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To Strike or Not to Strike?

By Sara Komatsu
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Last week, members of the graduate student union, Harvard Graduate Students-United Automobile Workers, announced intentions to hold a strike authorization vote in which a strike could be approved with a two-thirds majority of voting members. The vote will be held today, one year after the union began its laborious negotiations with the University administration — a loud and potentially powerful demonstration of the union’s frustration with the pace of that process. The call to vote not only heightens the intensity of the negotiations, which have already sparked protest, but also threatens a major disruption of Harvard academic life.

The continued bargaining sessions between the union and the administration reflect serious negotiations. A contract would contain terms that will last for years, and the sluggish pace of tentative agreements — at present, only eight with nearly 80 proposed topics including some weightier matters still on the table — demonstrates the degree to which both parties recognize the significance of their work. As we have opined before, we support graduate students in standing behind their ideals and sense of justice in this unionization process.

Their ability to convene a vote and come to a consensus as a reflection of their collective goals and values is admirable. We support the union’s right to decide what is best for itself and to leverage its power as an invaluable source of labor at the University in this negotiation.

To be sure, we have some reservations about the authorization vote as an effective strategy, given variable and sometimes low turnout for favorable union votes. The vote presents a serious risk: If the vote fails and the strike does not move forward, the union faces the possibility of losing considerable steam and signaling to the administration that its membership does not necessarily agree on some of the issues — not least, neutral arbitration for cases of sexual misconduct and discrimination, a provision we have supported — that its leadership has presented as top priorities.

Despite these concerns, we stand behind the membership and leadership to make the decisions that it sees as best representing and serving its collective needs.

Of course, another concern is the effect a strike would have on the academic life of undergraduates and other graduate students at Harvard, as well as the efficient pedagogy of instructors. The fear faculty, administrators, and students may likely have about the impact of a strike should stand as a powerful reminder of the importance of graduate student workers in our community. Their labor cannot not be taken for granted.

Harvard students cherish the work that teaching fellows and course assistants do. They are essential to our academic experience, and we hope that they achieve a fair package with minimal disruption to the academic experience. In recognizing the risks to the educational experience here associated with a potential HGSU-UAW strike, however, we hope that the University takes these intentions seriously and prepares to cope with and minimize academic disruptions that could befall students. It goes almost without saying that instructors must heed the University’s counsel and develop comprehensive contingency plans that do not compromise the quality of education provided on our campus in case of a strike.

As HGSU-UAW gears up to hold their strike authorization vote on the one-year anniversary of their beginning of negotiations with Harvard, we must consider the reverberations of this decision for both the union and students. We will continue to stand behind student workers. Hopefully, our peers will do the same.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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