The Daily Northwestern

Letter to the Editor: Building a graduate union: A labor of love

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Graduate students at Northwestern lead busy lives. We teach undergraduates and grade their projects and exams. We write grant proposals and perform research. And when we have exhausted those duties, we study for our own courses, attend conferences, read the findings of our fields and do all else that is necessary to prepare for the academic job market. At the end of it all, we become masters of multi-tasking, of budgeting every dear hour in our workweek.

Why, then, do I spend my few free hours on unionizing as a member of Northwestern University Graduate Workers, on organizing the grand mass of teaching and research assistants on campus? Time, after all, is money — especially time which I might otherwise spend on my own professional development. But were I to tell you that unionizing is somehow a sacrifice of such self-interest, I would be lying.

Unionizing is not an act of sacrifice, but of affirmation. It affirms that graduate workers are committed to their own self-advocacy through collective action and at the bargaining table. The successful campaigns that NUGW has run in the past two years already reflect this fact. For instance, prior to 2017, Northwestern had not funded Graduate School students beyond 19 quarters, even though the average degree completion time in the Graduate School is six years, or 24 quarters. Thanks to NUGW’s #FullFive Campaign, Graduate School students now receive five full years of funding.

More recently, graduate workers in the Bienen School of Music partnered with NUGW to fight harsh fees imposed on Doctor of Musical Arts students, resulting in a dramatic reduction of the fees and in subsidized healthcare for DMA students in coursework. These victories are substantial, and the lesson is clear enough: Organizing works, and it empowers not only those who help themselves, but their neighbors too. Indeed, that is the very meaning of the phrase “collective self-interest.”

Graduate workers at the University of Chicago, Yale, Georgetown, Brown and beyond are affirming this same collective self-interest by working to unionize, which, for me, has become a labor of love. I cherish seeing my colleagues receive a fair wage, pay a fair price for their education and learn to work together across departments and disciplines. For graduate workers, there is no better way to hold the University accountable to its mission than by advocating for their own personal and intellectual growth in a diverse academic community.

Zachary Angulo
Second-year doctoral student in Department of History
Spokesperson for Northwestern University Graduate Workers