In a disappointing vote last night, members of the Graduate Students and Employees Organization elected to stage a strike next month. Now, seven years after graduate students carried out an unsuccessful grade strike in hopes of winning recognition for GESO, it seems Yale is on the verge of another ill-fated teaching assistant action.
Beginning in March, graduate students sympathetic to GESO will refrain from teaching sections and doing research. GESO leaders also are encouraging teaching assistants to hold a general intellectual strike by refraining from using University facilities, including classrooms and libraries, and by halting work on their dissertations for the duration of the action.
Legally, GESO has the right to strike as a means of publicly advocating what members deem necessary changes at Yale. But the proposed strike, which is likely to prove futile, will heighten antagonism on campus and reveal both the misguided nature of the strike and the deep flaws in the premise of GESO.
The Yale administration’s opposition to GESO’s right to form a union remains as unconditional as ever. A strike would do nothing to alter that stance. If history is any lesson, the most likely consequence of the strike will be a strong backlash against the group not only from angered administrators, but also from disaffected graduate students turned off by what they see.
As undergraduates, we cannot support this strike, even though we recognize that some of GESO’s concerns — conditions of graduate student life, for example — are serious issues worthy of discussion. Not merely a temporary incovenience, the strike will intensify already-deep fault lines within departments and among students, exacerbating existing divisions and creating new ones. Furthermore, the group’s hazy goals in recent months — establishing a fair practice for determining unionization with the University and negotiating for recognition — diminish any potential effectiveness of the strike.
Our reservations about the action reflect deeper doubts about GESO itself, including concerns over how it is currently run and about its fundamental premise that graduate students and the University would best be served by unionization. The idea of a graduate student union is predicated on the idea that these students should be represented by an outside group that will work for their interests and accomplish necessary changes in the University. But the reality is that a union would have the opposite effect: institutionalized antagonism; procedural obstacles that would prevent improvments; and rigid divisions among graduate students and other students, faculty members and administrators. That a sizable minority of GESO members voted against the strike reflects significant divisions that currently exist within GESO and underscores worries about the nature of decision-making in this very centralized group.
The decision to strike likely will bring GESO much publicity, in New Haven and around the country. It is not likely to have any substantive effect at Yale, though, beyond disrupting campus life for the week before spring break and further weakening GESO’s cause.