Open letter: GEO continues to push for change

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

Dear UMass community,

This year is historic for the University of Massachusetts. We are getting ready to celebrate 25 years of graduate student worker unionization on campus; a celebration that not only highlights the strength and power of collective action but also our long history of activism, mobilization and social justice on campus.

As unions all over the country brace for this summer’s Supreme Court attack on us, we should also memorialize and mobilize around our legacy, our founders and our achievements. For some context, the Supreme Court ruling regarding unions could potentially decrease our overall memberships and make it harder to organize workers. Therefore, let’s find and retain our power as workers and students by honoring our heritage and thus carry forth as a unified force.

Twenty-five years ago, grad workers at UMass went on strike to force the Administration and the Commonwealth to negotiate with them over their working conditions and bargain to establish a contract that would grant labor protections and extend benefits to grad employees. Sometimes we take these benefits and protections for granted or overlook the embodied struggles that so many people lived to ensure we’d get paid, get health care and that we wouldn’t get fired arbitrarily. These are only some of the benefits and protections that workers on campus have achieved over the years because of GEO.

The work of ensuring that universities are open, affordable, accessible and safe for those who have been historically excluded from them is daunting and long lasting. GEO’s mission and vision of protecting grad workers is necessarily linked to the need of having open and free universities that empower students and workers as well as ensuring that universities are more democratic and less profit-driven.

To this end, GEO is dedicated and will remain vocal in protecting and representing workers and championing the interests of all marginalized identities on campus. We will continue to form coalitions and work with other organizers to ensure our campus is accessible to those that need it most.

We will seek to empower the masses and ensure that their voices are heard and respected. We know that workers deserve livable wages, comprehensive healthcare and strong labor protections; this will continue to be our mission when we negotiate subsequent contracts. But above and beyond these necessities, we must always strive to protect our dignity. This year we will honor the struggle, the spirit and the dignity of 25 years of labor activism. Telling our labor histories and memorializing our heritage will make us stronger, will reinvigorate our power and will prepare us for many more decades of activism, mobilizing and bargaining.

From Whitmore to the Supreme Court, we have clear challenges ahead of us. But none of these challenges, as daunting as they may seem, are larger than our histories, our victories, our memories and our absolute determination to protect and embody the dignity and respect that hold up 25 years of our GEO contract. By celebrating our history of struggle as a union we hope to invigorate our members and push the broader campus community to stand up to the challenges that marginalized people face.

Peace and solidarity always,

Your GEO Co-Chairs, Avery Fuerst & Santiago Vidales