Grad union brings recognition

by Amir Hussain, graduate student & graduate instructor, Department of English

The current relationship between administrators and graduate student workers is, for all practical purposes, a one-way road. About a week before each semester begins, I receive a contract for a term appointment as a graduate instructor (or a teaching assistant) in the English department, which I sign as-is and return to the payroll department to be processed. In my three years here, my employment conditions have never been negotiated with me. While I was advised on how to submit grades for my undergraduate students and how to manage a classroom effectively, no one ever advised me of how I can approach the terms of my own employment.

The current relationship between administrative departments and individual graduate student workers is heavy-handed, intimidating and barely discernible. To be sure, I relay my personal experience as an expression of the contradictory aspects of my current autonomy as a graduate student worker.

More fundamentally, I support the union from the conviction that a collective approach allows the expression of authentic individuality, whereas an individualistic approach denotes a failure of the group to care for its members. Even if certain individuals find a way to negotiate their employment terms and salaries, I view this as a systematic failure because the majority of individuals will remain in the dark about the process.

The current administrative relation to graduate student workers is an indication of capitalism’s logic of the “free” competing individual.

Like many others, I dedicate my attention to advanced graduate-level studies not to regurgitate the logic of a system that can only deepen my separation but to learn how to think in a way that seeks to grasp the genuine, refreshing autonomy that can only be brought about collectively.

The unionization of graduate student workers seems to me to be, at heart, a basic expression of our intellectual and practical need to be recognized and to recognize each other.