By JOHN CAST
On Monday, April 10, over 9000 union members at three Rutgers University campuses went on strike, signifying an escalation of class struggle in the face of continued intransigence by the Rutgers University administration. This is also a historic moment for the university—the first ever strike of workers at Rutgers in its over two and a half centuries of existence. Rutgers is the state university of New Jersey, with close to 70,000 students.
At the picket line in Camden, N.J., we interviewed Jim Brown, an Associate Professor of English at the Camden campus, and president of the Camden AAUP-AFT, one of the three unions participating in the strike. When speaking of the scope of the strike, he described it as “everyone together, across all three campuses, essentially everyone who teaches at Rutgers. … Adjuncts, full-time, graduate students, post docs, everyone.”
The strike also has a wide base of support among the student population. That is understandable, as this strike is not just about working conditions but also “a version of the university that doesn’t require precarity to exist, and systematic exploitation, particularly of adjunct and part time workers,” one student who went to the picket line told a reporter for Portside. With solidarity among the rank and file and growing support nationally, there’s hope for another union victory at an East Coast university.
Equal pay for equal work; for a living wage
Brown told us that the strike was about “equal pay for equal work for our part-time faculty, … a living wage for our graduate student workers, and fair pay for our postdoctoral associates.” He added that the fight is not led only by workers seeking raises, but also “people who are tenured, or on the tenured track, who are not fighting for their own wage but who are fighting for those who are making the least and who have the least job security.”
These comments are reflected on the AAUP-AFT website, which in an article addressing the lies of Rutgers President Holloway, states that the university administration has refused all pay increases, and even refused COVID assistance to grads affected by the pandemic, even while holding up COVID as one of the reasons for refusing pay increases. “This position is indefensible,” states the AAUP-AFT. “Graduate students are essential to Rutgers’ status as a top research university, and his unwillingness to even discuss their demands threatens not only to harm individual students and their families struggling with the high cost of living, but also to damage our graduate programs in the longer term.” Adjunct faculty were given a tiny pay increase that does not match inflation or match equal pay for equal for non-tenure track employees.
Jim Brown told Workers’ Voice, “If President Holloway and his administration think that they can mislead students, staff, and faculty into thinking an agreement is near, they are very wrong. Until management changes course to address our core demands, we have no other choice than to prepare for a strike to win fair contracts and a better Rutgers that truly values its workers and its students.”
“The key here is equity, equal pay for equal work,” he said. “Taking care of the people who need the most help.”
Workers’ struggles on the rise at schools and universities
The Rutgers administration has insisted that classes go on despite the strike. Rutgers has falsely claimed that raising the wages of Rutgers would fall on the backs of students.
Similar claims were made by the Temple administration in its failed attempts to sweep the demands of the Temple grad student union under the rug. As at Temple, the truth is that by exploiting their workforce, Rutgers is actively betraying the quality of education for their students. The mere fact that university and school administrations are run like this should be alarming. These ostensibly public institutions are embedded in the capitalist system, where the few exploit the many through overwork, underpay, and long hours.
The Rutgers strike is one in a series of strikes at universities and schools across the nation, including Temple University in Philadelphia, the Los Angeles school district, three Illinois universities, and Chicago State University. Student workers, professors, and teachers are learning in these struggles that, to win against the unfair policies of the administrations and trustees—and their state and corporate backers—collective struggle is needed. The solidarity on display at Rutgers is a display of working-class strength. Workers’ Voice stands with striking Rutgers faculty and staff!
Equal pay for equal work! Fair pay for postdocs! For a living wage for all!
Photo: John Leslie / Workers’ Voice