Rather than sell their own blood, Indiana students go on strike
Photo via Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – “It is common for student workers to get second jobs and sell plasma to stay afloat,” John Ferrand from the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition told People’s World. Ferrand said that salaries at Indiana University can be as much as $20,000 below a living wage,” as a calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lists for Monroe County Indiana]”

The student workers haven’t had a raise for five years.

So nearly 2,000 Indiana University graduate student workers went on strike here April 13. The workers are affiliated with Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition – United Electrical Workers (IGWC-UE). The strikers, research assistants, and associate instructors make up almost half of the four thousand graduate workers at IU.

“There hasn’t been a raise for the last five years,” says graduate worker Quan Le Thien. “There have been promises from the administration about giving us more benefits, but many of them have not come true,” Le Thien told People’s World.   He is also concerned that underpaying graduate workers is lowering the quality of undergraduate education. “Our financial insecurity is really hurting our ability to contribute to the undergraduate education at IU,” said Le Thien. “We started this movement, not only for us but also for the undergraduates’ education we are participating in.”

Graduate workers take on a wide variety of jobs, from helping teach courses to assisting with research projects and performing vital clerical tasks that fuel universities. At IU, “there are AIs (associate instructors), and the research assistants,” Le Thien said, “We are both participating in this strike together.”

Paying a fee to work!

In the United States, salaries for graduate student workers vary widely. For example, Brown and Princeton University recently raised annual salaries to around $40,000. But many other colleges and universities pay stipends of less than $20,000 annually. At IU, graduate workers also must pay over $1,350 in annual fees out of their meager stipends.

Beyond that, IU’s international students pay an additional $714 per year. IGWC-UE seeks to negotiate an end to these fees, citing the success of graduate workers at other Big Ten public universities organizing and doing the same. Big Ten schools like Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and even Purdue University in Indiana have no international fees.

Jake Watkins / People’s World

Young people are adding their energy and commitment to building worker power at the workplace, Eric Brooks, chair of the Indiana District of the Communist Party USA, told People’s World. Brooks cited the recent historic Amazon Labor Union win and wins at Starbucks and noted the participation of members of the state’s Young Communist League on the picket line. “This is an important expression of democratic power,” he said, indicating the Party’s solidarity with the strikers. Brooks can be reached at info@indianacpusa.org.

The student workers are united in their claims to a fair wage, and better working conditions. “I’m just going to give you numbers,” Le Thien proclaimed, speaking to the popularity of the strike. “The first time we passed the strike vote, we had 97% – over a thousand people voted. We did it yesterday again, to continue the strike, another vote, and the result was pretty much the same, 97.3% compared to 97.8%, I believe the numbers speak for themselves.” A strike continuation vote will be taken weekly, but the length of the strike will be left to the Administration if the trends continue. “If our members still feel that we are being mistreated, and we are still being abused, we are going to continue on strike.” Le Thien said, “It is important to understand it is a fully democratic decision. Thank you for your support.”

Organizers welcomed students and workers alike to help the organizing effort in a plethora of ways: pressuring the IU provost and president by joining workers like John and Quan on the picket line; donating to the IGWC-UE Strike Fund; learning more about the union; and spreading the word.


Jake Watkins
Jake Watkins

Jake Watkins is a representative of the BCTGM local 372A in Indiana. Born in Santiago, Chile, he is an activist with the Young Communist League and CPUSA.