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Grad Employees Strike University of Illinois

By Joe Iosbaker |
November 16, 2009
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Teaching assistants rallied in a cold driving rain at the University of Illinois
Teaching assistants rallied in a cold, driving rain at the University of Illinois (Fight Back! News/Ben Seese)

Urbana Champaign, IL - At 8:00 a.m., Nov. 16, hundreds of teaching assistants rallied in a cold, driving rain on the campus of the University of Illinois. The members of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) set up pickets in front of all doors of the four main lecture buildings on campus. Natalie Havlin, co-chair of the GEO steward's council, said 1000 people joined in the spirited circles.

Despite the weather, the fired up crowds drummed and chanted, "T-U-I-T-I-O-N! Waive it and we'll teach again!" The union had been pushed to strike by attacks on their tuition waivers, which make it possible for working-class students to afford higher education. Their demands also included a minimum salary, set at the university’s own estimate of a living wage.

One department head warned grads against participating in the strike. In the face of this intimidation, all 17 employees there voted to join the pickets.

The strike is set to continue on Nov. 17 while the two sides return to the bargaining table. Rich Potter, communication committee member, spoke passionately to a rally on the steps of the administration building at the end of the day. "Refusing to negotiate language to guarantee tuition waivers is an attack on access to higher education for all." He called on the crowd to return the next morning just as strong and they roared their approval.

Amber Cooper, of the Network to Fight For Economic Justice and University of Illinois Chicago Alumni states that the GEO has asked for the following support:

  1. Send statements of solidarity to Miriam Larson
  2. Send people to join those on strike on the picket lines at buildings around the UIUC campus
  3. Call and email the U of I Board of Trustees and tell them how you feel.
  4. Join the GEO facebook fan page for updates