by Barry Eidlin | Tue, 05/10/2011 Labor Notes
Graduate workers across the University of California have voted to transform their union. The Academic Workers for a Democratic Union slate swept all 10 executive board positions and nearly 60 percent of Joint Council positions in United Auto Workers Local 2865. The local is the largest graduate worker union in the country and the largest UAW local in the West, representing 12,000 academic student workers at nine UC campuses.
AWDU ran a hard-fought campaign against the incumbent leadership, which dubbed itself United for Social and Economic Justice. The campaign itself was tough, but getting the votes counted was even tougher. When it looked like USEJ might lose, the elections committee abruptly suspended the vote count last week and abandoned the ballots. Only in the face of marches, petitions, a sit-in in the union office, political pressure, and national media exposure did the committee resume the count.
AWDU won 55 percent of the vote statewide and up to 90 percent on some campuses. Its presidential candidate, Cheryl Deutsch, a second-year grad student in anthropology at UC Irvine, garnered 56 percent of 3,241 votes cast, a record turnout in a union where members have largely been uninvolved.
AWDU formed in early 2010 out of frustration with that lack of involvement and with the union’s absence from the movement to defend public education, which has at times been heated on UC campuses. The reform movement picked up steam in late 2010, when members mobilized (unsuccessfully) for a “no” vote on what they saw as a substandard contract negotiated with little member input.
Last month, AWDU campaigned on a platform of fighting for public education through grassroots, bottom-up organizing. “We believe only a participatory, bottom-up union can get UC’s priorities back on track,” Deutsch said.
The new leadership is making plans to build a more member-driven, movement-oriented union. On top of fighting massive cuts to public education and developing new strategies for contract enforcement, the local is also gearing up for a major campaign to organize more than 10,000 UC graduate research assistants.
For more information, go to awdu.org.