Labor Militancy In Higher Education Is On the Rise


Last year saw the highest number of strikes in America in more than 30 years. The strikes by public teachers got the most attention. But a new study shows that workers in higher education are getting scrappy as well.

First, some historic perspective: the new study, by two professors from CUNY, finds an average of two faculty strikes per year in American higher education, lasting an average of three days each, from 2012-2018—compared with an average of nearly six strikes per year, lasting two weeks each, from 1966-1994. That dropoff parallels the overall decline of organized labor itself. But when you broaden the lens, you see that the recent radicalization that produced the public school teachers’ strikes over the past year is filtering into the higher education industry as well.

Full time faculty is just one part of the higher education labor force, and their 14 strikes are only a third of the 42 total strikes in higher education from 2012-2018. The study’s authors found that “Exactly one-half of all strikes during the seven-year period were by non-academic employees, one-third of the strikes by faculty, and one-sixth by graduate assistants.” And even within this relatively short and recent window of time, the rapid radicalization of the work force is apparent: “The largest number of strikes per annum was in 2018, which was more than double the number in 2017.”

If you are not a top administrator or a tenured faculty member, higher education can be an awfully shitty job. Colleges love union busting just as much as corporations do. But the gains that have been won in union contracts in the field are astounding to behold.

So more strikes will come. Bet on it.

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