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The Point: Strikewave! In Our Backyard


Greetings, Colleagues:

I hope you have been managing to teach your classes and do some of your own research in some satisfactory way on our campus even as you battle with all the noise, noise, noise!

In this week’s Point I want, simply, to direct your attention to one word: strikewave! If you have been reading labor news and/or academic news from around the country in the past few weeks you have no doubt encountered the word “strikewave!” It is a fantastic sounding word, not least (for me, anyway) for how it invokes this thrilling song.  Our union cannot strike, but that does not mean that we should ignore how much of this strike activity is happening in our own backyard—especially if we construe “backyard” both geographically and occupationally.  One important task for all of us in the FSU this year is to figure out how to demonstrate solidarity with all our union comrades around the country.

Here in Massachusetts it is impossible—in these tragic pandemic days—to avoid news of the St. Vincent's nurse strike, now the longest work stoppage in commonwealth history. I can’t help but think of our students in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, training to take on this crucial frontline work, as we read details of the various forces arrayed against these brave workers: this is a real Which Side Are You On moment.

We are also in the midst of a major spike in labor activity in our professional backyard. While so many of us hoped that the pandemic would spark a crisis of conscience in university administration and state government, we seem, actually, to be seeing a continuation (and in fact an intensification) of the cruel austerity politics that have characterized higher education funding for much of this century. Aaron Bady has recently reminded us that too many people “outside of higher ed—and too many in it—often don’t recognize the extent to which universities are run by tiny gangs of politically-appointed CEOs and bankers, having over the years stripped educators of most substantive power.”

But academic labor is rising! From the graduate workers at MIT who recently voted to form a union, and those at Columbia University and Harvard University who have recently held successful strike authorization votes, to our colleagues in the California State system who have recently declared their contract negotiations to be at impasse, and those at Spelman University and Oakland University who went on strike last month, we see university workers around the country saying no—no to unsafe working conditions, no to the bait-and-switch politics of rapidly growing endowments and rapidly decreasing budgets at private universities, no to the self-destructive politics of disinvestment in public higher education here in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

We will have plenty of action items for you to consider in the coming weeks and months (in addition to those embedded in some of today’s links) but for now we just want to pose a simple question: now that we are back on campus, why is our own administration resisting a continuation of the successful expanded bargaining experiment we piloted in the remote environment? Embracing expanded bargaining meant that many more of us faculty got to be a part of the process.  But our administration—which sends out its own email blasts on a regular basis thanking us all for being such dedicated team players—seems not to want too many of us in the room when we meet them back at the bargaining table. 

The FSU Executive Committee and core bargaining team believe that expanded bargaining shines a cleansing light on the complex relationships that constitute our workplace.  But upper administration on our campus, at least so far, seem to be worried about what will happen if too many of us get a direct look at how the sausage gets made around here.  Our leadership, like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, apparently believe that we can’t handle the truth. We can.

The UMB administration has regularly made rhetorical commitments to equity and inclusion.  Expanded bargaining is one method to assert just these values. Vibrant unions are central to the struggle for equity on campus and help promote inclusion by making sure that decision-making power is not concentrated in the hands of too few people.  When we meet at the bargaining table we hammer our practical agreements, but we also do the consequential work of declaring our values and our vision—as faculty members and librarians—for the institution.  We remain more than a bit perplexed that our upper administration does not embrace the opportunity to also do this, with as many engaged observers as possible!

This is your union. Please let us know at how you think we should support our union comrades around the country—academic and otherwise—as we continue to build our own collective power on campus.


Jeff Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage