MB: So why don’t we talk about the lessons learned. I think one of things that graduate employees, at whatever stage of the struggle they’re in, in their different circumstances–they’re going to want to know what you guys drew from this experience.
Andy Cornell: That’s right. I think we learned a number of lessons about what we could do better. The first thing is that we went into the strike having not been particularly active on campus, or as an organization, between contracts.
When our union, GSOC, first won recognition and we won our first contract, obviously there was a lot of momentum around that. But people got exhausted, wanted to get back to their studies, and the momentum fell off. So that made it particularly hard to mobilize quickly.
We had to build amongst ourselves, we had to build an organizing structure. We had to pull people back into the union and educate them into what that meant. The harsh lesson was that at a lot of universities the withdrawal of the labor of graduate student teaching assistants and research assistants may not be enough to cause the campus to come to a screeching halt. So you really are reliant on a lot of other constituencies on campus.
GSOC-UAW’s struggle with NYU represents some of the greatest successes and also some of the greatest setbacks in graduate employee labor organizing so far, and as such is especially worthy of detailed study.
Of particular interest is the book edited by some of the folks interviewed here, The University Against Itself with Andrew Ross, and a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, edited by Christopher Carter, Beyond the Picket Line: Academic Organizing After the Long NYU Strike.
Carter has written an especially good assessment of the core point made by the GSOC folks in this video–the crucial role of campus alliances, in his just-released Rhetoric and Resistance in the Corporate Academy (Hampton, 2008). Chapter 4, “The Student as Organic Intellectual,” tracks the importance of undergraduate USAS activists in GSOC’s successful first round of bargaining.
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