Standing in Solidarity with Mizzou

Fellow Graduate Assistants,

Last Friday, the University of Missouri informed graduate students employed as teaching assistants and research assistants that the university could no longer afford to provide healthcare subsidies. In doing so, the University of Missouri effectively stripped its graduate students of their healthcare, leaving them with less than fourteen hours to find new insurance.

While the administration later reversed its position, stating that it will defer this decision until next year, this decision demonstrates the increasing lack of concern for the living conditions of graduate students who provide a majority of the undergraduate education at most institutions around the country. Further, the reversal of this demonstration due to the threat of a collective walkout by the University of Missouri graduate assistants, demonstrates the power of graduate assistants to demand fair treatment when organized.

Here at SIU, you are protected by a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by your union, Graduate Assistants United, which requires SIU to provide health care compliant with the Affordable Care Act. Despite this, GAU and other student organizations were forced to aggressively lobby the university into adopting an ACA compliant health plan, which we received last year.

Keeping in mind the struggle that our own unionized graduate assistants faced, and still face in negotiating adequate working conditions, health care included, Graduate Assistants United stands in solidarity with the graduate employees at the University of Missouri and offers its full support for their efforts at organizing and collective action to demand fair treatment and better working conditions.

In Solidarity,

Johnathan Flowers

President, Graduate Assistants United

Educating Against Rauner

Rally Against Proposed Budget Cuts Brings Calls for Critical Pedagogy

By James Anderson

Photo Credit: Stacy Calvert

6 May Rally

Photo Credit: Byron Hetzler, The Southern

Photo Credit: Stacy Calvert

The president of the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association at Southern Illinois University Carbondale reminded those rallying against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts outside Morris Library on May 6 of their role as educators.

“It is time – that’s the message here today – for the educators to start educating,” said James Wall, the president of the NTTFA and a senior lecturer in the college of mass communication and media arts at SIUC.

Wall told the multiple media outlets and more than one hundred people gathered Wednesday afternoon for the event outside Morris Library on SIUC campus that the persons in positions of power need to be educated about the impact of their political decisions.

In their new book, “Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle,” apropos for understanding the way power functions and possibilities for struggling against it, Brad Evans and Henry Giroux argue “violence appears so arbitrary and thoughtless” in the present age of austerity, at a time when support for public services recedes with startling rapidity, “that it lacks the need for any justification, let alone claims to justice and accountability.”

An attempted critical pedagogy, aimed at exposing the governor’s intended austerity measures as forms of far-reaching violence, union activists at the rally denounced the governor’s cuts as unjustified and unjust.

Wall called the governor’s proposed cuts, which would include slashing $44 million from SIUC, completely “unprecedented.”

The budget reduction scheme is “unprecedented” in terms of the size, but also in terms of the human costs, Wall said. His disabled child, born with multiple birth defects, would not have been able to survive and thrive, he said, without the crucial assistance from SIUC facilities – like the Clinical Center and programs like the Child Development Laboratories – poised to face massive reductions in funds if Rauner’s agenda unfolds as planned.

Disability Support Services, an office on campus working to ensure students with disabilities receive the resources and access they require, also stands to lose half of its funding if the governor’s proposed cuts go through, according to Illinois Education Association organizer Bret Seferian, who also spoke at the rally.

John Flowers, president of Graduate Assistants United, told those in attendance he had already heard from many graduate student workers who received “maybe letters” from their departments informing them they may or may not have an assistantship for the fall semester.

The uncertainty surrounding SIUC’s budget for the fall and the possibility funds could be slashed, it is assumed, have kept departments from providing graduate students a definitive answer or assured assistantship position.

The loss of graduate assistants translates into an overburdened faculty, Flowers said, which means professors have less time to be mentors to students. Reduction in assistantships, he added, means there will be fewer graduate students, who also serve as mentors and educators both inside and outside the formal classroom environment.

“Without us the university doesn’t exist,” Flowers said.


Photo Credit: Kevin Taylor


6 May Rally

Photo Credit: Byron Hetzler, The Southern

The governor – who is still slated to speak at one of the graduation ceremonies at SIUC, despite public outcry and an online petition calling for him to be replaced with a different keynote speaker – continues to tout his “Turnaround Agenda” to disempower unions.

A town hall meeting scheduled to take place on SIUC campus featuring SIU President Randy Dunn is another place, activists who met after the rally suggested, where the pedagogical work of critiquing the framework of budget cuts could occur.

Town hall gatherings, in some manifestations, have historically been sites for assembly-style direct democracy, empowering people over those politicians who gut funds for education and public services, inflicting violence upon those they are alleged to represent.

The work of Evans and Giroux suggests the site could also perform a pedagogical function, where people could relate differently and educate against and beyond the existing political paradigm, epitomized in Illinois by the governor’s agenda and the suffering many at the rally said they expect it to cause.

“Pedagogy is, in part, always about both struggle and vision—struggles over identities, modes of agency, values, desires, and visions of the possible,” wrote Evans and Giroux, with words relevant for university struggles going forward. “Not only does the apologetics of neutrality lead to the most remiss intellectualism when the personal experience of violence is reduced to emotionless inquiry, but it also announces complicity in the rationalizations of violence that depend upon the degradation of those qualities that constitute what is essential to the human condition. Thus, education is by definition a form of political intervention.”


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His academic writing has appeared in journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication and the International Review of Information Ethics. His journalistic work and editorials have been featured in news outlets including Truthout, In These Times, Toward Freedom, ROAR Magazine, ZNet and Counterpunch.

Remembering the History of May Day, Recovering the History of Struggle

By James Anderson

Recovering the history of May Day has relevance not just for scholarly historiography, nor merely for exciting the radical working class imaginary. The memory of May Day and evolution of labor struggles informs untapped potentials in the present. This essay tries to identify what lies latent and largely forgotten.

May Day, or International Workers’ Day, started in the United States. Ironic, then, that most working people in the US are unfamiliar with its origins.

The holiday commemorates the Haymarket Affair that occurred in Chicago in 1886, in the wake of a widespread workers’ movement for an eight-hour workday.

What few remember is that the actual Haymarket gathering was only indirectly related to the still-crucial struggle for a reduction in working hours without proportionate decrease in pay.

Yet the eight-hour campaign revivified the union movement and created the necessary preconditions for large-scale labor organizing as well as for something like Haymarket to happen.

While work hours had been appreciably reduced from the 14 or 15 hours per day common in the early part of the nineteenth century, the average work week for the 177,810 workers who engaged in strikes in 1886, Henry David documented, hovered around 61.81 hours, with a 10-hour day typical for most workers.

Economic expansion in the two decades following the Civil War, with accelerated industrialization and increased mechanization of production, contributed to a growing gulf between the rich and poor.

An industrial depression in 1882 led to a labor surplus – generating what Marx called “a disposable industrial reserve army,” a veritable “mass of human material always ready for exploitation by capital in the interest of capital’s own changing valorization requirements” – and depressed wages by 1883. Irregular employment around 1886 led to a greater drop in real wages. The hardship increased the effectiveness of employer disciplinary tactics like firing workers for being late, singing or talking – in addition to use of the “iron-clad oath” prohibiting collective action and black-lists used to keep away union activists – because reserves were also available to replace those who dared disobey.

The eight-hour movement gained traction among many reformists because shortening working hours for those already employed offered a means for hiring more hands and addressing the problem of chronic unemployment that can also incite revolt. But reformists generally advocated an eight-hour day with reduction in pay, protecting employer profits, instead of the notion eight hours of work should still be remunerated with what was previously received for 10 hours of toil.

While some sought legislation to enact an eight-hour rule, much of the working class opted for a massive trans-industrial strike movement for shorter hours, which David claimed constituted “the first, vague approximation of a national general strike in American labor annals.”

Much of the action centered in the Midwest. Chicago became a hub for social-revolutionary organization and agitation. New York did not have nearly the number of International Working People’s Association affiliates as Illinois’ industrial center, and nine hour days were already common in California.

Nevertheless, a massive strike wave swept the US. In Chicago in 1884, a protest on Thanksgiving Day went through the wealthier section of the city. Marchers carried black and red flags past the Palmer House holding signs reading, “Private capital is the reward of robbery,” and “Our capitalistic robbers may well thank their Lord, we their victims have not yet strangled them.”

Not all radicals initially accepted trade unions as vehicles for emancipation. Some considered unions complicit with the exploitation of workers. Some unions were.

But increased organization of labor in the wake of the eight-hour movement prompted staunch radicals to embrace union struggles.

Lucy Parsons, American labor organizer and anarcho-communist, called unions and worker assemblies the “embryonic groups of the ideal anarchistic society,” meaning a society free from forced submission to authority.

Her husband, Albert Parsons, who would become one of the famed Haymarket martyrs, remained skeptical of the liberatory potential of unions for a while, but also came to recognize “in the Trades Union the embryonic group of the future ‘free society.’”

Organized Labor and the Incident that Sparked May Day

Sharon Smith explains in “Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States,” some 300,000 workers across the country, sick of taking orders from others for the greater part of their waking lives, demanded reduced working hours in major demonstrations in early May 1886.

Chicago boasted more than 50,000 strikers and participants in the movement on May 1, more than any other city in the US.

Contrary to popular belief, the eight-hour movement that had generated such excitement was not the primary impetus leading up to what happened at Haymarket Square a few days later.

Instead, a dispute at Chicago’s McCormick Harvester factory, a plant with a long history of labor struggles, “arose,” as David documented in his “History of the Haymarket Affair,” over the issue of unionization, and the discharge of a number of men engaged in union activities,” despite an employer promise made the previous April that union organizing would not be cause for dismissal.

McCormick, who said he would not be “dictated to” by employees, shut the plant down and locked workers out as debate ensued in February. Workers responded, declaring a strike two days later.

The owner planned to reopen in March, and he hired a number of Pinkertons, the private security force infamous for crushing labor strikes, while the city placed several hundred police at the company’s disposal.

An assembly of workers on May 3 included McCormick strikers and featured a speech by August Spies, who would also become a Haymarket martyr. Just before Spies’ speech ended, the McCormick factory bell rang several blocks away, and those workers from the plant made their way for the building where strikebreakers were exiting.

As striking workers drove strikebreakers back into the factory, police fired into the crowd. Officers called for backup. A patrol wagon with 11 officers showed up, followed by 200 more reinforcements on foot. Police proceeded to charge workers with clubs and revolvers.

Spies approached as throngs of workers fell from the onslaught of bullets and clubs.

One striker died and at least five or six were seriously wounded. Six officers suffered injuries, but none were shot.

In his organ, the Arbeiter-Zeitung, or “Workers’ Newspaper,” Spies commented on the events without pulling punches.

“You have for years endured the most abject humiliations; you have for years suffered immeasurable iniquities; you have worked yourselves to death; you have endured the pangs of want and hunger; your children you have sacrificed to the factory lords—in short you have been miserable and obedient slaves all these years,” he wrote. “Why? To satisfy the insatiable greed and fill the coffers of your lazy thieving masters! When you ask him now to lessen your burden, he sends his bloodhounds out to shoot you, to kill you!”

Workers organized a demonstration for the next day, May 4, at what was then Haymarket Square in Chicago, off Randolph Street and between Desplaines and Halsted.

Only 1,200 showed for the rally, likely because of the biting wind and nasty weather.

Spies spoke at around 8:30 p.m.

“Now is the chance to strike for the existence of the oppressed classes,” he told those gathered. “The oppressors want us to be content. They will kill us. The thought of liberty which inspired your sires ought to animate you today. The day is not far distant when we will resort to hanging these men.”

He added the major newspapers contend “there are no Americans among us. That is a lie. Every honest American is with us. Those who are not unworthy of their tradition and their forefathers.”

After a 20 minute talk, Spies introduced Parsons, whose words proved eerily prescient.

“I am not here for the purpose of inciting anybody, but to speak out, to tell the facts as they exist, even though it shall cost me my life before morning,” Parsons said, and he was just about right.

An editorial published in the Chicago Mail on May 1 had already identified the two labor leaders as targets.

“There are two dangerous ruffians at large in this city; two sneaking cowards who are trying to create trouble,” the op-ed claimed. “One of them is named Parsons; the other is named Spies. Should trouble come they would be the first to skulk away from the scene of danger,” and “the first to shirk responsibility.”

The Mail further instructed readers to watch “them for to-day. Keep them in view. Hold them personally responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble does occur.”

As the final speaker, Samuel Fielden, started to conclude, police headed toward the wagon he had been standing on for his talk.

Officers demanded the assembly peaceably disperse.

“We are peaceable,” Fielden responded just before a dynamite bomb flew through the air, hit the ground and detonated near the first rank of the police.

One officer, Joseph M. Dega, died. About 70 others were wounded. Police, stunned for a moment, soon regrouped and retaliated, firing at spectators as people fled while being battered by bullets and bully clubs.

At least four people died in the police assault and several received serious injuries.

In the aftermath, law enforcement arrested eight men: August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe.

One committed suicide behind bars. Three were pardoned. Four were hanged in 1887 despite no substantive evidence connecting them to the explosion.

Parsons blamed police agents, Smith explained, and Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld issued a posthumous pardon to the hanged martyrs in 1893, acknowledging the men had been charged with conspiracy, convicted in the bombing and executed without sufficient evidence.

At his trial, Spies told the court even if he was hanged, the movement would not die.

“If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement … the movement from which the downtrodden millions who toil in want and misery expect salvation – if this is your opinion,” Spies famously said, “then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.”

The hanging of the Haymarket martyr and his comrades provided impetus for establishing a May Day holiday before the end of the nineteenth century, in commemoration of a cause still operative in the present with many of the same issues still circumscribing the movement.

Organizing Against Oppression Meets Repression

Immediately after the bomb detonated in Haymarket Square organized labor suffered repression inside the movement and out.

Myriad labor leaders blamed and condemned radicals for the bombing.

Terrence Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, aimed to excommunicate radicals in Chicago from the movement.

“There is not a Trade Union in America that will uphold those men in Chicago who have been engaged in the destruction of life and property,” he wrote in the Chicago organ Inter Ocean organ on May 6, 1886.

The Typographical Union No. 16 met three days after bomb was thrown and adopted a resolution calling those assumed responsible, “the greatest enemy the laboring man has.” The Chicago Furniture Manufacturers’ Association members pledged not to hire “any communist, anarchist, nihilist, or socialist, or any other person denying the right of private property or recommending the destruction or bloodshed as remedies of existing evils.”

Purging of radicals from the labor movement continued apace, as American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers routinely criticized syndicalist organizations like the International Workers of the World.

Most AFL unions in the early twentieth century excluded black workers, yet Gompers vowed to support “a race hatred far worse than any ever known” if people of color became strikebreakers. When black workers migrated to the St. Louis area during World War I, AFL leaders called them a “growing menace,” and they claimed “drastic action must be taken” to get rid of the people of color already there. The AFL attitude and message helped incite the East St. Louis race riot in 1917, which amounted to a police-sanctioned lynching of blacks and burning of black residences.

Other labor struggles after Haymarket continued to meet repression from police and private security in the service of capital, often with deadly results.

A strike for union recognition and improved working conditions at the New York Triangle shirtwaist factory in 1909 prompted a 13-week general strike in the garment industry, with an estimated 30,000 – predominantly women – striking. Hired thugs aggressively and routinely broke up the picket lines. The Women’s Trade Union League, committed to showing solidarity with the garment workers’ struggle, led a 10,000 strong march to the mayor’s office in December of that year with a petition demanding an end to the police brutality so wantonly deployed against organized labor. The shirtwaist factory tragically went up in flames on March 25, 1911, as 146 workers died in the fire, after strikers had failed to win their demand for an end to the policy of locking them in the building.

In another example of the violent class war waged by concentrated power, John D. Rockefeller’s private army for his Colorado Fuel & Iron company, acting in concert with state troops, opened fire on striking mining families as they slept in tents one fateful day in April 1914. After running out of ammunition, guards drenched the tents in oil and set them ablaze, as 13 women and children burned to death. Beating and shooting miners as they tried to escape, in an episode now known as the “Ludlow Massacre,” the guards proceeded to execute three of the captured strikers on the spot. Later when the United Mine Workers of America organized a response, President Wilson sent in the US army to occupy the territory, and the armed forces stayed until almost the end of the year.

The Red Scare around 1920 and McCarthyism in the 1940s and 1950s accelerated already concerted attempts to extricate any elements from the labor movement – and society – who might radically challenge the exploitative economic arrangements.

Senator McCarthy, Smith noted, spearheaded 169 show trials held between 1953 and 1954 to vilify communists, socialists and any left-wing sympathizers.

Robbie Lieberman, a former professor of history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, explained her book, “The Strangest Dream,” how the House Un-American Activities Committee summoned 14 women to a hearing in December 1962 based on allegations of Communist Party affiliation and assumptions that groups like Women Strike For Peace were infiltrated by communists, in addition to HUAC’s assertions that many women radicals were Soviet dupes.

Not all accepted the veracity of the allegations, and the hearings sparked sardonic commentary.

“I Came in Late,” one editorial cartoon stated during the HUAC witch-hunts, “Which Was It That Was Un-American–Women or Peace?”

Overcoming Oppression, Transcending Divisions

Smith argues in “Subterranean Fire” that racism functioned as a major component of ruling-class strategy to disunite labor, but there have been many significance instances when workers organized to overcome both internal and external oppression.

Despite criticism coming from the AFL, the IWW declared in 1905 divisions are “imposed by the employer” so “that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater exertion in the shop,” which weakens resistance to exploitation on the basis of “artificial distinctions.”

In contrast to the xenophobia, nativism and racism emanating from people like Gompers, the IWW argued “an injury to one is an injury to all,” advancing a sentiment of solidarity necessary for transcending the ideology of individualism the union insisted actually prevented the realization of every individual’s potentials.

A series of sit-down strikes in the 1930s in the Midwest reinvigorated the workers’ movement after the initial Red Scare.

In December 1936 – at the same time as an anarcho-syndicalist revolution was underway in Spain, organized by the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, or National Confederation of Labor), a union that supported collective self-management of production – a sit-down strike started in Flint, Mich., initiating a 40-day occupation of General Motors’ Fisher Body Plants no. 1 and no. 2. Workers and UAW organizers, explained labor historian Immanuel Ness, held off police assaults by coordinating with picketers on the outside of the plant, in a successful use of the storied “inside-outside strategy.”  The occupation ended only after unionization proved successful and GM agreed to a contract with UAW workers.

Ness detailed how the action spurred organizing “at the point of production” – what unionists consider the “purest form of unionism” – elsewhere in the Midwest.

In May 1933, Ness wrote, the Food Workers Industrial Union, covering both the employed an unemployed, “called a strike for wage racial parity among black and white women workers employed at Funtsen, a nut processing company in East St. Louis,” the same city in Illinois where the racist riot took place just 16 years prior. The strike, which included 500 black and 200 white women, resulted in doubled wages for workers and racial equality in pay, although it did not garner unionization as activists had hoped.

Members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, a rank-and-file-run organization with a record of militant promotion of both workers’ control and democratic community planning, championed the movement for union democracy in the 1930s. Syndicalist William Sentner, an organizer with the UE, helped connect community and workplace struggles in the St. Louis area. With Sentner as an organizing force, UE local 1102 started a sit-down strike at Emerson Electric in St. Louis on March 8, 1937. By the end of April they had won union recognition and collective bargaining rights.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the legislative outcome of labor struggles in the factory and worker agitation on the streets, granted union recognition and marked a major milestone. The passage of the Taft-Hartley Act after World War II and the second round of purging radicals from the union movement under McCarthyism hindered unionism, but the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s witnessed far more working class radicalism than is often acknowledged.

The supposed relative prosperity of American workers after WWII was never, Smith argued, as equitably distributed as depicted. Mass misery for the working class continued to exist, especially among black workers, and notions of an “Affluent Society” actually served an ideological function, downplaying class divides to make organizing appear less important. Further, Smith suggests, the established order continued – and continues today – to deny many people not only economic needs, but also deprive them of social necessities and impede their creative aspirations.

When this is recounted, it is less surprising that the number of unauthorized strikes in the US doubled between 1960 and 1969, from about 1000 to 2000. A strike wave also launched in 1970, which included 67 strikes at General Motors alone. A 1972 strike at GM’s Lordstown plant in Ohio, led by Vietnam veterans and young workers, received ample support from the public for those out on the picket lines.

“If the guys didn’t stand up and fight, they’d become robots too,” a 29-year-old president of the United Auto Workers local famously told journalist Studs Terkel. “They’re interested in being able to smoke a cigarette, bullshit a little bit with the guy next to ‘em, open a book, look at something, just daydream if nothing else. You can’t do that if you become a machine.”

During the “world revolution” of 1968, black autoworkers formed the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. Established after a wildcat strike to combat both company and union racism at the General Motors’ Dodge Main plant in Detroit, DRUM received support from both white and black unionists.

Reactionary Measures Counter Union Organizing and Transform Higher Education

Elected Governor of California in 1966, Ronald Reagan vowed to “clean up that mess at Berkeley,” following a slew of student protests, and he augured a new paradigm to beat back efforts at democracy in both the university and the workplace.

After assuming office, Reagan slashed funding for higher education and laid the foundation for the tuition-based university model behind the exploding student debt regime. The shift to privatized education, paid for by tuition and fees, meant working class students were forced to take on ever-increasing debt burdens to pay for school. Debt, it turns out, can be a tremendously effective disciplinary mechanism, compelling new graduates to work diligently – and obediently – immediately after, and usually during, their university stay, in order to make money to pay back student loans with interest.

Once president, Reagan inaugurated the ongoing attack against organized labor when he fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981, after striking workers ignored his order to return to work.

Deindustrialization, especially in the Midwest, also accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s as new technologies enabled companies to pick up shop and relocate to other regions or countries where they could pay cheaper wages and not worry about unions or worker revolt.

Rates of unionization decreased precipitously, dropping to just 11.1 percent of all wage and salary workers in 2014, much lower than the 20.1 percent rate of union membership in 1983.

Coeval with these processes, universities started eliminating tenure-track positions and shifting toward greater reliance upon low wage adjunct and graduate employee labor.

When the American Association of University Professors tried to represent graduate teaching and research assistants at Adelphi University in 1972, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against including graduate student employees in the bargaining unit on the basis that they were “primarily students,” not workers.

Economic Crisis, Recovering Struggles

Since the financial crisis of 2007-09 the US has seen a resurgence of working class radicalism aimed at advancing economic justice, sometimes out of necessity.

Kari Lydersen, a stunning Chicago-based journalist, documented in her book, “Revolt on Goose Island,” how the December 2008 sit-down strike at Republic Windows and Doors, organized by UE local 1110 after the factory manager informed workers the plant would close, became a national news story. Bank of America, much maligned at the time because of its role in the global financial shock, had withdrawn credit from an enterprise already in dire straits as a result of mismanagement and the chief Republic owners and executives lavish personal spending at company expense. Occupation of the factory by workers denied payments and benefits they had been promised made national headlines and ended with workers receiving their expected remuneration. With the help of The Working World, an organization geared toward assisting worker-owned enterprises, workers at Republic converted the business into a collectively-owned and democratically-controlled cooperative in 2013.

On the university front, the NLRB ruled in 2000 that the graduate research and teaching assistants at New York University could organize and collectively bargain for the first time. But the NLRB ruled a few years later that graduate assistant labor was part of an educational process subject to the control of faculty and administrators, not collective bargaining agreements.

Yet NYU became the only private university in the US with unionized graduate student employees after a successful bid for unionization culminated in recognition of the UAW-affiliated Graduate Student Organizing Committee/Science and Engineers in December 2013.

Public universities, like the University of California system, faced recalcitrance during organization drives several years back too when the UC administration echoed the tired arguments about graduate student workers being first and foremost students, not workers. The UC administration opted to ignore how graduate student employees had been shouldering increased labor loads teaching in the classroom and grading papers.

The UC system saw a wave of student strikes in response to impending tuition hikes in 2009. The UC Student-Workers Union – UAW local 2865 representing teaching assistants, associate instructors and undergraduate tutors across UC campuses – conducted a two-day strike in early April 2014 against intolerable working conditions and intimidation from the administration.

 “Making people aware of the labor behind education and through demystifying the relations of academia has been an important part of our contract over the last year,” the incredible Caroline McKusick, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at UC Davis and the spokesperson for UAW local 2865 at the time, told me back in April 2014. “And that’s required us to make our version of the story very clear and make it clear that we are the workers who make the university run.”

During a recent occupation at the London School of Economics, the student occupiers demanded authentic university democracy, which would empower a student-staff council to make key decisions on campus and truly run the university collectively. They also called for workers’ rights, which would mean an end to the precarious labor many university employees consistently face.

At Southern Illinois University Carbondale, non-tenure track faculty face that sort of uncertain future, given Governor Rauner’s proposed budget cuts, and many realize the situation calls for radical collective action.

One display of recent collective action in that vein occurred when adjunct professors at campuses across the country walked out back in February to protest the poverty level wages and always-intensifying working conditions they deal with. Many adjuncts joined thousands of other low-wage workers who walked off the job in a nationwide action in April. It says something about the prevalence of inadequate pay at universities that adjunct faculty properly fit under the “Fight for $15” banner at present, but it also speaks to the potential for uniting workers across trades to enliven the labor movement again.

Given the long history of law enforcement siding with employers over employees, as shown above, collaborative efforts between low-wage workers and those fighting against police brutality under the label of the “Black Lives Matter” movement could amplify efforts to fight for both racial and economic justice. Organizing in concert with the increasing numbers of déclassé intellectuals – the large swaths of college-educated persons who are deeply in debt but unable to find adequate work commensurate with their levels of education and tech-savvy skills, like many who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 – the untapped potential of authentic, transformative solidarity might be realized.

Would-be militants intent on recapturing the spirit of May Day would also need to consider the global implications of the system and ongoing struggles against its exploitative functions.

In the era of corporate globalization, when mega-enterprises are always ready to quickly relocate production overseas if labor gets organized or unruly, concerted efforts at ending socioeconomic oppression have to assume transnational scope.

We just passed the two year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, in which 1,138 died as a result of unsafe working conditions at a garment factory in Bangladesh where big brand name clothes were made. A huge factory fire at another Bangladesh factory killed 112 employees in 2012, injuring others and illustrating the unjust social arrangements that led to the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York a century before have not been changed, but are only distributed differently.

Reigniting what August Spies called the “subterranean fire” will require addressing these concerns and creating real democracy at the university and throughout society through solidarity across borders, trades and traditional divides.

When the four Haymarket martyrs took their positions at the gallows on November 11, 1887, Spies spoke from beneath his hood, once the noose was loosened a little from his neck, suggesting a time for the labor movement that may now be approaching.

“There will come a time, when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!”

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His academic writing has appeared in journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication and the International Review of Information Ethics. His journalistic work and editorials have been featured in news outlets including Truthout, In These Times, Toward Freedom, ROAR Magazine, ZNet and Counterpunch.

Sustainability Office Conducts Waste Audit

On April 16th, SIU’s Sustainability Office conducted a waste audit of the Student Center with the assistance of volunteers from the Registered Student Organizations SENSE and LOGIC, as well as volunteers from Saluki Service Days. Redirecting all waste normally sent to dumpsters, the volunteers sorted and measured GARBAGE, COMPOSTABLE WASTE, CARDBOARD, CLEAN PAPER, SOILED PAPER (paper that was soiled from being in the trash), ALUMINUM, GLASS, and PLASTICS.


Also calculated in the audit were the weights for the MISCELLANEOUS PLASTICS, LIQUIDS, LUMBER, REUSABLE ITEMS, and ELECTRONIC WASTE. A breakdown of the day’s percentages can be viewed in the graph below.

Overall, these results were positive with no glass at all found in the waste audit and an insignificant percentage of the waste coming from aluminum. Only 19% of the waste could have been recycled with current recycling practices on campus highlighting the achievements of the Sustainability Office and affiliated offices.


It is interesting to note that most of the waste analyzed could have been composted but perhaps unsurprising considering that the primary factor of compostable waste was likely generated from the food court; food that made its way into the trash as well as waste generated from preparation. What this suggests is that the introduction of a composting program for student waste would drastically change the outflow of waste that the Student Center produces. Such a shift in waste management could have resulted in the reduction and appropriation of waste resources to the amount of 214.75 pounds. The impact on the mass of waste alone would be remarkable not to mention the positive applications of a composting program. Compost could be used for soil, mulch, potting soil, worm beds that can be directed towards aquatic fisheries, and numerous other possibilities.

The result of the waste audit is revealing in that it shows how governing the in and outflow of resource on campus can lead to a more sustainable campus, not only ecologically but economically.

The Sustainability Office’s waste audit is timely not only because Earth Day was Wednesday, April 22 but also because current proposed budget cuts put many of the SIU resource centers at risk. Sustainability Office is faced with a potential budget cut while other sustainability/ecologically oriented centers such as Touch of Nature, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Cooperative Wildlife Research face nearly one million dollars in potential cuts. Given that the Sustainability Office is relatively young and met with student support, budget cuts would be a step backwards.

On May 7, 2009 the SIU Board of Trustees unanimously passed the $10 per semester student Green Fee. Effective at the start of fall semester in 2009, the fee was projected to raise over $300,000 annually for sustainability projects and research as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency on campus.  Chancellor Sam Goldman then appointed the first SIU Sustainability Council to make campus-wide recommendations concerning sustainability and allocate revenue generated by the Green Fee.[1]

With student support, Chancellor approval, and the state of Illinois Sustainability University Compact encouraging universities and colleges to incorporate sustainability into campus operations, academic and research programs, student activities and community outreach, it would be an understatement to say there is support for the activities Sustainability Office makes available. As the waste audit shows, budget cuts are not a solution; SIU must work smarter in order to reduce costs. Clearly positive results have come from the SIU Sustainability and they have not gone unrecognized. The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2013 Edition featured SIU, recognizing it for demonstrating “a notable commitment to sustainability.”

Students interested in voicing their concerns regarding budget cuts for Sustainability Office or any green friendly program on SIU are encouraged to sign the petition and/or submit comments to the chancellor at:


What is ‘May Day’ and why should I care?

By Bob Velez

“On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike”

Those damn commies . . .

It is easy for us to forget that not too long ago working 16 hour days was the standard for many or even most American wage earners (or stipend earners, as it were).  The workplace for many used to be a dingy, dirty and dangerous factory with little to no attention paid to workplace safety.  No fire escapes; no sprinkler systems; heavy machinery operated by 12 year old children; exit doors that were locked to keep workers in place for their entire shift making them particularly vulnerable should any fire break out (a common occurrence in factories).  One particularly horrific example would be the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City that resulted in the deaths of 146 workers – 123 women and 23 men[1] – who were locked into the building while they worked.

You might say that since it was over one hundred years ago that such issues have been resolved and that few, if any, workers must endure such conditions in the modern world.  While that may be true in the United States, there are myriad examples of factory workers – particularly in developing countries – that remain working in such conditions for less-then-subsistence wages.  I encourage you to visit to get a glimpse at what many in the world still endure.

May Day is celebrated around the world to connote “the grand achievements of the workers of the world in making our world a far, far better place to live in.”  Thankfully, there WAS a labor movement that hit its stride during the Great Depression, organizing thousands of workers into unions that called for higher wages and benefits in exchange for their long hours.  Thankfully, that same labor movement involved itself in the quest for civil rights for African Americans (though organized labor has, admittedly, had a few black eyes in that regard).  The organized labor movement has recently been at the forefront of efforts to get large corporations to pay their employees a living wage, to stop school closures, and to prevent right-to-work laws (more properly named “right to work for less) from reducing the only collective clout that folks who work for a living have when interacting with their employers.

While the United States has its own ‘Labor Day’, May Day – which actually had its origins in the United States as noted in the above quote – is the internationally recognized day for commemorating workers who took action to demand improvements in working conditions and remuneration.  Perhaps those of us working in the university believe that those dark days are way behind us, but just one glance at the agenda of the current Governor of Illinois and his proposals to cut higher education funding and you can easily see that there remains much work to be done.  Get involved!


Unity in Union Diversity: John Flowers’ Ideas on Effecting Change

By James Anderson

Johnathan Flowers ran for president of Graduate Assistants United in 2014 and lost. He ran again in 2015 and won.

The union needs real diversity, Flowers said. As president of GAU, he said he has a responsibility to find out why the union is not protecting the needs of some graduate assistants who fall under its auspices, and to figure out how it can better fulfill that mission.

After losing his bid for GAU presidency in 2014, Flowers said he realized “value of an effective campaign,” which meant talking to more people, listening a lot, asking individuals what they wanted out of the union and dialoguing to discover how best to integrate their desires into his campaign and presidency.

“It’s necessary to have a core set of values and a plan to accomplish those core set of values,” he said. “It’s always necessary to go out and talk to the people that you’re supposed to be representing and find out ways you can align your vision of the union with their vision of the union.”

Unionism in the Family

Flowers, 30, grew up in Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. He said his hometown celebrated diversity, but often in a “problematic” way.

“It tends toward the compositional – ‘look at all the people we have,’ versus the doing of diversity,” he said.

He said authentic diversity initiatives too often meet resistance in Oak Park.

“They’ll be opposed by some pretty conservative viewpoints that are cloaked in liberalism,” Flowers said.

Growing up in Oak Park, Flowers said he also received firsthand knowledge of the role organized labor can play in promoting diversity and building community because both his parents were union members.

“They didn’t just do things with regards to contract bargaining,” he said. “They went out and dealt with the concrete social issues they were facing there. … It was about ensuring that the people who were being protected by the contract felt they were part of a community and felt the union itself was part of the community. So that’s one of the things I’ve carried with me.”

His mother, Sandra Flowers, taught 4th, 5th and 6th grade in Oak Park District 97 and became an activist with the Illinois Education Association local after she started doing curriculum design and pointed out flaws in objectives that could be improved without increasing teacher workload.

“She was just a really active rank and file member. She was present for all the marches,” he said, and “most of the membership meetings.”

Flowers said when his mother, who retired last year, found out he had become active in the graduate assistant’s union, she got excited and started asking him questions. He said she told him all those times she had him on her lap in union meetings must have left an imprint.

While working and union organizing, his mother garnered a reputation for “tenacity and strong will,” and for her principled and occasional “opposition to administration,” he said, “which is, I think, something I’ve inherited from her.”

Flowers’ father was also a member of a union. Working in telephony, which at the time was a highly skilled position, his father told him the union helped secure employment and protect against institutionalized racism.

“Without the union it would’ve been a lot harder because the union actively protected his right to a fair wage, to do the job he’d been trained to and to do the job that he’d been hired for,” Flowers said.

Conversations with his father about how unions have historically helped maintain and support economic rights for African Americans prompted him to consider intersections between racial and economic justice in the past and for the present, he said.

Institutionalized Racism vs. Unity in Diversity

The university is an institution where injustice persists and needs to be addressed, he said.

Prior to being elected president of GAU, Flowers wrote an editorial for the student paper in which he challenged the conception of diversity articulated in another article by Nathan Stephens, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence.

Flowers contested Stephens’ definition of diversity as “compositional,” because a reduction to numbers, Flowers wrote, “creates an idea of diversity, or being diverse, as only concerned with how many ‘diverse,’ individuals are present in the organization,” enabling “institutions to avoid looking at the structures that maintain racism because the presence of diverse bodies ‘proves’ a lack of racism.”

With a “compositional” conception of diversity, universities can defeat arguments about a lack of diversity simply by presenting numbers, which elides the need “to challenge the practices that create the very need to demonstrate diversity in the first place,” Flowers commented in his guest column.

In his February 25 “System Connection” communication, Randy Dunn, president of Southern Illinois University, quoted from Flowers’ column and acknowledged “diversity is not a numbers game.” Improving diversity implies creating a “new place,” cultivating a “new community,” and accepting “commitment beyond the borders of our campuses,” Dunn wrote.

Since the publication of those pieces, Flowers said he has met with both Dunn and Stephens. An ad hoc committee in the Graduate and Professional Student Council to address diversity and inclusivity policy formed as a result of the exchanges, and Flowers said he plans to participate in an open forum on May 6 about those policies and practices with Dunn and Father Brown, a professor of Africana Studies at SIUC and faculty advisor for the Black Affairs Council.

Flowers said a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville also thanked him for writing the editorial and told him via email he would be using it in one of his courses in subsequent semesters.

Although Flowers questioned the “compositional” notion of diversity, he does not deny the compositional nature of organizations.

“Unions are compositional,” he said. “They reflect the interests and ideologies of their member body.”

Union struggles advance the interests and desires of those who comprise it, Flowers offered.

“The union is the end result of all of its members coming together to basically demand their livelihood – a satisfactory livelihood,” he said. “What is taken to be a satisfactory livelihood always emerges out of the composition of the member body. So if your member body is predominantly from one demographic it will represent the ideal of what that demographic’s livelihood is.”

This is why, Flowers said, diverse membership is important for any union.

“If its member body is of a particular demographic or ideological alignment then any of the policies and things that a union engages in advocating for will be in alignment with those things,” he said, adding: “We need a diverse member body so that we can advance ideologies that improve the working conditions and livelihood of all of our students and not just a demographic – not just a small demographic of our students.”

He said he agrees with the argument Sharon Smith makes in her book, “Subterranean Fire: A History of Working Class Radicalism in the United States,” regarding the way white supremacy was used to defeat post-Civil War Reconstruction. It was used “to systematically combat the potential for multiracial class unity,” Smith wrote, continuing: “Racism has been the centerpiece of ruling-class strategy ever since, intended to keep different sections of the working class permanently divided.”

Smith cited the use of the Ku Klux Klan as a vehicle for white supremacist “Redeemers” to overturn black empowerment initiatives during the Reconstruction era through lynching, and she noted the propensity of employers in the North during the era of Jim Crow to refuse to hire blacks – until massive labor shortages during World War I – except sometimes as strikebreakers to sew racial divisions.

White workers, Smith suggested, historically have not benefited from racist policies against black workers, as with racist poll taxes imposing property qualifications in the segregated South that disenfranchised both multitudes of blacks but also tens of thousands of white sharecroppers. Smith references recent work by Michael Reich showing correlations between income inequality between whites and blacks and the degree of inequality between whites.

“Whenever employers have been able to use racism to divide Black from white workers, preventing unionization, both Black and white workers earn lower wages,” Smith concluded. “This is just as true in recent decades as it was 100 years ago.”

Flowers said racism has often been used as a dividing tactic, but he suggested there are socio-historical nuances omitted from Smith’s argument.

“White workers are disadvantaged differently from black workers,” he said.

The roots of the differential disadvantages, Flowers said, are explained in ample documentation, including Cheryl Harris’ oft-cited article “Whiteness as Property,” featured in a 1993 issue of the Harvard Law Review. Harris showed how whiteness evolved from a mere racial identity into a form of property protected by law, paralleling the systems of domination against black persons and American Indians.

Oppression is experienced differently, Flowers added, but is always damaging to people’s ontological vocation to be fully actualized people.

“Our ability to stand in solidarity with each other hinges on the way in which we recognize each other’s situation of oppression as inherently valid to our lived experience,” Flowers said, drawing on his previous research coupling Paulo Freire’s philosophy with phenomenology for an academic conference paper.

Labor history is replete with that kind of solidarity, but has also been blighted by divisive racism.

Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, defended the principle of racial purity, advocated literacy tests to exclude immigrants, used the derogatory term “darkies” to refer to black persons and – even though most of the AFL excluded blacks – said he would let loose “a race hatred far worse than any ever known” if blacks became strikebreakers. During his presidency, the AFL incited the East St. Louis race riots in 1917, which were police-sanctioned beatings of black people and attacks on black residences.

But organizations like the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, formed in the wake of a wildcat strike to oppose both company and established union racism at the Dodge Main auto factory in Detroit, showed unionism could be used to combat racism and gain support from white workers.

“I do not see the historical trajectory of the civil rights movement and other movements that were connected to it as divorced from the interests of the union,” Flowers said.

He said too few know Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated when he went down to Memphis to organize sanitation workers.

“I think unions and organized labor can be vehicles to address all kinds of institutional injustice,” he said.

Assuming Responsibility, Effecting Change 

For Flowers, GAU can become such a vehicle only if it increases the number and diversity of its membership, which is especially important now because contract negotiations with the university administration are ongoing.

“Even if we weren’t bargaining,” he said, “membership would be crucial to me because the more members and the more diverse members we have the better the union can represent the people it’s supposed to be representing – the people it’s supposed to be protecting.”

He added this means more members not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of composition, in terms of graduate assistants from different departments and in terms of the variety of concerns and interests distributed across campus.

To address this, Flowers said he sat down with union officer Natalie Nash.

“Natalie and I have a very, very good working relationship, and I look forward to stepping up and supporting a lot of her membership initiatives,” he said about Nash, who was re-elected vice president for membership in April.

Nash said Flowers was one of the first people to welcome her to the union, and she was excited when she heard he had been elected president.

“I believe that with John’s leadership we will see more representation for students in minority groups and increased awareness of the union across campus and departments,” she wrote via email.

After elections, they decided to examine the bargaining list of current union members and divide the list by department in order to better target recruitment at departments where the coverage is light.

Flowers, who is president of three different sports clubs, said he overheard GAs at the Rec Center express feelings of discontent, and so he intends to meet with assistants at Recreational Sports and Services to discuss ways the union can address their unique needs.

He said he plans to be present for as many departmental orientations in August as possible.

“I kind of want people to know I’m an actual person that you can come talk to,” he said. “I’m not some shadowy figure in a cloak directing things behind the scenes.”

In addition to also engaging student RSOs – something GAU has not traditionally done – Flowers said he wants to reaffirm the “union’s commitment to engaging with the social conditions that affect its members’ lives.”

To advance those issues on a larger level, he helped organize for the May 6 Rally Against Bruce Rauner’s Budget Cuts.

“I think the governor may be disconnected from the reality of what he’s doing,” Flowers said.

Individuals from working class and lower-income backgrounds, people of color and persons with disabilities will be disproportionately affected by the proposed 31% cut to education funding and the likely tuition increases that result, he said, which negates – at least in part – the initiatives and recruitment strategies used by the university to increase demographic diversity.

“I would call this class warfare that has some racial undertones to it,” he said.

Austerity programs that gut services necessary for those who cannot otherwise afford them while annihilating funding for programs like the Counseling Center at SIUC are, Flowers said, placing greater stress on lower and middle income families just to survive.

He is surprised there have not been more incidences of suicide, he said, like when 22-year-old Leo Thornton shot himself in April in front of the US Capitol with a sign that read, “Tax the 1%”

Thornton was from Lincolnwood, Ill., only about 40 miles from Oak Park where Flowers grew up.

Rather than “presiding over” as union president, Flowers said he sees his presidency as service intent on mobilizing collective struggles against the situations of violence undergirding those individual acts of desperation that prevent people from realizing their potentials.

“If you have the capacity to effect positive change that reduces suffering in the world you need to exercise that capacity and you need to keep exercising that capacity regardless of how unpopular it makes you or how difficult it seems,” he said.


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His academic writing has appeared in journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication and the International Review of Information Ethics. His journalistic work and editorials have been featured in news outlets including Truthout, In These Times, Toward Freedom, ROAR Magazine, ZNet and Counterpunch.



GAU Elections Results

Thank you everyone for coming out to vote Wednesday and today. GAU had a great turnout!

The results of the 2015-2016 election is:

John Flowers Philosophy

John Flowers


Natalie Nash
VP for Membership


Sandy Kim
VP for Communications

Joseph Pashea Criminology & Criminal Justice

Joseph Pashea

Many people spoke with the Elections Committee members at the table about involvement with the Union. GA United is volunteer based and we will accept as much or as little assistance as you are willing to provide.

Stewards – Represent your department or academic unit; we need to hear your voice and concerns
Legislative and Political Action Committee – Work towards increasing diversity and activism
Communications Committee – offer your design skills, social media presence, and more
Membership Committee – help with recruitment or offer insight into needs of members
Grievance Committee – help resolve labor disputes
Bargaining Committee – Negotiate the contract and lower employment fees
And more!

This Union is YOUR Union! We are only as strong as our membership so if you can volunteer a couple of hours a month we would love to hear from you.

Thank you all for voting!

In Solidarity,

GA United


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.