What’s the difference between a “student” and a “worker”? In 1968, members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers took over South End, Wayne State University’s daily newspaper, and gave it a new subtitle: “One class-conscious worker is worth 100 students.” In 2015, Hillary Clinton released her “debt-free” college plan, calling for students to work ten hours a week without getting paid. Both ideas are off. The first needs updating: In a world of tuition and debt, the vast majority of students are also workers. This includes upwards of a million students working on campus, on par with Walmart’s domestic workforce. The second—the idea that student work should be compensated or treated any differently from other work—is the target of a new, national movement.
On February 26, 300 students at the University of Pittsburgh marched calling for $15 an hour for student workers. Following the action, United Students Against Sweatshops launched the Student Worker Organizing Committee to bring #15onCampus to schools across the country. These efforts build off a September victory in Seattle, where student workers at the University of Washington won the same $15 wages as others in the city. Nationwide, students are demanding higher wages, an end to harassment and discrimination on the job, “just cause” protections, and more. Together, these demands set the stage for larger battles over the means and ends of higher education.
In this post, students from five campuses talk about their campaigns to win higher pay and labor rights. This post is the latest edition of the Nation’s student and youth organizing feature, edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky). For more, check out February 3 and February 18.
In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, a New Kind of Labor Movement
By Luke Gangler, Amy Jochsett, Danny Levandoski, Samuel Park, Sophia Rogers & Cornell Zbikowski, University of Wisconsin–Madison
From the destruction of public sector collective bargaining to “right to work,” Scott Walker has made it nearly impossible for campus workers to certify a union, bargain over working conditions, or fund ourselves. At every turn, students have fought back. On Valentine’s Day in 2011, the Teaching Assistants’ Association and the Student Labor Action Coalition, USAS Local 1, led a march to the state capitol to protest Scott Walker’s infamous anti-union legislation. Just days later, more than 100,000 angry workers and students were in the streets, demanding their basic workplace rights.