By JOHN LESLIE
In the second week of a graduate student strike at Philadelphia’s Temple University, the university has made a move to break the strike by threatening the tuition and benefits of the strikers. Striking students received the following message: “As a result of your participation in the TUGSA strike, your tuition remission has been removed for the Spring semester. You now owe the full balance listed in TUpay, which is due by Thursday, March 9. If your balance is not paid in full by the due date, you will be assessed a $100 late payment fee and a financial hold will be placed on your student account. This hold will prevent future registration.”
A tweet posted by TUGSA on Feb. 9 states that Temple “told the mediator that they refuse to come back to the table without us making significant cuts to our proposals. They would rather cut our healthcare and tuition remission and pay scabs than bargain. We’re ready to bargain anytime. The world is watching.” Another tweet says: “Members say this was done so haphazardly that they’ve heard of benefits being yanked from people who aren’t even in the union.”
Meanwhile, the administration is trying to get adjunct faculty members to scab on the grad students. A letter sent to adjunct instructors by Dean Richard E. Deeg offers inducements to adjuncts to cross the line: “… we are looking for faculty to immediately take over teaching courses in which graduate student instructors have gone on strike. Below and attached you will find a list of courses for which we are currently seeking volunteer faculty who will teach the course to the end of the term. Adjunct faculty who volunteer will be compensated depending on the number of courses they teach now and the additional credits they are willing to teach.”
TUGSA chief negotiator Matt Ford told Workers’ Voice that “they [Temple] have tried this union-busting stuff that they’ve done this week with tuition remission and health care, and that’s not surprising. I’ve talked to multiple people in the past few days who told me that this sort of thing specific to grad worker unions has never happened before. There’s never been these sorts of cuts, these kinds of retaliatory union busting actions taken.”
Ford said that members are committed and willing to “stick it out as long as it takes.” In a tweet, TUGSA stated, “We hope that the world will see how @TempleUniv has disgustingly treated their grad student workers, & also see the incredible display of solidarity we’re grateful to receive from community members to online activists. We will stand strong together.”
Daily pickets are moving around campus to buildings where scab instructors are teaching classes. Every day at the Bell Tower, a central campus location, strikers talk to undergrads about what the strike is about and why it matters to them. These “strike classes” are essential for spreading the word among the student body. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 2 p.m., undergraduate students are staging a walkout and solidarity rally at the Bell Tower, despite threatening emails from the administration.
It is especially important for the other unions on campus—from the full-time professors to blue-collar staff to clerical workers—to take a stand against Temple’s blatant union busting. The Temple University Association of University Professionals (TAUP) contract with Temple expires on Oct. 15 of this year and it is very possible that Temple will play the same ruthless games with them. Said Ford, “They’re probably going to play hardball with TAUP. … TAUP should be aware of the importance of what we are doing—even if it is just a self-interested thing. If they [Temple] are able to crush us, then TAUP stands no chance.”
Solidarity is necessary at this crucial juncture. Unions in Philadelphia like to say that “Philly is a union town,” but if Temple is allowed to break this strike, this claim will be hollow. Philadelphia’s union movement must mobilize itself in solidarity and show Temple what the power of the labor movement looks like.
As Workers Voice wrote in a previous article, “In this current fight, the labor movement of Philadelphia and nationally must speak with one voice: ‘Victory to TUGSA!’ and ‘Education is a right, not a privilege!’ All working people in the region and nationally have an interest in the victory of the Temple grad students. Their victory is ours. This means that we have to build concrete solidarity in the unions and neighborhoods to let Temple know that their union busting is unacceptable.”
Contribute to the TUGSA Strike Fund! All out to support TUGSA! Solidarity with the strikers! One day longer, one day stronger!
Photo by John Leslie / Workers’ Voice