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Equal Pay Today, the Whole World Tomorrow: Speech from the Rutgers Picket Line

Academic workers are strengthening their organizing muscles. The bonds formed during these contract campaigns can lay the groundwork for more largescale class struggle in the future.

Olivia Wood

April 14, 2023
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Photo: Kevin R. Wexler

The following is the text of a speech given at the Rutgers-Newark picket line on Thursday, April 13.

Hi Everyone, my name is Olivia Wood, my pronouns are she/her. I’m a socialist with Left Voice and a unionized lecturer in English at the City College of New York. Thank you for letting me speak today. So, so many of our needs and demands at CUNY are the same as yours, and I’m so thrilled to join your picket line, and I hope that more folks in my union will be inspired by y’all to also go on strike now that our contract has expired. People in my union say we can’t go on strike because adjuncts aren’t engaged and full time faculty won’t fight for adjuncts — y’all are proof that this doesn’t have to be the case. 

Higher education is a major site of class struggle right now. Seven out of the eight biggest new private sector bargaining units filing for union elections last year were grad workers. In 2021, the Student Workers of Columbia strike prompted a hugely important debate around rank and file power in unions in general and the UAW in particular, which shaped the much bigger strike at the University of California a year later. Wins for adjuncts at Barnard and NYU last year raised the ceiling on what adjunct pay can be. The strike at The New School showed us just how powerful an adjunct union can be, with a high level of strike participation and the full time faculty and students at your back. 

We’re also seeing a shift toward community demands – your demands around debt relief, rent, and housing, the University of California unions’ demands around housing, cost of living, and cops off campus, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s demands for mental health support for students, for example. We’re also seeing more and more unions explicitly demanding things like disability protections, abortion protections, and coverage of trans healthcare, like Starbucks Workers United and the University of Michigan grad workers, who are on strike right now. I like that [trans-inclusive Pride flag] up there [on top of the campus building]; it makes me happy to see that, but I know things aren’t great for LGBTQ+ people here at Rutgers. I know part time lecturers don’t have access to gender affirming healthcare, because they don’t have any healthcare at all.

While we are all always already exploited, demands like these are especially important for us right now as education workers, since right wing attacks on abortion are deeply related to their attacks on trans rights, which are deeply related to their attacks on schools. We need to fight for these things not just for ourselves, but for our students, and for our fellow workers at schools all over the country and their students too. As public sector workers, we are in a position where our governments are also our bosses’ bosses. What do we want to demand from them? Today, it’s the demands on your website. Tomorrow, it can be anything.  And these past few years, there have been a LOT of active struggles in higher education in the greater New York City metropolitan area. Our organizing muscles are growing. Our connections with one another are getting stronger, not just among our union leaders, but among our rank and file workers. This is where our power lives. And we can expand and grow this power by connecting with other workers — at our own workplaces, like the URA workers coming out here in solidarity, at other city and state agencies and employers, and with unions in the private sector. 

In France this past month, millions of workers have all taken the streets together to fight pension cuts. Workers in Argentina won the right to an abortion this same way. There’s a lot of horrible things happening in the world right now. But being here with you makes me feel hopeful. I feel hopeful that you will win a strong contract this spring, but also hopeful for the work all of us will do together in the future. The longer we fight side by side, the stronger we grow, and the stronger we grow, the more we can win. I dream of us making New Jersey and New York sanctuary states for people seeking abortions and trans healthcare. I dream of us winning nationwide protections for these things so that we don’t need sanctuary states. I dream of us winning universal healthcare for everyone. I dream of us striking against imperialist coups, against wars. I dream of us taking control of our workplaces, of overthrowing capitalism together. Of course we can’t do a lot of that stuff by ourselves, just y’all at Rutgers and just us at CUNY, we’ll need a lot more people from here and from all over, but if and when that happens, I know we will be side by side.

Thanks again, solidarity with all Rutgers workers.

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Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

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