Pete Martel (PhD candidate) discusses lessons he learned from the Graduate Employees Organization strike.
This is Ford School Currents, now with Pete Martel.
Pete is a third year PhD student in Public Policy and Sociology.
The Graduate Employees Organization, the union that represents some 2100
graduate student instructors at the university, went on strike for eight
days in September of 2020. The main issues were related to the graduate
students' objections to the way the university was re opening amidst the
COVID 19 pandemic. So a four day strike turned into an eight day strike.
What do you feel you accomplished and what did you learn through this
process? There were a number of issues that
we felt had real substantive meat to our workplace that the university just
refused to bargain over. Things such as requests for increased DEI positions
and a disarmed and demilitarized workplace, as well as, mandatory trainings
regarding inclusive teaching, land acknowledgements, and resources for our
students to record sexual harassment and bias incidents.
The university refused to bargain over those issues. I think and I hope
that it raised the issue to the university on terms that this is
important. This isn't just a few radicalized students in the graduate department
at U of M who have these issues that are near and dear
to them. There was a broad base of support for this
and we knew what we were up against. Everything was online.
So we ended up with some general membership meetings and Zoom conferences
that included over 1200 members. It's a fully democratic process where
issues are raised by different committees and different plank members, and
they're voted on, and they're explained. And there's lengthy, very lengthy
Q&A sections and lots of discussion where everybody's invited to participate
and eventually vote on which issues and how we wanna go about resolving
those issues. The two main issues that were continued were striking over
the reopening plan and striking over defunding or disarming the campus police.
So you've taken us through the broader issues and the movement and what
you were trying to accomplish as a group. How did it affect you
personally in terms of the way that you approach social justice issues?
So I think some key takeaways, as an old White guy,
was our hearts can be in the right place. We need to listen
to people that are directly impacted by these issues
and we need to inform our actions according to what they tell us.
Democracy is a clunky drawn out process, but it's a good process.
We need to give space, we need to give voice to people who
are often left out of the democratic process.
Listening to the people, the discrete and insular minority, who are often
left out of the democratic process, because where majority rules, the minority
is left without rights. So we need to give a special protection and
make sure they're heard, that they have say in what happens,
and that they have an equitable voice in the process. Pete Martel, thank
you very much. Thanks for having me.