Striking teaching assistants, angered by Yale administrators’ comments that their strike has not affected undergraduate education, received a boost on the picket lines Tuesday after labor organizers announced that the Rev. Jesse Jackson will visit campus on Thursday to hold an afternoon rally near Sterling Memorial Library.
Rebutting the University’s previous statements, Graduate Employees and Students Organization leaders said approximately 450 undergraduate sections and language courses will be cancelled or otherwise impacted by the strike, particularly later this week when most sections meet.
An estimated 250 GESO members took to the streets for day two of their job action, holding a morning teach-in on College Street and cheering at a lunchtime rally featuring UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm ’67 and Jorge Perez, the president of the New Haven Board of Aldermen. The speakers encouraged the striking TAs at the rally on the New Haven Green, where they connected GESO’s strike to a larger social justice movement across the country.
“There is nothing happening in the country today more important than what is happening here,” the Rev. Henry Morris, a local minister and frequent labor supporter, told the boisterous crowd of a few hundred people. “I look at you, and I see that you are doing the most important thing you can do with your life — stand up for justice.”
But GESO’s strike effort has not swayed the administration, which is maintaining its long-standing position against graduate student unionization. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Tuesday’s events were not a significant disruption to the educational day on campus.
“None of the residential college deans have received any complaints from undergraduates about classes,” Conroy said. “We had a total of 53 classes that were to be led today by part-time acting instructors, and they all met.”
Olga Sooudi GRD ’08 said she and three other TAs in the anthropology course “Myth of Ritual,” one of the department’s largest lecture courses with over 140 registered students, will not be holding section this week.
“I have been hearing the administration say that classes are continuing as usual,” she said. “But I can guarantee that I am not teaching my class, nor is anyone else teaching my class.”
Sooudi said though she will not meet students during the week of the job action, she offered alternate review sessions before the strike began.
GESO is seeking union recognition that would allow it to bargain with Yale President Richard Levin for a third-party grievance procedure, full health coverage for dependents, affordable child care and pay equity for all graduate teachers.
At the rally, which was attended by many members of locals 34 and 35 on their lunch breaks, Wilhelm — who has been a driving force behind unionization at Yale for decades — compared GESO’s strike to Local 34′s unionization efforts in the 1980s. He said Yale has had a history of unsuccessfully trying to resist unionization.
“You haven’t been at it long enough because Yale is a slow learner,” Wilhelm said. “Yale needs to understand its own history. Yale needs to get taught.”
In the morning Tuesday, GESO members held a teach-in series called “Classrooms in the Streets” in which striking TAs used propped white boards to teach bystanders “classes,” such as “DIVT226b: Diversity in the Academy” and “DEBT115b: Financial Accessibility at Yale.” They spoke with an estimated 40 to 50 undergraduates about the issues in the middle of the street, blocking College Street between Elm and Wall streets to all traffic.
Andrew Beatty ’07, who is not actively aligned with GESO, said he thought the graduate student group’s cause is a “worthy endeavor” after speaking personally with the strikers at the teach-in.
“Any strike is inconvenient, but talking to some of these people pushed [away] my initial hesitation about my support,” Beatty said.
Undergraduate Organizing Committee student picket captain Josh Eidelson ’06 said even though none of his sections are affected by the job action, he did not attend a single class Tuesday in order to support GESO’s cause.
“I skipped my ‘Political Economy of Gender Studies’ section because I’m in the streets participating in a class on the challenges of women in science,” he said.
The anti-GESO group Committee for Freedom, which last fall held counter-protests to anti-war rallies, picketed against GESO’s classroom series at the edge of Cross Campus. The group’s members chanted “G-E-S-O, what does it spell? Extortion.”
“Students had to go to class, so it was difficult to get them to stop and hold up a sign,” the group’s president, Andrew Olson ’08, said. “But most said, ‘I support what you’re doing,’ or ‘GESO sucks.’”
Eidelson said he disagrees with Olson’s characterization of undergraduate sentiment.
“Most undergraduates support the issues [the strikers] are pushing,” Eidelson said.
GESO co-chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07, who normally teaches a section of the “Formation of Modern American Culture” lecture course, said several of her students supported her by joining the picket lines. She said the course’s professor, Matt Jacobson, will not teach the section himself because he is morally opposed to breaking the strike.
GESO strikers and supporters will ride buses to New York City to participate in a large labor rally on Columbia University’s campus today. The Graduate Student Employees United group at Columbia is also striking this week, marking the first coordinated strike effort between two Ivy League universities.