- "Yes, we are students, but we are also workers."
In January 2006 Jonathan Buchsbaum and Penny Lewis interviewed four New York University graduate students—Michael Palm, Asad Raza, Tricia Lawler, and Elena Gorfinkel. All are members of the first ever union for graduate employees at a private university, and all were currently participating in the first ever union-organized strike by private university graduate students in the United States.
In 2001, thanks to a case brought by NYU students, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in a landmark decision that graduate students at private universities were workers entitled to union recognition. NYU graduate students won their election for union recognition in April 2001. After nine months of negotiations, the Graduate Students Organizing Committee (GSOC) reached a contract agreement in January 2002. However, in July 2004, with the votes of President Bush's new appointments to the board, the NLRB reversed the NYU decision in a case for union recognition brought by graduate students at Brown University.
In August 2005, NYU President John Sexton declared that NYU would not sign a new contract with the union when the first contract expired at the end of August. NYU claimed that the union trespassed on the sacred domain of faculty governance, thereby forfeiting its rights to a contract. As graduate student organizers Kitty Krupat and Laura Tanenbaum characterized this "charade, . . . Corporate-minded administrators speak in exalted terms about the academic mission, while activist and largely idealistic graduate students find ourselves talking about bread-and-butter issues." 1
The excerpts below touch on the victories of the first contract, the material and affective impacts of unionization, and the causes, strategies, and tactics of the strike. The experiences of these graduate students illustrate how they discovered their status as labor within academia, the benefits labor could win, and the threat it represented for NYU management.
For information on the strike and to support the student/workers, visit the GSOC Web site: http://www.2110uaw.org/gsoc/
1. Kitty Krupet and Laura Tanenbaum, "Network for Campus Democracy: Reflections on NYU and the Academic Labor Movement," Social Text 20, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 28-50. [End Page 85]