On Friday, grads braved pouring rain to hold lively pickets at the CCRB construction site and at Rackham’s graduate commencement. Many of the picketing workers are graduating themselves, and took the chance to reflect. “It’s so beautiful to be able to gather and celebrate our students, while at the same time fighting to leave this institution a better place for those who come after us,” said Michael, a Math PhD candidate. “I want UM to be a place where GSIs can give their students the attention they deserve and not be constantly worried about how to make ends meet. This contract will take us closer to making that a reality.”
International GSIs and other grads gathered to picket on North Campus, highlighting the unique challenges IGSIs face, and the proposals put forward to remedy them. The University wants a ‘global campus.’ This is impossible to achieve without our international grad workers, who provide quality instruction in countless departments, and are the majority of language instructors to UM students. With signs and chants in more than nine languages, grads highlighted the demands that will make this campus truly global: a fund to ensure that international grad workers are no longer forced to pay extra expenses out of pocket, robust sanctuary campus policies, and the living wage and dignity that we all deserve.
On Monday, math GSIs picketed outside of East Hall, where a small group of scabbing workers graded the final exams of hundreds of students whose GSIs are on strike. Grading the work of students one has not taught is violation of professional ethics and an infringement on academic freedom. More importantly, it’s not fair to the undergrads whose work is being assessed by instructors they have never met. Katie, a math PhD, explained, “We really wish we were proctoring and supporting our students this morning. We really wish we were in there grading, taking a really careful look at our students' exams and being able to do the nuanced grading that we generally do. We’re sad that we’re not doing that this morning. We’re out here today to encourage people not to do our work for us. The small groups of graders who are scabbing can’t do as good of a job as we would be able to do all together. There’s power in numbers. Replacing our labor today weakens the power of union labor across the university.
On Thursday, Santa Ono proved he would rather try to arrest his workers than pay us a living wage, calling the cops on picketers just hours after withholding pay from hundreds of striking grad workers. Grads had arrived outside Ono’s private dinner party on Thursday evening, hoping to discuss UM’s decision to withhold pay. When Ono refused to speak with them, Grads continued to picket outside the restaurant until Ono left, immediately getting into his car and once again ignoring the picketers. Grads stood in front of the car with hands held up, chanting “what do we want? Our paychecks now.” Instead of engaging with his workers, Ono remained in his vehicle, which accelerated into the grads, pushing them into the intersection. Although the restaurant was several blocks off campus, campus police arrived. Instead of deescalating, they shoved and detained workers. Picketers and bystanders gathered at the scene, chanting “let them go.” After several minutes, the officers released the detained workers.
Grads started the day bright and early on Thursday, joining forces with labor siblings from the building trades to shut down the billion dollar Michigan Medicine pavilion construction site. Together, workers again showed the administration that we have the power to stop business as usual, and will do so until we win the contract we deserve. Allies from the nurses union brought cookies and an important reminder: as we fight for our own contract, we also set an important precedent for other unions around the university. The administration can’t intimidate any of us out of the fair contract we know we deserve.