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Graduate Unions Lead the Way in National Reproductive Rights Walkouts

Students from schools across the United States are leading a Day of Action today to fight for the rights to safe, legal, and accessible abortion, gender affirming care, comprehensive sex education, and free contraception. They show the power of a labor movement that fights for workplace demands hand in hand with the defense against oppression.

Olivia Wood

October 6, 2022
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Students marching with a banner that reads CUNY for Abortion Rights

Today, October 6, students from more than 50 schools spanning over 30 states are holding coordinated actions in support of the rights to safe, legal, and accessible abortion, gender affirming care, comprehensive sex education, and free contraception. These events range from resource fairs and “green out” color days, to panels and rallies, to full student walkouts. The students are organizing as the Graduate Student Action Network (GSAN), a nationwide coalition formed over the summer after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was decided and Roe v. Wade was overturned. In planning the Day of Action, GSAN partnered at the national level with Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), the national student section of DSA, which has taken up an orientation toward abortion rights and the labor movement, with individual campus events joined by local left, reproductive rights, and union groups.

At several schools, graduate worker unions are playing a key role in organizing October 6 Day of Action events, recognizing the deep connections between abortion rights and the issues traditionally taken up by the labor movement. At NYU, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC-UAW) is working in tandem with the Reproductive Justice Collective. At Columbia, five separate campus unions are working together alongside the Reproductive Justice Collective and YDSA. At CUNY, the Graduate Center chapter of the faculty and staff union passed a resolution recognizing supporting campus walkouts at CUNY in recognition that “unions, as organizations of workers, have a responsibility to join in the national and international struggles for reproductive rights, trans rights, and all forms of bodily autonomy, as issues that impact the global working class.” 

However, graduate worker unions mobilizing around abortion rights is not limited to New York. The West Virginia Campus Workers union of West Virginia University and graduate workers organizing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Unionize UNL) are also hosting walkouts and rallies — making WVU and UNL two of only a few schools involved in the Day of Action where students and workers are walking off the job. West Virginia Campus Workers, Unionize UNL, and Northwestern University Graduate Workers, and Fearless Student Employees at the University of Maryland (FSE-UMD) are using their October 6 events as recruiting events for their union drives and to talk about why reproductive rights are a labor issue. Similar to the coalition at Columbia, University of Florida Graduate Assistants United is working together with United Campus Workers of Florida and United Faculty Faculty of Florida to put on their event. Other graduate worker unions involved in organizing for the day of action include student workers at Rutgers University, University of Iowa, and MIT. 

It should come as no surprise that graduate unions are leading the way. During Striketober, after workers at John Deere ratified a contract, the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC-UAW Local 2710) were the biggest bargaining unit on strike in the United States. Earlier this year at Grinnell College, students formed the first-ever independent labor union encompassing all undergraduate workers on campus. Union-busting law firms like Jackson Lewis are hosting entire events on how to prevent unions from forming on college campuses. This is a dynamic and quickly growing sector of the labor movement, fueled by predominantly young people who are the most pro-union and anti-capitalist generation in decades and are increasingly interested in practicing a social justice unionism that connects workplace demands with broader patterns of oppression. 

Keep an eye on our social media all day (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) as we cover the walkouts in New York, and follow GSAN for updates from other schools across the United States!

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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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