On the picket line

UPenn graduate students unionize

Graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania voted overwhelmingly this month to unionize as Graduate Employees Together UPenn – United Auto Workers. They join other graduate students from major universities, including Harvard and New York University, who have unionized to improve working conditions and benefits for these essential workers. Under the banner, “Penn works because we do,” the final tally in the vote in favor of unionizing was 1807–97.

Striking Movement for Justice Workers. Photo: New York City Central Labor Council

Along with demands for safer work conditions and fair financial compensation, GETUP-UAW is demanding disability justice, protection against harassment, equal rights for international students and just treatment for surrounding neighborhoods. 

As GETUP-UAW explains on its website: “Penn is a powerful presence in our city, but contributes no property taxes and has no democratic accountability for its decisions. Along with many Philadelphians, our struggles with housing affordability, transit, safety and racist policing are effects of an institution that has often failed in its commitment to the well-being of this city. As a union, we can fight for Penn to reflect our values and make Philadelphia better for all of its residents.” (getup-uaw.org)

Bus drivers don’t work for the cops!

The New York Police Department has brutally attacked and arrested students at Free Gaza Encampment sites on multiple campuses in the city, including Columbia University, New York University and the City University of New York (CUNY). 

However, on April 23, after arrests were made at a Palestine solidarity demonstration in Brooklyn, several Metropolitan Transit Authority drivers exercised their union rights and refused to transport any arrestees loaded onto MTA buses confiscated by the NYPD. These drivers, members of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, legitimately refused to work for the police and left the NYPD scrambling to find replacement drivers. 

This is how union workers can fight back against tyrannical tactics against their class. 

Legal services workers in third month of strike

Mobilization for Justice workers, members of Legal Services Staff Association – United Auto Workers Local 2320, remain on the picket line after more than 80 days. 

MFJ is a non-profit agency receiving New York City funds to provide free legal services to persons facing eviction and to advocate pro bono in immigration and disability justice cases. The legal aid workers are on the front line of the economic crises facing the working class today. They see firsthand the connection between the people they serve and themselves — both struggling to make ends meet. One MFJ staffer put it simply, “We are both in the same boat.” 

The MFJ union workers strike has demonstrated solidarity with some of the most oppressed people in the New York City community. Underfunding by the city, despite the Right to Counsel law, has overburdened the legal aid staff at MFJ, with the rate of attrition increasing as compensation for their work fails to keep up with the cost of living. The strike is a vivid example of class war in that it emanates from the lived experiences of social conditions and shows how union organizing can challenge the status quo. 

The MFJ union tactics included demanding that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder refuse to cross their picket line to attend the MFJ gala where he was to be honored. Holder complied. Striking workers have picketed in front of the $2 million home of MFJ management negotiator, Anu Garfield, and residences of other management bargainers. 

UAW President Shawn Fain stated: “Workers at MFJ are on strike demanding their fair share. They’re demanding equity for support staff. MFJ has the money, but management at this supposedly progressive non-profit simply don’t want to share.”   (tinyurl.com/mfjpressrelease)

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