Monday, November 14, 2005

Shutting Down the Academic Factory

While the literature on organizing graduate student-workers is scant, there is one terrific book on the topic called Cogs in the Classroom Factory: The Changing Identity of Academic Labor, edited by Deborah Herman and Julie Schmid (2003). In Chapter 7, "Shutting Down the Academic Factory: Developing Worker Identity in Graduate Unions," Eric Dirnbach and Susan Chimonas explore how multiple and conflicting identities held by graduate students impede labor organizing on campus. Their insights and analysis spring directly from their own experiences as former graduate student-workers and active members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan (go blue!).

In graduate school, we are simultaneously students, professionals, and workers. Dirnbach and Chimonas argue that in order for graduate students to win labor concessions from a university administration, they must tap into and foster their identity as workers by way of a work stoppage. While grads often don their caps as professionals during negotiations at the bargaining table, or as students during labor rallies and protests, such attempts to win recognition from the university are inevitably futile (as the past 6+ months at NYU have demonstrated). Graduate students' only real power vis à vis the administration is their labor power. To be blunt, the administration will only acknowledge the demands of graduate student-workers and take them seriously when faced with the social and economic costs of a strike, according to Dirnbach and Chimonas.

Up until last week, we diligently played the roles of professional and student in our collective dealings with the administration. The university, in turn, dismissed our rightful requests to negotiate, patronized us both implicitly and explicitly, and launched an all-out PR war against us, replete with misinformation and unethical intimidation tactics. It is imperative at this time that all NYU GAs come to realize themselves as employees of the university first and foremost, and to withhold their labor as workers. Leveraging our labor power is a means to "...undermine the pervasive academic ideology that assigns to graduate employees a position that lacks meaningful voice and agency, along with avenues of dissent that lack power and effectiveness" (Dirnbach and Chimonas, 2003). Only by striking can we successfully challenge the administration for a fair second contract.

Herman, Deborah M. and Julie M. Schmid. 2003. COGS in the Classroom Factory: The Shifting Identity of Academic Labor. Praeger.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judith Butler supports our troubles and struggles, and is sending a letter to Stimpson today.

11/14/2005 10:13 AM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

Judith Butler: GSOC hero!!! Poststructuralists in solidarity. Thanks, anonymous.

11/14/2005 10:59 AM  

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