Like most activists, we at CUNY Struggle have been grappling to find our footing in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. In the coming weeks we will begin to offer some inklings of a direction forward for the CUNY system amidst the dire political situation to come. At present, we offer some sober and important analysis from comrades at NYU, who find themselves at a crossroads similar to ours within PSC-CUNY and the broader CUNY system. This text was originally posted as a petition, and can be viewed here.
Two roads lie before us in this political moment. The first is a deepening of the poverty and misery pervasive in this country for decades, reinforced by a virulent bigotry toward people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, women, and queers. The second road is built on the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all, and it depends on the disruptive power we have as workers and the social ties forged to unleash that power. As members of the NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) of the UAW Local 2110, we are committed to paving this second road together with our comrades in the labor movement and broader progressive forces.
As part of this heterogeneous front against Trump, we demand that NYU:
- Become a sanctuary campus, as part of New York City’s pledge to remain a sanctuary city under Trump.
- Ensure that all international and dual passport-holding students are able to continue traveling easily in and out of the U.S. to pursue their work and studies.
- End institutional racism with measures such as abolishing the box, addressing the Black & Brown Coalition’s existing demands, and devoting further resources to fighting bigotry aimed at people of color; Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ people; and people with disabilities on campus.
- Follow its own labor guidelines and bargain in better faith so that its workers can afford to live in this city.
- Agree to work with GSOC over its repeated calls for just and equal distribution of healthcare benefits across genders, departments, and schools.
We also demand that the UAW International:
- Not collaborate with Trump on any initiative at a time when his administration will be attacking labor rights nationwide, and instead commit to the deep organizing necessary for unionizing workers, as detailed below.
- Reverse its nullification of resolutions democratically passed by several locals and bargaining units to join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
- Forge genuine ties with the movement for Black lives.
- Commit to standing with Standing Rock.
- Sign onto the Just Transition program toward a sustainable economy.
This election has exacerbated the worst forms of racism, nativism, and nationalism dividing workers. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory, our union leadership announced that they would enthusiastically work with Trump on demands like reversing NAFTA. Their logic is that limiting foreign competition in the manufacturing sector would position the UAW to increase its bargaining power with the Big Three automobile manufacturers. But this strategy is insufficient if the UAW is serious about growing its membership and increasing employment and job protections for its members. Any of the small gains to be had from reshoring jobs—a now dubious prospect in light of the free-trade positions of his appointees—is exponentially outweighed by the anti-labor measures he is likely to impose, including national right-to-work legislation.
There is no doubt that free trade policies have accelerated job loss. But we must remember that these policies only intensified the industrial restructuring that was initiated as a result of the profits crisis of the 1970s. We cannot will back into existence the previous system of production (i.e. inflexible and concentrated) by collaborating with our bosses. As the UAW’s defeat at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga demonstrated, today’s system of production (i.e. flexible and dispersed) calls for that tried and true method of activating the rank and file and imposing sufficient disruption costs across the supply chain (as auto parts workers have shown) and across borders. Thus, in this second road of our possible future, we see our union performing a central role, but only if it does the deep organizing necessary to shut down production in key nodes, beginning with multinational auto plants in the U.S. South. It is our very presence in an auto-worker union, where hot-shop organizing has seemed to undermine clear strategy on shifting the overall balance of class power, that reminds us of these persistent weaknesses and missed opportunities for organized labor.
But it is also our participation in a growing movement of university workers across various sectors that gives us confidence in the second road under a Trump administration, the road of solidarity. Universities are some of the largest area employers, employing clerical workers, maintenance staff, dining hall workers, transit workers, health care workers, security guards, retail workers, librarians, lab technicians, teaching assistants, research assistants, adjunct professors, and full-time faculty. State university systems in particular are the most common largest employers across the 50 states. The coordination of disruptive action across these sectors poses problems not just for specific employers but for entire regions.
The corporatization of higher education has restructured the interests dictating academic life in both public and private sectors. Private universities have in large part become real estate firms with educational wings, while public schools hike tuitions and construct fancier facilities to attract wealthier students. These forms of revenue generation have yet to improve the intellectual spirit on university campuses, the ability of working-class children to access a college education, or the lives of university workers. This model will only be exacerbated under Trump’s vision for privatizing public education.
GSOC members feel this crunch acutely. Until our contract victory in 2015, many international graduate workers were making poverty wages, some even living on the streets. Today, when our female colleagues give birth, they are not entitled to the maternity leave mandated by the state, thus taking not more than a week off. The list of ongoing grievances continues, and our future is in many ways even more daunting: the proliferation of adjunct labor signals near negligent job protection amid the escalation of attacks on academic freedom, in addition to poor pay and health care access.
There is ample inspiration to draw from in our campus struggles moving forward. Harvard dining hall workers just won a historic contract after a three-week strike, with the support of community members and thousands of Harvard students, faculty, and other workers. At Long Island University 400 faculty fought significant cuts to their contract with outpourings of student support over a 12-day lockout, while in Pennsylvania public sector faculty just successfully struck to defeat the further isolation of adjunct workers. In the city now, Barnard adjunct workers are bargaining their first contract, and Columbia and New School grad workers are organizing to vote for union recognition amid a nationwide uptick in organizing following August’s NLRB decision.
As unionized graduate workers under a future Trump presidency, we must build on these victories and fight for the safety and working conditions of all community members on our campuses. NYU has the second largest international student population and one of the largest Muslim Students Associations in the United States. Our administration must ensure the institutional protection of the legal status of its international students who are threatened by Trump’s xenophobic and Islamophobic policies, and take an unwavering stand in all cases to combat increasing acts of Trump-sanctioned bigotry. The administration’s response to the outrageous instances of Islamophobia already appearing on our campus will be a first and dire step. The demands that open this statement outline the direction that NYU must follow if it is to respond to this political moment with a modicum of justice.
We as GSOC must also fight for the regeneration of the labor movement on several fronts: within our international unions and locals, and across job sectors within our universities; for access to high quality and affordable higher education; for vibrant campus life; for campuses and unions that confront bigotry head-on; and for improvements to our own material conditions. The task of uniting these struggles calls to us with greater urgency in the era of Trump. It is a call for greater union density, strike capacity and shopfloor power nationwide; for sharper analysis of labor market dynamics; for democratic governance of all working-class institutions; and for a broader political vision of our class struggle.
Elites will continue to try to lower our expectations. We will resist those efforts. We maintain that when we come together and disrupt business as usual, we can change society. We won’t give them room to divide us. Not a single inch.