There has been a lot of criticism of labor unions in general, coming from conservatives on this campus as well as questioning liberals, in the wake of the Graduate Employees Union victory. Some have said that GEO was asking too much. Some have said that union tactics go too far.
Well, to start off, I will admit, even as a supporter of the workers struggle, and as radical and outrageous as this may sound to some of you coming from me, labor unions are not perfect.
But now, let’s address the criticisms I get from my fellow schoolmates about GEO. Some say, “but I want better GSIs.” What these students forget is that GEO wants the same thing. GEO wants more training. Better benefits and protection mean better workers. The free trade economics students will yell “but simple economic analysis tells us otherwise.” Well, they’re dead wrong. The simple truth is that, if you have two GSIs, one who is willing to work for less and one who will only work in a livable environment, it is obvious is that the one willing to work for less is the one less capable.
Let’s look at another example. Last year, nurses in a Flint hospital went on strike because the management had them working long workdays. The union wanted shorter workdays. While the nurses were on strike, the hospital shipped in scabs that were willing to work more hours. So, if you were recovering from surgery, who would you rather have taking care of you? Someone who has worked too many hours and is about to fall asleep? Or someone who is well rested? This is something all those punks telling the GEO to “go back to work” on March 11 should think about.
Do you want a GSI who has to bring his child to the classroom because they don’t have childcare, and willing to teach more for less money? Or do you want GSIs who are undistracted, financially allowed to focus on their jobs as teachers? You make the decision.
So where does the union fit into all of this? The only way that workers can secure that they will be paid enough and given livable benefits is with a union. Not once in the history of American capitalism has a company granted a worker health and dental or overtime pay or anything that workers enjoy today simply out of the kindness of the boss’ heart. Pressure must be applied. The nurses in Flint didn’t win because the hospital suddenly realized what it was doing was wrong, it was because every day the nurses picketed, each day rallying more and more support. The reality is that a company just wants to increase profit. It is simple economics. And the only way workers can confront a powerful company is to organize as one into a unit that is as powerful as the bosses. This unit is the union.
It is unfortunate that unions must often resort to tactics that some people find going too far, like work stoppages. Some students call it insubordination. Well, I want to ask these students something. Was it insubordination and going too far for Rosa Parks to refuse to move to the back of the bus to end racist segregation in the South? Was it insubordination and going to far for the patriots to stand up to British at the Boston Tea Party in order to free themselves from colonial rule?
The point is that the battle for change is never painless. It wasn’t painless for our founding fathers and it wasn’t painless for those fighting segregation. As for workers, they cannot receive far treatment from their bosses through polite suggestions, but only through action. And this action is not painless.
But in the end, unions seek a better place for workers and the people who they serve. And this why unions are so vital for American workers, as well as workers around the world.
Paul is an RC sophomore.