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UC Strike is Energizing a Movement of Research Workers

Research has resumed across the University of California (UC) system, following a breakthrough in negotiations late last month that brought the largest higher-education strike in US history to a close. Tens of thousands of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and other academic staff are heading back to work with higher wages and more benefits because of the strike, but that’s not all: the revolt has injected fresh momentum into a growing unionization movement at university campuses across the United States.

“This shows that massive strikes in higher education are possible, and that people can win significant improvements in their working conditions,” says Rebecca Givan, co-director of the Center for Work and Health at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and chair of the union representing academic employees there. “Academic workers everywhere are taking note.”

Although the deals to end the strike left some UC workers disappointed, advocates and scholars say that the six-week stand-off represents a landmark achievement for a growing labour movement. Some 48,000 employees across all 10 of the university’s campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will receive expanded benefits and wage increases ranging from 20% to 80%, which supporters say will help offset rising costs for housing and health care. Union organizers also proclaimed it the very first “research strike”, as graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and non-tenure-track academics united to bring science at their institutions to a standstill.

There was a perception that “the work we do in the labs is not labour”, says Rafael Jaime, a scholar in English literature at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and president of the union representing graduate students and undergraduate workers. “But we have changed that perception.”

The word is spreading: union representatives involved in strikes at UC and other universities say that they are fielding queries from researchers at various academic institutions about how to organize unions, conduct negotiations and implement strikes. Some are even preparing workshops in the coming months to accommodate demand.

“This is a movement about hope,” says Johannah King-Slutzky, a graduate student in literature at Columbia University in New York and a union organizer there, who is helping with the workshops. “When you see a success on one campus, you feel energized to take similar steps on your own.”

Read entire article at Nature