I have a right to strike!

One thing stood out to me in a letter mass emailed to grad students by the President of the University of Michigan in response to the Graduate Students’ decision to strike for a livable wage: he declares, “A strike also violates Michigan law.”

Governor Whitmer, if this be true, it must be changed. I and my fellow graduate students have the right to strike for better from our employer. Every working person in our state has the right to strike for better. This must be recognized.

The power of united action is revealed historically. The Plebes of Rome, for example, voted several times to withdraw from the city (and therefore the army) to force better from their superiors. It is therefore an ancient and thus a sacred right. If there be found any law against striking, it must be struck from the books.

This same claim of illegality was leveled at us by the University’s previous President when I and my fellow graduate students collectively went on strike to demand the safety of ourselves and our students in the face of a hasty return to in-person classes during the Pandemic.

I’m calling on you, Governor, and every relevant member of your staff, to ensure that there are no laws preventing a strike. I think we would agree that working people, especially those in obviously exploitative situations (the University estimates a graduate student’s cost of living to be just over $40K; the lucky among us are paid half of that) have a basic right to collective action.

I would also ask you to take a more active interest in this negotiation as well on behalf of all graduate students across the state. It is in every Michigander’s interest that we are able to attract the best to our graduate programs, not only at UofM, but at my undergraduate alma mater, MSU, and every other school from Houghton to the border we share with Ohio and Indiana, from Grad Rapids to Detroit. To attract the brightest to our industries we need to be thinking about how we can attract them as would-be graduate students comparing programs. At the very least, if you will not intervene on our behalf, then I ask that you think through what benefits there are in a law against workers striking, and, most importantly, in whose interests such a law was made—cui bono, as Cicero put it.

Ps, Separately from the strike, I’m calling for a Neurodiversity Constellation Center based on the results of a survey I conducted informally last fall. Read about it here: Call for a Neurodiversity Constellation Center at University of Michigan

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