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Grad Students Should Grow Up

By Travis R. Kavulla

On a 482-141 vote, it began. Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) went on strike last week to gain recognition from the university as a legitimate labor union. Let’s hope they don’t get it.

GESO has a rather dubious history. For starters, its leadership has consistently claimed that its membership reaches over 50 percent of all Yale graduate students. Yet, the number of union members who turned out to vote for or against the strike is a curious detail. After all, a mere 623 graduate students voted, out of 2,334 campus-wide. For the most important vote in the union’s entire existence, then, only half of its claimed members even showed up. With a “yes” vote of only one-fifth of all graduate students to strike in the first place, it is a small wonder that the Yale administration isn’t taking GESO’s claims seriously.

GESO’s guerilla tactics are another cause for concern. Non-organized graduate students report intimidation in the dining hall from union activists and at Graduate Student Association meetings stacked with pro-GESO partisans who control the discourse. And unlike most unions, including their fellow co-strikers Locals 34 and 35, a “Coordinating Committee” controls most actions of GESO, rather than a majority vote of its membership.

Even more disheartening is GESO’s audacity in comparing itself to Locals 34 and 35, composed of Yale clerical and service workers respectively. Those who hasten to sympathize with any pro-labor cause should not delude themselves: GESO is composed of a minority of Yale’s graduate students whose education is paid for, whose room and board are subsidized and who are well on their way to professorships. It is telling that the only thing GESO is demanding is formal recognition; after all, Yale’s graduate students already have what most striking laborers demand. Locals 34 and 35, on the other hand, are made up of hard-working men and women, who have real concerns about health care and pensions, and whose demands correspond to these demonstrated needs. Comparing Yale’s real laborers to GESO, a small collection of undemocratic and undeserving non-workers, only trivializes the urgent needs of Yale’s long-term employees.

Comparable to a call for unionizing student teachers in the public schools, Teaching Assistant (TA) unionization was an inane fantasy across the board until very recently. Early attempts by small groups of graduate students to unionize failed across the country after majorities of their colleagues voted down such ridiculous proposals down. Today, nothing has changed except increased pressure and democratic fronts from groups like GESO. Being a TA still is an integral part of a grad student’s learning experience, not a long-lasting employment contract.

Yale’s administration should not recognize GESO not only because TA unionization is ridiculous, but also because GESO specifically is an untrustworthy negotiations partner. Giving GESO collective bargaining rights through formal recognition will allow a small cartel of graduate students to further their coercive tactics to increase their membership, telling non-organized TAs to join or lose out on benefits. The members of Locals 34 and 35 deserve more respect, but putting themselves in cahoots with the GESO transforms labor’s demands into a parody.

—Travis R. Kavulla is an editorial editor.

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