Rutgers Academic Workers Are Striking for the Future of Public Education

Rutgers college students and school take part in a strike on the college’s most important campus on April 10, 2023 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Janine Jackson interviewed Rutgers’ Donna Murch in regards to the classes of the Rutgers strike for the April 21, 2023, episode of CounterSpin.

It is a flippantly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: Hundreds of lecturers — full-time, tenured, part-time, adjunct — grad college students, counselors and others at New Jersey’s Rutgers College went on strike this month, an unprecedented labor motion on the 257-year-old establishment.

Staff standing up wherever can have rippling results, however someway when it’s educators at a public college, there appears to be an added alternative to search out some classes within the struggle.

The story at Rutgers remains to be unfolding; we’re joined now for an replace by Donna Murch, affiliate professor of historical past at Rutgers, and New Brunswick chapter president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. She joins us now by cellphone. Welcome back to CountersSpin, Donna Murch.

Donna Murch: Hello, Janine. It’s a pleasure to be right here. I’m a giant fan of the present.

Properly, thanks very a lot!

Listeners ought to know we’re recording on Thursday, April 20, and I’m studying that the strike is over, and likewise that it’s not over. And I additionally hear that some actual concrete good points that employees had been calling for have been secured. So possibly fill us in on the present state of affairs.

So we went on strike final Monday — not this previous Monday, however roughly 10 days in the past — and it was the primary strike, in Rutgers’ 257-year historical past, of its educational employees.

There was a strike, I feel in 1987, of AFSCME employees; an injunction was used towards them. However there’s by no means been a strike of educational employees. And it is a massive deal, as a result of it’s a multi-union strike, and it’s cross-job class. So it contains three unions.

The Rutgers AAUP-AFT covers grad employees, post-docs, EOF counselors, non-tenure monitor lecturers, full-time school and tenure-stream school. The college is a really hierarchical place, and our union contains these many various classes, which is sort of uncommon. It goes again to 1970.

However we’ve managed to construct a robust marketing campaign that has introduced all these completely different teams collectively, in addition to forming a direct alliance with the PTLFC, which is the part-time lecturers for College, and the BHSNJ, which is the union for medical employees.

So that is actually fairly outstanding. There have been 9,000 folks on strike from final Monday to Friday, after which after a marathon bargaining session on the governor’s mansion — and I can discuss what’s occurring with that, as a result of it’s fairly necessary to understanding the dynamic — they got here to an settlement that’s referred to as a authorized framework.

It’s not but a tentative settlement, which is a authorized class. So first you begin with the framework, then the tentative settlement, after which the signed contract. So we’re nonetheless in that strategy of bargaining each financial and non-economic calls for.

We agreed as an govt council to droop the strike to proceed negotiations. And there have been a number of causes this occurred.

The primary is that we’ve got been below a number of strain. Sadly, our president, Jonathan Holloway, who got here to Rutgers in July 2020, he has proved very, very anti-union. I feel that there are methods that you possibly can argue that he’s probably the most anti-union president that we’ve had.

So when it grew to become clear that negotiations had been breaking down — we’ve got not had a contract now for nearly 290 days; our contracts of all of the unions at Rutgers, except for AFSCME, had been up in June — and the administration has simply been horrible.

They typically wouldn’t come to the bargaining desk. After they did, they might repeat the identical issues again and again. They refused to deal with particular proposals by all of the completely different job classes, together with the graduate college students, who submitted their proposals in Might, and we’ve solely begun bargaining them over the past month, and it’s true of many different classes of employees, in addition to proposals.

So when the negotiations started to interrupt down a few month in the past, Jonathan Holloway despatched a letter straight from the president to the entire completely different school, grad employees, all of the completely different classes inside our bargaining unit. And he additionally despatched it to the entire undergraduates, and it was a really threatening letter.

He stated that public sector strikes in New Jersey are unlawful, and people who take part in them, the people may be fined, the unions may be fined, and there’s menace of arrest, and to have interaction in this sort of job motion can be met with, basically, the penalties.

Now, what was hanging about that is that it isn’t true. Public sector strikes in New Jersey usually are not unlawful. There may be no statute overlaying them. With the intention to make a strike unlawful, the employer — on this case, Jonathan Holloway — if there’s a strike, he goes to a courtroom and seeks an injunction.

Generally they’re granted, generally they’re not; a lot of the injunctions towards public sector employees, sadly, have been used to struggle towards grade faculty lecturers and Okay–12 lecturers at school districts.

So when you get the injunction, you return to the hanging employees, normally with a cease-and-desist order to inform them to cease. After which, in the event that they don’t cease, then it’s important to go to a second listening to, and search penalties. And people penalties can embrace what I stated.

One which I disregarded, the type of complet that’s out there, is the penalties for the entire union, penalties for people that can not be paid by the union, arrest or firing.

So this was a shot throughout the bow in a working-class state like New Jersey, that has actually powerful, gritty class politics, and he miscalculated.

Each his robust anti-union stance, and he selected a representative, Chris Christie‘s head of labor relations, who labored for the Christie administration from 2010 to 2014. That is the chief bargainer that our president selected.

I feel he actually miscalculated what it’s prefer to be at a public college like Rutgers, and that the scholars, the employees of every kind, are infuriated by this. And it’s been met with an actual vibrant type of industrial organizing.

We discuss it as intersectional organizing, and twenty first century industrial unionism within the public sector, which has actually, I feel, develop into the vanguard in one of the radical wings, partially as a result of individuals are preventing for public infrastructure, making calls for, not nearly wages, but additionally bargaining for the widespread good.

Information media appear to nearly all the time scale back any hanging employee’s calls for to more cash.


However you’re articulating it in a way more sophisticated and fascinating, frankly, context. Staff’ compensation isn’t one thing that occurs in a vacuum, and right here at Rutgers, by no means thoughts wider society, it’s priorities when it comes to the usage of sources which might be at situation, proper?

Completely. I feel this level about wages is extremely necessary. I’ve been pondering lots about why this motion is rising now, and what its relationship was even to the world that I grew up in; I used to be nonetheless coming of age below the Chilly Struggle within the ’70s and ’80s, and the assault on the labor motion was so profound.

And it occurs at a time when, additionally, the composition of labor unions is altering, of organized labor itself, and turning into extra feminine, Blacker and browner. And it’s on this interval that we truly start to see the actual strikes on the public sector. And people two issues are occurring concurrently, for a number of causes.

I all the time consider George Meany, the primary head of the AFL-CIO, who said, “The organized fellow is the guy that counts.” And that was the type of unionism that, to begin with, supported the anti-Communist Chilly Struggle violence throughout, together with Vietnam. However the home focus was on a unionism for probably the most elite employees: white and male and craft.

So in the present day it’s fascinating, as a result of the college itself can be attempting to push us in direction of wage calls for. The factor that’s made the union robust is attempting to talk to every job class, and to privilege the bottom paid. And that features the adjunct employees and the graduate school and the EOF counselors.

So you might have tenure-track school, and we’re all doing this, utilizing tenure to struggle for the contingent classes of labor. So in that sense, it’s a extremely thrilling factor.

However each time I discuss to reporters, and I’ve finished a number of media work, I do that work — after all, you already knew —b ut of attempting to clarify to them why we have to deal with different calls for.

That stated, industrial campaigns are actually exhausting. That is the primary strike. And I feel having all these job classes is nice for constructing energy, however whenever you come to the bargaining desk, you confront the lengthy historical past of, actually, anti-labor union practices.

And I’ve realized many issues. In fact, we’re nonetheless within the midst of it. You requested the place we are actually. That is, what, Thursday, so it’s the fourth day of our suspension; you don’t embrace the weekend. So I feel there’s going to be a dialogue tonight, the place we get updates from the bargaining desk, and determine if we’re going to renew the strike.

There are causes to renew the strike. There are numerous demands that we might nonetheless prefer to win, together with higher language and constructions for our non-economic proposals, together with 5 years of graduate funding that’s centrally funded, and our bargaining for the common-good calls for to serve communities in New Jersey and struggle for undergraduate debt reduction.

So we’ll see. It’s crucial to know that our strike is suspended, not ended, and that we might return on strike, relying on what the union decides. We don’t but have a tentative settlement.

However being concerned on this course of and seeing bargaining…. What I all the time thought with bargaining is that the issue was those who had slender calls for. However seeing those who I do know very properly and respect a terrific deal undergo bargaining, it simply exhibits me that we’re having a robust resurgence of labor organizing, however we’re nonetheless confronting the narrowness of the probabilities, and we’re attempting to squeeze ourselves by way of these slender channels and widen them, hopefully for all employees, simply because the Chicago Teachers Union, the UTLA lecturers union in Los Angeles, the Crimson Tide in Oklahoma and in West Virginia, widened the tide for us.

One of many causes that I do know that individuals are seeing what’s occurring at Rutgers as tremendous hopeful is, to begin with, the concrete win of elevated wages for some people and acknowledgement and visibility, but it surely’s additionally the coalitional nature of the work.

Tenured professors standing in solidarity with grad college students, with researchers and lecturers — after which additionally college students, who’re refusing the body that some politicians and a few media are utilizing that implies that their pursuits are pitted towards these of college. The breadth of this effort has been necessary, hasn’t it?

It has. I feel it’s been extremely necessary, and it is a technique to construct energy. I additionally suppose that one factor I discover thrilling about Rutgers is that everyone knows in regards to the unimaginable social inequality within the US, and the way it’s getting worse day-to-day. And the one answer I see for that is larger labor organizing, interval.

I’ve been concerned in many various sorts of activism all through my life, however I made a decision to essentially become involved within the union motion round 2015, 2016, as a result of I noticed clearly the rise of racial fascism, the election of Trump, after which later I used to be in Brazil proper after Bolsonaro was elected, and it was one of the horrifying experiences that I’ve had.

And it wasn’t as a result of I noticed issues that had been horrifying; it needed to do with the extent of concern of the those who I used to be visiting, a few of whom had had members of the family killed within the army dictatorship.

So I feel that the labor unions now, actual left labor unions, like the type we had earlier than Taft/Hartley, are actually necessary for financial good points, and likewise as political opposition.

Thanks, Donna Murch, for becoming a member of us this week on CounterSpin.

Thanks a lot.

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