Group calls for structural reform within GESO



More than a month after graduate students participated in a weeklong walkout with Yale’s unions, some GESO members said they plan to form a group to reform GESO.

Some members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization said they are unhappy with how the group’s leaders have tied the organization’s interests so closely to contract talks between Yale and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35. The group seeking change will address ways to reform the organization as a whole by recommending an end to house visits and by asking an outside party to examine GESO’s internal conflicts, GESO member Angus Fletcher GRD ’03 said.

Some GESO members participated in a walkout during the first week of March with members of locals 34 and 35 and unionized dietary workers from Yale-New Haven Hospital. Striking graduate students declared an intellectual strike by not teaching sections, conducting research or attending classes.

Fletcher said he did not believe the strike had the “charging effect” that GESO leaders hoped it would.

“One mechanism we had of expressing ourselves was co-opted by a small group of radicals,” he said. “There needs to be more information going up the ladder instead of just coming down.”

GESO co-chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said she believed the strike was “enormously empowering.” But she said she believes that within a group as large as GESO, there are bound to be diverse opinions.

“GESO as an organization has had a lot of conversations about the best way to organize ourselves,” she said. “One of the strengths of GESO has been that there has always been a lot of democratic space for that to go on.”

Fletcher said it was a mistake for GESO to hold its strike with Yale’s recognized unions because he said this strategy diverted attention away from GESO’s individual concerns.

“The most fanatic arm of GESO is funded by those unions, so we can’t divorce ourselves from those interests,” he said. “We hope that funding will disappear, and we can wash our hands clean.”

One GESO member who did not wish to be named said the strike did not have a great impact because the University administration did not change its positions on any of GESO’s demands. She said the main effects of the strike were internal, since the action forced graduate students to take a stronger position on unionization.

“It made a clear delineation between those who were and those who weren’t striking — divisions which cut through GESO and non-GESO members alike,” she said.

Yale President Richard Levin said fewer GESO members went on strike than the administration had anticipated.

“We found — the participation rate among teaching fellows to be lower than we expected,” Levin said.

Tine Herreman GRD ’06, who is not a GESO member, said she believes GESO’s issues have “died” since the strike. She said organizing efforts have been fairly quiet in the graduate school.

“We found it very unremarkable,” she said. “Only one student was not [in our lab] during the week, and he was scrambling to catch up with his work after the strike.”

GESO has been trying to organize graduate teaching and research assistants for over a decade but has not formally requested an election. University administrators have long opposed unionization and have maintained that graduate students are not employees.

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