Wednesday night, the Graduate Student Assembly hosted a town meeting on graduate student unionization with the expressed goal of fostering a campus-wide discussion on the ongoing issues concerning graduate student unionization.
After an evening suspiciously devoid of the discussion and debate it was supposed to foster, I left with many of the same questions I had brought with me. Yet, it wasn’t because these questions were never answered, it was because they were never asked.
GESO purposefully dominated the meeting, effectively closing an open forum. Many of those present were left wondering, “why?” Why did an organization purporting to espouse the ideals of “intellectual freedom and collegiality” send an e-mail to its members requesting that they arrive at the event an hour early, virtually guaranteeing that they would control the microphones during the “open” mic question and answer session of the evening? Why did they choose to fill this time with blanket statements of union support rather than asking questions of the panelists that would have fostered a discussion among all present?
And, perhaps most importantly, why were so many graduate students who had come to learn about issues that will directly affect them turned away at the door because a sizable portion of seats had been taken up by non-student members of local workers unions? In short, why did GESO feel the need to stack the deck the way it did?
The simple answer is that GESO either cannot or will not make a strong case for graduate student unionization. Instead of supporting their claims that a union will make the University a better place with hard data, they have instead chosen to rely on public relations tactics and bullying.
Not surprisingly, these are the same tactics GESO has used all along to get its point across. Its members consistently “double-team” students at work or at home in an effort to get them to sign cards or have lunch with them. They scare students with stories about loss of health care and a dwindling job market, while never delineating exactly how their organization can begin to combat these problems. Most egregious of all, they propose a system of “neutrality” in which signed union cards obtained under a variety of circumstances are preferred to a general election open to all graduate students.
I personally know several people who have signed these cards because they were tired of being harassed by GESO and just wanted them to “go away and stop bothering me.” Yet, GESO members have the audacity to criticize the administration for supposedly intimidating students in private meetings with “verbal coercion.” Some might argue that constant harassment by GESO members who pressure fellow students into signing union cards is far more intimidating than a faculty member who freely expresses his or her views about a pressing political issue.
Furthermore, in many of these so-called meetings where a student was derided for his or her pro-GESO views, the derision is clearly in the mind of the beholder. I attended one such meeting where a GESO supporter was asked by a faculty member if union cards, once signed, could be voided by the signer if he or she changed her mind about the union. The GESO supporter could not answer the question adequately and returned to her seat. Perhaps in her mind this was faculty intimidation, but to most present it was an issue that needed to be discussed, regardless of who brought it up.
And that was the main problem with the town meeting last night — so many issues that needed to be discussed were never given a chance because GESO felt it necessary to control the floor and block all debate. I find it ironic that an organization that claims to respect the democratic process has tried so hard to silence the opposing viewpoints of its fellow students.
I am not going to get into the specific issues that surround unionization. That should have been done last night. Instead, I argue that these issues are important and must be discussed openly by both sides. We will all be affected by the outcome, regardless of which side we choose. Therefore we need to make an informed decision — a decision that comes after passionate debate and personal contemplation. At the moment, GESO is trying to prevent this debate from happening. And all of us need to be asking ourselves why.
David Grimm is a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Genetics.