Look all over the Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) Instagram page right now and you will see many pictures of empty classrooms and halls on the University of Illinois campus. “Make no mistake,” one comment reads under a picture of a classroom in Gregory Hall, “The #GEOstrike is disrupting campus operations. Where is our #FairContractNow admin?” Come out to the UIUC campus in person today and you will see a huge crowd of graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, staff and community members rallying, marching and and filling up picketing lines.
Today is day three of the graduate workers strike, and their numbers steadily grown since the beginning of the strike on Monday. To give you a sense of the magnitude of campus and community solidarity with GEO, the ending ralling of the first day of the strike brought together nearly one thousand graduate workers and supporters, including GEO leaders and State Representative Carol Ammons.
GEO represents approximately 2,700 graduate student employees across the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus. GEO’s membership works to protect high-quality, accessible public education in Illinois. Graduate employees have worked 197 days without a contract. The bargaining team did not intend for a work stoppage until administration proposed taking “tuition waivers” out of the contract, which would force students to pay $30,000 a year to keep jobs that often pay less than $17,000 annually. At a bargaining session on Sunday, they pushed for an agreement to preserve these waivers, but the administration refused to move and they walked away from the table. When the GEO inquired with the mediator, the mediator reported that the administration had nothing to offer. They immediately called a strike and will continue to strike, GEO leaders said, until they reach an agreement with the administration and settle the contract.
Looking out at the growing crowd at the noon rally yesterday on the Quad from the steps of Foellinger Hall, GEO co-president and bargaining team member, Gus Wood, said, “This strike has been so amazing because there has been a collective solidarity. We are clearing classrooms out. Buildings are empty. We have departments that are going to move classes every day of the strike now, with over 200 classes already moved and growing. The solidarity is so big and the provost is saying he wants to make UIUC a business first. We say we are not going to accept that. This is a place of learning and labor; education must come first.”
In the rally crowd, undergraduate students held up signs in solidarity with their graduate teachers such as “I support my TA” and “Undergrads for GEO.” The person who was holding the “I support my TA” sign was Nick Goodell, a junior in History and Philosophy and a leader of the Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance.
“We are out here to build a strong union because undergrad students know and everyone else knows that TAs [Teachers’ Assistants] mean a lot to the quality of our education. We get the most direct support, mentorship and enriching learning experiences from our TAs,” explained Nick. “A lot of undergraduates are cutting class. Yesterday, we organized a walk-out [from classes]. Today, we will organize another walk. We need more undergrads and community members to come out. If you join know we will win this strike faster. It’s too important to skip out.”
The GEO is asking everyone to call the provost as much as possible every day. The provost has already received thousands of calls and emails; and the GEO says they need everyone to keep it going. The Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance has also provided sample templates on their Facebook page that you can use to help you craft your letters and emails. “Tell the provost to bargain with the GEO. Support the GEO Strike Fund,” said Gus Wood. “Let’s grow this strike even bigger. Let’s change the way education operates on this campus once and for all.”
Rallies will be held throughout each day of the strike and GEO members will continue to picket buildings on the Main Quad of the UIUC campus.
Classroom photo provided by the GEO.