The political lessons of the University of Illinois graduate student strike
16 April 2019
Last Tuesday, members of the Graduate Employees Organization Local 6297 (GEO), the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) graduate student union, voted to ratify a new contract with the University administration. The three-year deal increases the minimum salary for graduate student workers by $2,550 over three years and provides some small reductions in university fees and cost of health care.
On the following Wednesday night, UIC’s faculty union announced a 93 percent yes vote to authorize a strike. The faculty will continue bargaining with the administration, with the first day of a potential strike being April 26.
The GEO has proclaimed its agreement to be a massive success and the contract to be the best deal in the organization’s history. However, the reality is that grad students at UIC will continue to struggle to meet basic cost-of-living expenses while working for a tier-1 research university.
The agreement in no way changes the basic fact of the massive exploitation of graduate students. Whatever the wage increases contained in the deal, they will be eaten up by fees. Pursuing a strategy based on appealing to the UIC administration and ultimately the Democratic Party, which oversees UIC, this sellout deal was the inevitable outcome.
Grad students demonstrated great courage in taking up this fight. However, from the outset, the unions sought to isolate and sabotage their struggle and prevent it from linking up with broader struggles of the working class.
Significantly, the GEO decided to call off the strike just as other sections of the UIC campus were rallying around the grad students. Undergraduate students at UIC, who overwhelmingly supported the…