Swarthmore College

Occasionally we supplement discussion about topics in the liberal arts and higher education with a short list of books and other materials that enliven our understanding. 

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Barry Eidlin suggests that the unionization of academic workers not only marks a trend within higher education, but has the potential to shift the tendencies of the national labor movement. Academic workers in United Auto Workers (UAW) locals have played an important role in the campaign for direct elections within the national union, a change that would be, according to Eidlin, “the most far-reaching structural reform in the UAW’s history.” (The referendum passed shortly after Eidlin’s article was published.) Eidlin highlights the formation of coalitions within the union  through the various reform caucuses working on the “one member, one vote” campaign and thus points to the connection between higher education workers and those in other industries.

Also, since November 3, members of UAW Local 2110, a unit of 3,000 graduate workers at Columbia University, have been on strike. Writing in the Chronicle about their longstanding effort to secure a contract,  Mia Florin-Sefton and Ben Hulett assert, “our strike is not a sideshow; it’s a response to damaging, large-scale trends in higher education, including the rise of a consumer model of education, the casualization of academic labor, widespread student debt, and the financialization of university assets.” The struggle at Columbia is reflective of wider struggles, particularly in a moment of worker discontent amidst skyrocketing endowment returns and corporate profit rates

Here is selected reading on the history of the alignment of industrial and academic unions, academic unionism more broadly, and the formation of coalitions between workers in higher education institutions.

About the Author

Andy Hines is the Associate Director of the Aydelotte Foundation. He is the author of Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism and the University .

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December 9, 2021
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