Universities are a unique intersection in our society between young people, private corporations, and the institutions of the state. In the past several months, we have seen many interesting developments among university students and workers that are important to recall and reflect on. It is obvious that University students in the U.S. are becoming more political.
The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers went on strike starting Dec. 3 and ended at the end of the month over pay, grievance procedure details, healthcare and childcare funds and union security. The graduate students are in the middle of stalled contract negotiations with Harvard. They are demanding there be alternatives to address discrimination and harassment complaints beyond Harvard’s university procedure, that their pay be on par with peer institutions, that the University increase the amount of money in funds for healthcare (including a dental health fund) and childcare and that Harvard stop forcing an “open shop” union arrangement on the graduate students. The strike was voted on in October with more than 90% in favor of the authorization.
At a football game between Yale and Harvard in New Haven, a group of climate activists–primarily comprised of students from Fossil Free Yale and Divest Harvard–stormed the field during halftime to draw attention to the complicity of the school’s administrations complicity in the climate crisis. Sending a message of #NobodyWins, the activists gained worldwide headlines. Two UConn student activists were present for this protest.
Recently in New York, rank-and-file students, faculty and staff have demanded that part-time adjuncts be given $7,000 dollars per course and that costs not be passed onto students in the event of any concessions to staff. The movement has run up against obstacles such as the labor bureaucracy and the Taylor Law (which states that public workers in New York are not allowed to strike). The movement has taken up the name #7KorStrike or #7KOS.
At Syracuse University in New York, after a string of racist incidents including graffiti targeting minority students, students have jumped into action building a movement under the name of #NotAgainSU. The demands of the movement have centered around increased money for diversity, anti-racism initiatives and the promotion of multicultural learning communities. The movement has quickly taken up a call for the University President’s resignation, following his refusal to agree to the entirety of the demands.
And of course, one of the more explosive examples of student struggles in the United States has been the involvement of students in the protests in Puerto Rico this summer that successfully toppled Governor Ricardo Rosello.
At the University of Connecticut, we have had our own rise in campus activism. We have seen multiple large marches this semester, including the March to End Victim Blaming, the UConn Climate Strike and the March of Solidarity. UConn Fridays For Future has been waging a protracted struggle to win climate justice demands. UConn NAACP has played a leading role in fighting racism on campus. UConn Young Socialist Alliance has been doing important student-labor solidarity work by organizing contingents of students to support picketing and striking workers across the Northeast. UConn Collaborative Organizing (UCCO) has done a good job linking students and student groups concerned with making change.
It is important that student activists not think of happenings at UConn in isolation. We are seeing trends in universities across the country in tandem with socio-political developments: privatization, austerity, etc. Concretely, this leads to things like tuition hikes and the increasing domination of private corporations in universities. As a whole, these things have increased the precarity of faculty, workers and students, while decreasing their power. We must fight back.
At UConn, the recent rise in campus activism could easily turn into a real fight to wrest gains from the administration. A mistake that could easily exhaust this possibility is if activist efforts tread too closely to the administration.
The administration is not on our side. Its class interests are firmly with the those in power: corporations and the state. If students, faculty and workers are going to win anything, it will be because the University is forced to make concessions. This requires a combination of a lot of types of work. But student activists must prioritize what is necessary to build power and begin to force a shift in favor of students within a balance of power dominated on one side by the weight of some of the most oppressive forces in our society. Within universities in the U.S., this weight has been crushing down on students, faculty and workers in a one-sided class war. A principled strategy towards the administration is needed to fight back.
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Ruwan Munasinghe is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.