As many of you know, 3,500 AFSCME Clerical, Technical, and Healthcare workers are out on strike at the University of Minnesota. The strike began on the second day of class, September 5, and has widely affected business at the university. The workers are asking simply for a fair contract that allows them to earn enough to make a living. More specifically, the state legislature allocated funding for all municipal employees to receive a wage increase commensurate with inflation. And all state and municipal workers have received pay increases of over 3%, except at the U where the administration has only passed out gross salary increases to the President and top administration officials.
I offer the following testimony from folks on the picket line (majority women, by the way), describing what it is that they do:
I work in dental dispensing, handing out instruments and supplies for specific procedures. Dental students won’t be able to do their job without me. I also clean and sterilize the instruments.
I unlock the door in the morning an lock it at night.
I purchase and catalog books and materials for the libraries. Materials for course reserves won’t be bought, won’t be available without my work.
I enter the payroll for student workers and research assistants.
I ensure that all aspects of faculty recruiting visits and job talks go smoothly so that the best faculty in the world will want to work at the U.
I create and distribute on-call schedules for all of the doctors in our department. I determine the places calls should be directed throughout the department and write and disseminate information about the department and direct medical messages.
I make sure they pull the right tooth.
The list goes on and on…
Since the strike began, the administration has refused to negotiate with the union and has taken a hard position of offering only a 2.25% settlement deal. But the workers are standing strong and are offering a lesson in real life to students of the University.
We have learned how important workers are to the daily flow of university business and knowledge production. Many university functions have shut down. Our healthcare clinic is only accepting emergency appointment, the Bursar office has shut down, the 911 emergency phone dispatch office is closed, the veterinary clinic is closed, union trucks are not delivering supplies to facilities management loading docks, and hundreds of classes are being held off-campus or down at the picket lines. Last Friday members of YDS, the IWW, Socialist Alternative, SDS, and many other students participated in an action that shut down the University of Minnesota Board of Regents meeting. Today, a group of students committed themselves to going on a hunger strike next Monday if the administration still refuses to offer the workers a fair contract.
The event has provided a unique opportunity to reflect on the interconnection of all of our struggles. Neo-liberal policies turn civic institutions into corporations and force those least capable to bear the burden of market ideology. The president of the U gets a 17% raise while the workers who actually run the university have to choose between groceries and prescriptions. Students at this public land-grant university are forced to go into extreme debt in order to have a future that is looking increasingly bleak. As young democratic socialists, engaged in this fight, we understand that capitalism and the concomitant policies of neo-liberalism are the problem. We stand for a world in which education is right of all people and not a privilege of the wealthy few. We recognize and stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers at all institutions of higher education who provide a valuable and even indispensable service to us as students and members of university communities.
Historically, coalitions of students and workers have been revolutionary. Today, the university is becoming an increasingly visible site of battle over what kind of world we want to live in. It is here among this energy that we re-affirm our commitment to organizing for a world beyond capitalism, a world that values education, a world that values civic engagement, and a world that values the day-to-day work required to keep our universities functional.
Former YDS Co-Chair Matt May can be seen here (in red YDS shirt) at a student demonstration shutting down the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in support of the AFSCME workers:http://democraticgunslinger.blogspot.com/2007/09/blog-post.html.
More information about the strike can be found at www.uworkers.org.