Speech at the TRU-UE Picket

On Tuesday, February 20th of 2024, the Teachers and Researchers United (TRU-UE), the union of the grad workers at Johns Hopkins, did an all day practice picket to demonstrate the power of the union to the university administration, which was stalling at the time trying to deny union shop (universal union membership) and working protections of the contract.
I gave the speech below in representation of supporting postdocs at Johns Hopkins—postdocs who are now in the effort or forming their own union: the Hopkins PRO-UAW. This speech benefited enormously from the addition and feedback from my fellow postdocs Alfred Gan and Ben Fernando and UAW staffer TJ Cook.

I am speaking for many of the postdocs when I say you have our full support and solidarity.

Back in Spain, where I am originally from, we tend to complain about our university system a lot. Among many of the discussions over there, a certain tendency is to look out to what other countries do: France, Germany, the UK and, of course, the US. Many proposals over, back in my home country, will begin with an “In the US…”. Hence, I cannot but smile when I will say to graduate workers over there: Back in the US, at top universities, they unionize and hold picket lines when the administration does not listen to their demands.

Being now at Hopkins, it seems to me shameful that a university with the wealth and means that Hopkins has is being so intransigent in the negotiations. Such an attitude is far from the ideals that this university claims to have, and it does not reflect at all the values that an academic institution dedicated to the advancement and the spread of knowledge should have.

Underlying this university, we find a vibrant academic community composed of students, graduate students, postdocs, faculty and staff–many of whom are committed to teaching and research to the best of our abilities. This community and its work have built the prestige of this university. However, this administration seems so centered on optimizing so many excellence metrics and rankings that it has forgotten about using those revenues not only to grow but also so that all the employees at this university can live and build good lives.

And no other case is more reflective of this than your current situation as a graduate student. Even the title itself is misleading. You are not just studying at this university; you research and teach, and are working for this university, which will not hesitate to claim immense pride in whatever research and teaching you do. If you publish a breakthrough, there is no doubt that the administration will call the media, claiming “Big breakthrough at JHU.” However, when you claim you require better working conditions to do that work, such as your contract protecting that research that Hopkins will proudly announce to the media, the administration seems to want to look the other way quickly.

As a person who was at one time a graduate student myself, I cannot but show my absolute support for your fight to make JHU a fairer place to work for us all. It is a difficult but worthwhile fight, and you should never give up. When I was doing my PhD in Berlin as someone who was a student representative for the graduate school, I learned first-hand how stubborn administration and their old ways of proceeding can be. It will take time, but we will convince them. Hence, don’t give up.

We might feel, more so today than yesterday, the increasing gap between the academic ideals that our institutions profess and the economic considerations that lead to the working conditions they offer to its more junior academic workers. Standing here today, we are not standing alone. In many other places throughout the US—Harvard, Chicago, Northwestern, Dartmouth, California, among many others—the rising unions of academic workers aim to recover those ideals that must prevail over any economic calculation. We are inspired by the success of others and our future success will inspire others, here in the US and abroad, to model their future dream universities. Because a dream university can only be one in which unions guarantee good living conditions for all their workers, graduate students or not.

From many postdocs, you have our whole support! Solidarity today, tomorrow, and forever!

Categories: academia, speech, politics
Tags:  union   worker rights

Comment Policy
We aim for a comment section where everyone feels that they can share their opinions and views freely. Please, check our comment policy for more details.