First DraftsLetters

I Will Not…

Sidra Kamran on her strike

I WILL NOT accept refusals to recognize my union.

Grassroots structures of representation like unions are key for this new feminist movement and for resistance to the Trump administration and the conditions that produced it.

At the New School, graduate student workers have been fighting for our union for over two years. More than two years ago, over 70 percent of graduate student workers democratically voted to form a student union, SENS-UAW. Great, right? Not really. The New School has spent an exorbitant amount of money fighting our petition in front of the National Labor Relations Board ever since. Even though the NLRB ruled in a recent case at Columbia that graduate students are workers and have a right to form a union, the New School, even last week, continues to file statements with the NLRB that assert we are not workers.

Graduate students are part of an increasingly precarious group of workers. We are in debt. We rely on our jobs as teachers in this school for our primary income. The University does not provide health care or stipends to everyone. Our classes can be cancelled up to one week before we have to teach, so we lack any job security. Women student workers at the New School suffer from all this and more, including a lack of critical benefits like family leave and childcare.

Our position was already vulnerable and under Trump, increasingly so! Healthcare is being rolled back, reproductive rights are under attack. Muslim students, immigrants, undocumented students, students of color — our status is increasingly precarious. However, just like the platform for this feminist movement, we recognize that much of this precedes Trump even if he has accelerated these threats tremendously.

We made this union because we want to exercise our right to bargain collectively, so that we can sit at the table and negotiate with the administration, as equals, for our rights. We can demand healthcare, a living wage, fair hiring practices and fair grievance procedures for issues like sexual harassment and much more.

The situation has worsened under the Trump administration. Two seats sit empty seats at the federal NLRB right now. Once Trump fills them in, there is a chance that we will need to withdraw our petition because a ruling against us might compromise the rulings already in place granting graduate student workers the right to form a union at other universities. The longer David Van Zandt stalls and blocks us, the greater the chances this will happen.

This idea of feminism for the 99 percent, the fact that we will participate in a strike as opposed to a march or a protest means that all of us are on the same page about a number of things:

  • We recognize the importance of work, of expanding our conception of ‘work,’ and of organizing at our workplaces.
  • We are not committed to single-issue struggles. We recognize the complex ways sexism, the attack on reproductive rights, and gender wage gaps are tied together and to other structures of oppression.
  • We all intend to show up more than just once.

We already know that part of the reasons the more mainstream feminist movements failed us is because they were not democratic, not representative, not inclusive, not anti-capitalist, not anti-imperialist and not anti-racist. Becoming a part of structures like the graduate student workers union is one of the ways we can make this new feminist movement a grassroots movement. It is one of the ways we make sure we don’t make some of the same mistakes that were made before.

The union is both about why we organize — for our rights as workers — and about the way we organize. And I think that’s important: how do we choose to act in resisting Trump, misogyny, capitalism, patriarchy? Having a union means that we have an organized group at a grassroots level that can democratically represent ourselves in the university and in the wider community. And that means we have power. We are not a single-issue union just looking out for our own benefits. We seek formal recognition so we can build up our union as a platform to advance other causes that make up the ‘F99’ movement, too. Our goal is well-organized and long-term resistance.

A large number of us here at the New School are either already involved in other political causes or are beginning to be. WE should NOT have to expend so much of our energy fighting for this union, in a university that calls itself progressive and invokes its progressive legacy. The New School administration can continue to wait to be bailed out by Trump’s anti-labor agenda. But we will not wait. Let’s win this fight for our union and use this platform and other democratic, grassroots structures like this one to resist.

While there are actions that we are planning around labor rights for March 8, we are organizing other actions as well that you can become a part of right now.

  1. New School graduate students can sign this sign on statement to support the union and the strike authorization vote that we are planning to have later in the semester.
  2. Everyone can join our mailing list by mailing us at sensuaw@gmail.com. We need to be ready for a big mobilization in the next few weeks in case we have a strike authorization vote, so we need to be connected and we need organizers in every department.
  3. We hold weekly meetings at the New School’s University Center from 5pm to 7pm every week on Friday in the Social Justice Hub. Show up to one of these meetings and like our Facebook page to stay in touch and to find out about our next actions.

March 8 is just the beginning. Participating in grassroots, democratic struggles like the graduate student workers union will help build the inclusive movements we desperately need.

instagram-women-strike-for-public-seminar-1

Sidra Kamran

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