From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
Springfield, Ill.—University of Illinois, Springfield, faculty members have been working since Aug. 16, 2021, without a contract and on April 21 filed an intent-to-strike-notice.
Kristi Barnwell, president of UIS United Faculty, part of University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, told The State Journal-Register “We don’t want it to come to a strike, but after a year of bargaining we’ve seen little progress on critical issues in negotiations.” She noted that since 2017 they have received salary increases of a paltry one or two percent.
WAGES AND MUCH MORE AT STAKE
Many strikes, especially of rank-and-file-workers, have issues other than fair wages—like being treated with dignity or work schedules that don’t make one sick or destroy family life. As Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy explained to News & Letters, the demands at the U of I are much broader than the needed raise:
“The labor action is not all about money, although that is certainly part of it. Zoom out a little bit, and what is happening on our campus (and many others) comes into focus as just another phase of class war in this country. Class power not only functions at the university, but it rules the university. Some of our fights in this round of bargaining include workload issues.
“We have professors who carry very heavy service loads, and these are disproportionately women. The university has refused to properly support them with some course releases so that they could shift some time and energy from teaching to their other obligations. Also, we want less top-down decision making and more faculty control over the terms of our lives and work.
SIPHON OFF CASH, THEN CRY POOR
“We are being outnumbered by an ever-growing class of high-paid administrators. Our current Chancellor Karen Whitney gets $25,000 a month, plus $2,000 more in a monthly housing stipend, and she is not even an employee of the university! She is an independent contractor in the so-called gig economy, hired by our university from a corporate body that sells interim chancellors to universities across the country.
“Our university spent $800,000 on an outside company to draw a new map of campus, $100,000 for a new strategic plan, and $60,000 for an executive training company (that also employs Interim Chancellor Whitney). The university claims to have no money, except for everything it wants to pay for. When it comes to faculty needs, the university presents itself as broke.
AFTER MAY DAY
“We are not asking for the sun, moon, or stars, but they make us fight for peanuts here. They don’t give up anything without a fight. Sound familiar? Indeed, capitalism and class power structure the university.
“The status of things right now is that we are still hoping to avoid a strike. We don’t want to go on strike, but the last contract we won in 2017, was only possible with a strike. That is our power. We are workers. If we don’t get a fair contract by May Day, we will probably honor that great day with a strike on May 2.”
Prof. Gilman-Opalsky put it this way at a faculty rally on April 3: “One thing about dialectics is that these things don’t come out of nowhere. Don’t be surprised. When you see people rise up in Ferguson, in Baltimore, in Egypt, in Hong Kong—anywhere you see people rise up, it’s because they’ve been put down! In the Ukraine, that’s right. People rise up when they’re put down. Don’t be surprised. We’ve been talking a long time. Don’t ask your professors to keep on talking because when you’re talking and no one is listening you have to find another way to be heard!”
On May 2, a tentative agreement was reached, avert- ing a strike unless the agreement falls through.
–Labor rights supporter