Columbia student workers begin sixth week of strike action, defying threats from college strikebreakers

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The past week saw a sharp escalation in the strike by 3,000 student workers at Columbia University in New York City, which continues despite threats from government strikebreakers. In an effort to end the walkout ahead of the finals, the university has warned striking student workers that it could replace them in the spring semester if they remain on strike beyond Friday, December 10.

Picketing at Columbia University (WSWS Media)

Columbia workers rejected this attempt at economic blackmail and held the picket line. A poll conducted by the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC) bargaining committee found that 87 percent of union members and nearly 77 percent of strike supporters wanted the strike to continue. Of those who wanted to extend the strike, 98 percent said they wanted to do so in direct response to threats from the administration.

In response to threats from Columbia not to rehire the workers, the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The union argues that the strike is a strike for unfair labor practices rather than an economic strike. In the first type of strike, it is illegal for employers to retaliate by replacing workers.

SWC’s parent union United Auto Workers (UAW) continues to limit strike pay to a poverty line of $ 275 per week, despite having a massive strike fund of nearly $ 800 million dollars, hoping that the economic impact on the strikers will force them to agree to a deal.

The escalation of the strike led to the intervention of the Democratic Party. New York Democratic Congressional Representative Jerry Nadler wrote a letter to Columbia University on Wednesday congratulating the union and calling for “good faith” negotiations between the bargaining unit and the administration. Nadler’s letter was signed by several Democratic representatives in the US Congress in New York, including Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members Jamal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

New York State Senator Robert Jackson also appeared on the picket line on Wednesday to declare his support for the striking students. The intervention of these Democrats reflects an understanding of the politically volatile situation in which the strike is taking place. The strike, the largest in the country today, is part of a wave of international strikes that emerged this fall and just as another deadly wave of the pandemic erupts.

In the meantime, the mediation process continues. In mid-November, SWC management agreed to bring in third-party state mediator Kevin Flanigan to talk to the university. Since then, talks have given way to concession after concession, with Flanigan continually threatening to cancel his participation if the students did not want to budge on some key demands.

One such request abandoned by the SWC was the provision that students working less than 10 hours per week be covered by the university’s health insurance plan, which represents several millions of dollars saved by the university. The initial demand for an hourly wage of $ 26 was reduced to $ 24. The wage increases being discussed stand at a paltry 3 percent a year over what could be a 5-year deal.

To put that into perspective, inflation hit 6.8% last month, increasing at a rate not seen since the 1980s. opportunity jumped 31 percent. In view of this inflation, the CFC and the university are now negotiating primarily on the extent of the pay cut that working students will receive.

Columbia admitted in a letter Friday that the strike caused a major disruption at the school. In many cases, it is not possible to give students a grade outside of pass or fail for their courses. In other cases, students will simply receive a temporary “Credit Pending” grade, with classes continuing beyond the semester.

Faced with their inability to convince hardworking students to end their strike, the deans of Columbia’s four undergraduate schools are currently working on other contingency plans in case the strike continues through the finals and beyond. the rating period.

The administration of Columbia University is made up of the most loyal representatives of American capitalism. Its president, Lee Bollinger, earns more than a million dollars a year, while the university’s board of trustees is made up of senior officials from business, military and state apparatuses.

Students who oppose low wages and living standards confront not only their employers, but the entire financial system. In order to win their demands, the Columbia strikers must expand their reach to other universities and industries across the city, the country and the world. However, the main obstacle to such a mobilization of graduate students has been the strike leadership itself, the UAW, as well as the AFL-CIO bureaucracy in general.

Whether it is organizing student workers at prestigious American universities or factory workers in manufacturing plants across the Midwest, the American workers’ apparatus is utterly hostile to any action that threatens the interests of profit. that make its privileged position possible.

The UAW is a particularly corrupt and filthy manifestation of the historic bankruptcy of the American trade union system. Two former UAW presidents, Dennis Williams and Gary Jones, are currently serving prison sentences for embezzling union funds.

In 2021, the union oversaw the betrayal of the struggles of 3,000 Volvo Trucks workers in Dublin, Virginia, 10,000 John Deere workers across the country and more than 3,500 Dana Automotive workers as they searched to win back decades of concessions. In each of these cases, the union bureaucracy resorted to lies, manipulation and threats to intimidate workers into accepting contracts that similarly did not reach even a basic increase in real wages. . The workers formed grassroots committees to coordinate and develop their opposition to the clearance sale contracts independent of the union.

Struggling students at Columbia must turn away from the corrupt union bureaucracy and instead turn to organizing an independent grassroots committee. The International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) is a network of workers’ organizations that are completely independent from unions and seek to unite workers from all industries internationally against attacks on jobs, wages and standard of living. . The grassroots committees are united in the idea that there is no shared “common interest” between the profits of big business and the working class. the World Socialist Website will provide full assistance to strikers in Columbia interested in forming such a committee. Contact us today.


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