One year ago I went on Strike with the GEO for tuition waivers

I thought it might be interesting to write just a little bit about what the experience was like. I wrote this a few days ago:

Me on the picket line at the UIUC GEO Strike over tuition waivers 11/16/2009

What an amazing time the strike was. I came from a right to work state, and I had never thought I would be affected, no less that participating in a strike. I was so moved by the fact that the University was so obviously threatening our tuition waivers. I remember going to one of the bargaining sessions, and just seeing how the UI side seemed not to respect the students sitting across the table from them.

I remember thinking, “Wow, these people just don’t care, surely this isn’t the way it is.” I thought that at some point they would stop all this nonsense and actually negotiate. Then, there was the last bargaining session. The University moved it to the airport at the last minute because it was Dad’s Weekend (I guess), and they didn’t want to draw any real crowd. Well that certainly backfired. So many of us showed up, the UI negotiators wouldn’t come in and face us. After a marathon session, where all other issues were resolved, they still wouldn’t budge on tuition waivers. What foreshadowing for today, and the change in FAA waivers! Appalling.

Well, once I knew we were going to strike, I contacted my advisor, telling him I couldn’t in good conscience cross a picket, and I’d be on the line. I had signed up for a couple of shifts. It was cold. It was rainy. And I was somber that night. I showed up, to picket my own building. Strangely, it was a little more than traumatic at first. I had to come to grips with the fact that my university had let me down- I now I was fighting a fight that never should have come to pass. I worked my shifts on the lines, but couldn’t leave. The Drum Corp had the entire Quad screaming in the rain. I remember a guy on an extra-cycle who kept us supplied with hot coffee. I was soaked. I had four people curse in my face, one pushed me out of his way, and one started to spit (thankfully he didn’t). I will always remember those people who were infuriated by our actions, but I think I’ll remember more the many people who turned away, and did not cross.

I stayed all day the first day- I was completely soaked. On the second day, I knew we were really in the fight. It wasn’t new anymore, and the realization came that we could be out here for days, maybe weeks if it didn’t go well. I worked my morning shifts, plus another hour or so, then I had to go. If only I had stayed one more hour! I got a call from a fellow friend on the line saying they had won! Go figure I wasn’t there for the march across the quad! I made it back for the spontaneous party at Murphy’s. We had won! The University agreed to include protection (based on the language of the Mass-mail) for our tuition waivers!

It was an amazing experience. It was so cool to see so many students, teachers, and service workers come together for our cause, and ultimately it lead to action. At the same time, I was honestly heartbroken at the vicious blow the University had dealt us. I had an unrealistic image of the University, all which came crashing down in that two weeks leading up to the strike. From then on out, I knew that the University only gave lip service to the concerns of the graduate employees, and anybody else that is less able to defend themselves.

Today, as I write this and look back, I am again disheartened. The University has blatantly violated our contract by changing the School of Fine and Applied Arts tuition waiver structure. It is blindingly clear confirmation that when we struck, we were totally right to fight for waivers, and indeed they were in the University’s sights. It’s still going to be a fight- the University has the advantage of permanence. Institutional knowledge among the graduate students fades fast, as we are only here temporarily. We MUST remember why we struck, and be prepared to face that monster again. The University is calculating- they think they can wait us out, and catch us as we slumber. Awake! Look at the historical precedent of abuse and feigned concern the UI Admins have show us graduate employees. Be ready, because we will be moved to action again.


2 responses to “One year ago I went on Strike with the GEO for tuition waivers

  1. You are a man of conviction and action. I admire your willingness to get involved.

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