Victory for GEO at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign!

November 19, 2009 at 3:12 am Leave a comment

Urbana Champaign, IL – After two days of mass picketing that shut down hundreds of classes at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the strike by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) has scored an amazing victory. On the morning of Nov. 17, management tentatively agreed to keep tuition waivers intact and retreat from threatened furlough days. In response, pickets were suspended and a GEO general membership meeting was scheduled for the evening. There, the 450 members present unanimously recommended to the strike committee that it accept the agreement and suspend the strike.

The center of the campus was a carnival atmosphere both days of the strike, as crowds of more than 700 grads and supporters shouted out their slogans: “Who are we? GEO? Are we gonna back down? Hell, no!” Not even the rain could dampen the enthusiasm of the strikers.

The strike was a blow to an administration that has been pounded with negative publicity this year as a result of a ‘clout scandal’ in which both the president and the chancellor were forced to resign. The scandal involved the children of the wealthy and politically connected gaining admission despite low grades and test scores.

The threat against the tuition waivers was the issue that seemed to capture the mood of the graduate workers. Illinois has the second worst state budget crisis in the country, after California. The politicians and officials have come up with one attack after another to balance the budget crisis on the backs of those least able to afford it. Going after tuition waivers backfired, as even the American Association of University Professors weighed in to warn the university that they were undermining their attraction to high quality grads. But it was the fighting spirit and creativity of the GEO that made this strike happen.

The terms of victory were more than just defending the tuition waivers and included two weeks of unpaid parental leave, more money from the school’s contribution to health care premiums, and 10% in raises over three years. The victory serves as a bench mark and an inspiration especially for union workers employed by the state.

The union included in their press statement support for their “sisters and brothers in the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois Chicago campus,” and for other higher education workers. They concluded, “Public higher education must be accessible to all, regardless of economic standing.”

The strike was also only the fourth strike nationwide of more than 1000 persons in 2009. Most of ‘Big Labor,’ with its billions of dollars of assets and six figure executive salaries refuses to fight. Examples like the GEO, the Republic Windows and Doors workers and the SK Hand Tool Workers all show that unions can beat back attacks if they dare to struggle.

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