn’t so long ago in this country when publice employees, or agricultural workers, or workers as a whole were denied a legal right to unionize. It’s hard to imagine that the same Yale administrators who blithely ignored the NLRB’s historic NYU decision now expect graduate student workers to roll over because lobbying by, inter alia, those administrators has yielded a new one.

As for the election Keith calls “rigged,” the date and time were well-publicized, the qualifications were clear and well-scrutinized, and the whole process was overseen by the League of Women Voters. Every graduate student who showed up, whether or not they were on the list of those who would be part of the bargaining unit, got to cast a provisional vote, and GESO chose not to contest any of them. Certainly, GESO should have done a better job of turning out their supporters, more of whom went out on strike with the union than made it out to vote for it. Unfortunately, Yale’s strategy of depressing pro-union turnout through publically describing it as “like getting your friends together to have an election,” while hiking anti-union turnout through intense pressure from advisors on advisees, particularly in the sciences, was more effective than many had predicted. Read more about Yale’s anti-union campaign here. Even under those circumstances, the result was a near tie. Nearly two years later, last month three out of five teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences declared they had signed union cards and demanded Yale recognize their union. But Keith is unfazed:

And indeed, a 12-week process of soliciting names from a predetermined list of eligible “voters” had finally created the results GESO organizers long desired. Sixty percent of 521 eligible TAs in the humanities, social science and language departments voted in favor of unionization. In a crude attempt to lend at least a veneer of legality to the sham of an election, GESO solicited the help of Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz to certify the “vote.” What Bysiewicz and giddy GESO supporters failed to mention at the Dec. 14 meeting was that the card count was hardly representative of the whole graduate student body. In an effort to exclude departments predominately opposed to unionization — most notably those in the natural sciences — GESO changed the eligibility requirements, denying the right to vote to hundreds who differed with the group’s agenda.

What the vote was representative of is a three-fifths consensus of those whose primary employment is teaching in the humanities and social sciences supporting a union of teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences. For years now, Yale has been claiming that GESO was illegitimate because its proposed bargaining unit included both students in the sciences and the humanities. Since the new NLRB decision, the union’s opponents have flipped their argument. Negotiations over the shape of a bargaining unit are a standard part of a unionization process. The problem is, Yale is still maintaining its dozen-year policy of refusing to negotiate – or meet – with GESO about anything. That includes the nature of a fair process for unionization, another issue on which Keith takes the administration’s side:

Furthermore, the method of a “card count,” a process in which GESO representatives solicited support for unionization by approaching eligible TAs, is hardly a fair way of gauging the graduate community’s interest in unionization. The card count allowed for the possibility of intimidation and coercion — both well-worn GESO tactics according to some graduate students.

Card count neutrality agreements provide workers a measure of protection against the employer intimidation made possible by the asymetrical power relationship in the workplace. As Kate Bronfenbrenner’s research demonstrated, majorities of workers during NLRB election processes strongly fear losing their jobs if they vote for the union, and a third who vote against the union themselves identify their vote as a response to employer pressure. That’s why politicians of both parties are pushing the Employee Free Choice Act in support of card check processes. That said, GESO’s demand for years was an agreement with Yale on a fair process whose results both sides would follow. But Levin, while with one breath telling GESO only an NLRB process was acceptable, that “democracy means elections,” with the other maintained that he would appeal the results of any election, leaving the ballots uncounted and impounded, as his allies in the Penn, Brown, and Columbia administrations have done in response to NLRB elections there. Democracy means following the results of elections. And as I’ve said before, I don’t think a graduate school in which students refrain from trying to win over students who might disagree with them on the issues they face is one living up to the values of liberal education. If you think it’s hard being an anti-union graduate student in a department where most of your peers are in the union, trying being a union member whose research funding depends on a supervisor who hates the union. Now imagine that situation if, say, losing your research funding means being deported out of the country. The plight of international students is, incidentally, one of many issues on which GESO’s lobbying has successfully brought change from the administration. But Keith isn’t too keen on GESO’s issue agenda either:

GESO has become increasingly involved with locals 34 and 35 on issues that are at best tangentially related to graduate student organization…Duped by that word “union” and the “Norma Rae” fantasies of some Yale graduate students — or more likely, attracted to the opportunity of political allies in the fight against the Yale administration — members of the real unions locals 34 and 35 attended the December meeting, dutifully holding up signs and chanting in support of the new “union” of graduate students.

This is the classic “narrow agenda/broader agenda line of argument Yale’s administration has been firing at its unions for at least as long as Keith and I have been at Yale: Either the unions are parochial institutions only narrowly concerned with their members’ wages and benefits who could care less about the greater good, or they’re shadowy, expansive conspiracies with designs to meddle everywhere they’re not wanted. The truth is, unions best protect the rights of their own workers and of all Americans when they have broad agendas. That’s why the trade union approach of the CIO did more for American labor, and for America, than the craft union approach of the AFL ever could. GESO is right to recognize that fighting for graduate student workers means fighting for their rights as immigrant workers against capricious deportation. And GESO is right to recognize that graduate student workers’ voices are most powerful, and their interests are best represented, when they stand together with other Yale employees on issues of common concern, like diversifying Yale’s workforce and supporting working mothers. And members of Locals 34 and 35, far from being the ignorant dupes Keith labels them, are right to recognize that their rights as workers are best protected and advanced by safeguarding the right to organize for all Yale employees and joining them in struggle over common challenges. That’s why, for so many in Yale’s service, maintenance, and clerical workforce, it rings hollow when Dan Koffler argues that:

The suggestion that Ph.Ds in waiting have a common class interest with lifelong wage-laborers, least of all Yale Ph.Ds in waiting, is an unfunny, borderline obscene joke. It is, moreover, a notion that can only hurt the cause of real workers.

As I argued here before, the salient question is not and should not be whether a teaching assistant or a secretary is more exploited or more sympathetic. The question is, do these workers face common challenges? And out of these common challenges, how do they find common cause and better effect progressive change in their own lives and in Yale as an institution? The argument that different kinds of workers should keep to themselves is not new. It was a hallmark of Yale’s anti-union campaign against clerical and technical workers before Local 34 was finally recognized in 1984. Unions are all well and good for the largely male, largely minority, blue-collar workforce of Local 35, Yale clerical and technical workers were told, but are they really the kind of institutions that Yale’s “pink-collar” clerical and technical workers should be associated with. Local 34 and Local 35 stood together, in the face of threats of reprisals against Local 35 by Yale’s administration, and after Local 34 won its ten-week strike and its first contract, Local 35’s new contract was settled quickly once Local 34 made clear its intention to stand in support of Local 35. That’s what winning looks like. And so it’s strangely appropriate how Keith chooses to end his article:

…we know whom they truly stand for: themselves.

Yes, graduate students signing union cards are standing for themselves, and for each other. And because many undergraduates see themselves as future graduate students, its understandable that those who believe in a comfortable dichotomy between service and self-interest have more trouble getting on board with GESO. But now more than ever, in the face of the growing casualization of the academy (a trend which makes Dan’s description of graduate students as “YalePh.D.s in waiting” more misleading), graduate students are right to organize for better working conditions and a better university, and others in the Yale community are right to stand with them.