My grandfather was a union-buster. He was the oldest son of Eastern European immigrants, and he simply needed a job. The job he found was working for a consortium of Chicago businessmen to cook up confusion and skepticism among Chicago’s workers, misinforming them about the benefits of coming together to negotiate for better working conditions. I think of my young grandfather’s methods and realize that not much has changed in union-busting techniques since his day: divide the workers, one against the other; make workers think that the company cares about them, and that a union would hurt this special relationship; denounce the motives of the union organizers—as outsiders, an alien third party.
Ninety years later, I’m part of the Duke faculty union, proud to work together with my colleagues and SEIU Faculty Forward as we go through the collective bargaining process with the administration to seek clear, fair standards and a way forward for “contingent” faculty (adjunct teaching staff and the like) to have more job stability. Our union organizing campaign last year faced the same exact techniques my grandfather used to suppress union organizing back in the 1920s. But we did win our union, solidifying our view that universities should resist an increasingly corporate model of higher education that sets aside the leadership and scholarly concerns of faculty in favor of an ever-growing, top-heavy structure of administrators. March 1, 2017 is a national day of campus resistance, demonstrating our continued commitment to worker organizing. At Duke, we are gathered today directly outside our President’s office to make our voices heard.