Harvard University graduate students conducted a strike through their worker’s union last week after failing to reach a satisfactory compromise during their negotiations with the school over the past year. In doing so, the group joins a large movement of strikes and unions throughout the country calling for better benefits, treatment and conditions across many workplaces.
The system these graduate students are fighting against is more complicated because their work not only provides them a wage, but also relieves them from a portion of tuition.
They are students — that does not mean they are not also residents of an expensive area that need money for food, rent and bills.
This has somehow convinced universities they have less responsibility to ensure the pay graduate students are receiving, adjusted for what they lose to tuition aid, is a sustainable and living wage.
Especially at Harvard, the wealthiest university with the largest endowment in the nation, the disregard for the financial stability of students and workers is blatant and representative of larger priority issues.
But the students are striking for more than just financial benefits. Part of their requests also include an “outside arbitrator” to address sexual harassment, discrimination and employee retaliation claims, according to The Boston Globe.
Workers argue the university has been slow to address complaints of this nature in the past, but Harvard officials defended their Title IX office for its handling of these situations.
At the end of the day, it is the choice of the group that may be victimized to decide whether the system in place is enough and the graduate students did not feel it was. That alone should be enough for Harvard to attempt some sort of compromise.
As mentioned earlier, strikes of this sort are becoming increasingly common and Boston University now has its own Graduate Workers’ Union to fight for better wages and conditions of graduate student workers on campus.
Unions are important because without collective action, these universities may continue to dictate the wages, benefits and ultimately the standard of living for its student employees without having to address any input.
It is time students’ studies and jobs with their university are treated differently. Even when someone’s tuition is dependent on their job, their benefits and wages must be calculated to ensure the amount and benefits they actually receive in their pockets are enough to sustain them.