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Academic Workers for a Democratic Union at The New School

Democratic Union

“Education should be free. The United States is the richest country in the world, yet students have to take on crippling debt in order to get a college education."

This is only one among innumerable comments on social network media by the frustrated students in the US these days. Recently, students across the US  walked out of classrooms to protest ballooning student debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges and a minimum wage hike for campus workers.

Once again the neo-liberalization of education in the US hit the headlines and everything boils down to the question how to fight for higher education? Students and professors have been figuring out that how ongoing budget cuts in the latest stage of predatory capitalism will impact universities’ ability to meets the need of communities. Resisting the corporate university goes beyond the University of Missouri campus. Now it is City College that faces deep budget cuts and The New School University formerly known as "University in Exile" preparing itself to get over the banality of evil in our time, as Hannah Arendt one of its prominent teachers put it ages ago, the banality of corporate education.

The legacy of the historic home

Commuting on Fifth Avenue, historically one of the most expensive streets in the whole US, one might come across the luxury building of The New School university, known as University in Exile, an important node for émigré academics during the 1930s and 40s, one of the indications of radicalism and resistance in the history of academia in the West. What is at stake though is what remains from that tradition that some of the graduate students strive to give back to their university beyond all its corporate buildings and hashtags.

Lately, student workers at The New School joined the ranks of graduate students at other major private universities to demand that President David Van Zandt give graduate workers a fair contract now and uphold the progressive ideals of The New School. Part-time faculty and student teachers make up 85% of the teaching workforce at The New School. Some very limited scholarship grants is the financial support available to the students who depend heavily on their labor for income. Unlike other bigger universities, The New School graduate students get very few stipends. Most of them have to earn everything through teaching, research assistantships or other forms of work.

The faculty in support of graduate students: University or corporation?

Alongside recent upheavals, student becomes the central issue for the graduate students who are viewing themselves as academic workers. They thoroughly believe in what Emma Goldman depicts as  Intellectual Proletarians.

While CUNY faculty affirms the rights of students to organize, protest, and resist, most of the faculty at The New School university stand in solidarity with their students and colleagues. They believe in the notion of academic workers. Having said “Years ago I did not think graduate students or professors were workers” Arien Mack one of the long-standing professors at The New School for Social Research, where she has edited Social Research journal since 1970, continues “but my view has changed as the universities in this country grow more and more to resemble corporations.”

Anwar Shaikh the prominent Marxist scholar and the chair of Economics at the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of The New School says “I can speak as an individual faculty member to say that I fully support the drive to unionize our graduate students, who deserve a far better deal than they have been getting for a long time. I believe that all, or almost all, of the faculty in my department share this view.” His forthcoming book Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises will be published by Oxford University Press in February 2016.

Don't Mourn, Organize!

The attempt for unionization at The New School as one of the most prestigious schools for social science in the world goes on. The National Labor Relations Board voted lately to consider the case of graduate students at the New School who are trying to form a union for research and teaching assistants. They are determined to be recognized by the administration as a union in order to achieve a collective bargaining agreement and seek better working conditions with a pay raise and free health benefits.

These days “New School tuition is class warfare” appeared on the walls of the corporate building of The New School For Social Research where one can still trace the principles of “University in Exile” at the time when public education becomes another branch of private industry. Lately, the SENS-UAW precarity circus prior to the Joe Hill event “Don't Mourn, Organize!” featured clowns struggling to keep all the balls in the air, unstable balancers, and inflexible contortionists. It depicted the challenging labor conditions graduate students face at The New School. For the student workers who have been involved in unionization of their historic home it is a political and economic project and the matter of ideology.


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