Graduate student workers at the University of New Mexico have launched a major organizing drive aimed at overcoming the university’s resistance to their legitimate demands.
Long history of graduate student abuse on a reactionary-led campus
The struggle of these students is a common one. Research universities across the United States have for many years openly abused teaching and research assistants with poor pay, long hours, limited benefits and frequent harassment by advisors and other faculty. In response, graduate students at many major research universities have joined unions to win important gains and new power.
For several years, graduate students at UNM have presented their issues to campus leadership. The issues have been and are serious. They include salaries that do not even reach the minimum wage for Albuquerque, high prices for medical and dental insurance with few real benefits, long and demanding hours of work, and constant denigration and humiliation by graduate advisors. University leadership has a long history of failure to respond to these grievances. This thickheadedness inspired graduate students to begin to take steps toward organizing a union.
The administration’s lack of response should surprise no one. A reactionary philosophy dominates UNM leadership. University President Garnett Stokes and her administration have established a strong conservative agenda. On several occasions, Stokes has called for a military-friendly campus and has openly admonished any criticism of the U.S. military. The university provides significant research support for the two national weapons laboratories in New Mexico, and has also, in recent years, provided strong support for the state’s oil and gas industry.
Growing union power of UNM workers
UNM leadership has treated faculty and support staff similarly to the graduate students. Last academic year, UNM faculty finally overcame administration resistance and won a union. At the same time, UNM hospital workers were picketing to resist an insulting contract proposal. Party for Socialism and Liberation activists joined in support of both efforts. In the end, the union and the workers won the battle.
Graduate students saw these victories, and this year joined forces with the United Electrical Workers Union for their own union bid. UE is one of the most democratic and progressive unions in the U.S. with a history of successful union organizing campaigns with graduate students on several campuses. The union’s philosophy historically has been both radical and militant; its motto is “Members Run This Union.”
Using the slogan “The University Works Because We Do,” organizers are actively recruiting members. Resolution of workers’ central demands are the primary focus of the union drive: better compensation; increased tuition scholarships; fee waivers; better and more affordable benefits; restrictions on workloads; guaranteed paid leave; protection against harassment; and a fair grievance procedure. PSL members are actively supporting this important campaign.
Due to recent positive changes in state law, organizers need only to have a majority of the graduate employees sign union cards. The university must then recognize the union, no election is necessary. The final drive is now taking place, and with enough solidarity and active support, another victory for workers is achievable.