Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006

Villager photos by Gary He

Striking N.Y.U. graduate students marched around Washington Square Park in support of their union last Thursday.

Quinn and union leaders support N.Y.U. grad students

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

Undaunted by New York University’s continued rebuffing of their union, striking N.Y.U. graduate assistants rallied outside the university’s Bobst Library last Thursday, with a strong show of support from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and union officials.

Passing cars and trucks honked to show solidarity with the strikers and a large inflatable rat, a symbol of union busting, hovered nearby. The chants and drums from the demonstration could be heard for blocks.

Washington Square News, the N.Y.U. undergraduate newspaper, reported that 350 people were in attendance, although this figure has been hotly contested. Susan Valentine, a striking history graduate student and a representative of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, alleges that there was at least double that number, pointing to the fact that the entire block of Washington Square South was packed.

The rally came just days after a small group of GSOC members received letters informing them that N.Y.U. was suspending their pay for both the current spring semester and next fall, an extension of the administration’s threats from last semester.

Six of the seven graduate teaching assistants, or G.A.’s, whose pay was suspended taught so-called “stand-alone” classes, meaning they were the sole instructors. Two of the seven are in the Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts program and teach classes in expository writing. According to Valentine, because these M.F.A. students pay tuition and are not assured of stipends, they represent a clear-cut case of graduate students who are workers, a classification that is at the heart of the strike.

GSOC contends that while it is customary and warranted to have union members’ pay docked for the time that they are on strike, the suspension is unfair because it takes away pay for prospective work as well.

“I’ve stood with these workers since I was elected to the City Council in 1999 and they won fair and square contract recognition,” Quinn said. “The whole Council stands with GSOC and now I can confidently say that all resources of the City Council are committed to GSOC.”

Among GSOC members and supporters, Quinn’s promotion to speaker is seen as a good omen for the cause.
“Christine Quinn gave a strong message that N.Y.U. can’t bust unions and not face repercussions from city leaders,” said Valentine. Councilmember Robert Jackson also spoke in support of the striking students.

Roger Toussaint, president of the Transport Workers Union, while currently out of favor with many New Yorkers after leading last month’s three-day transit strike, enjoyed rock star status at the rally.

Toussaint pledged his support and compared the recent transit strike to the graduate assistant strike.

“If you don’t get a contract, shut it down!” Toussaint said. “T.W.U. is in solidarity with GSOC. We salute you because you are fighting for the right to be heard.”

Toussaint went on to say that while the T.W.U. was up against the city, GSOC is standing up against the president of the United States, a reference to the National Labor Relations Board appointed by President Bush that reversed a previous ruling by the N.L.R.B. compelling private universities to recognize unions of graduate assistants.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Teachers Federation, said the U.F.T. supports the union and that U.F.T. won’t provide teacher-training partnerships with the university until it recognizes GSOC. She called on the mayor to intervene to resolve the labor dispute.

Many speakers addressed the fact that the strike was a show of strength and solidarity for the labor movement, exemplified by the many different unions in attendance

“Everybody is here from different unions,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. “But where we are from doesn’t matter. We stand together for democracy and workers’ rights.”

GSOC members left the demonstration with a renewed sense of commitment.

“I am absolutely pleased with the outcome of the rally,” said Valentine. “I’d say that it was successful, although labor history shows that there is no possibility of forecasting how long a strike will continue,” said Valentine. “It is a waiting game, but that isn’t a measure of success. There is no magic bullet, but we are still hopeful.”

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