We Are Not Alone: Redux

The TAA is oldest among many graduate worker unions across the country, with brothers and sisters literally from coast to coast and parts in between. Some locals are affiliated with our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, while others are affiliated with the United Auto Workers and the Communications Workers of America. Within the UW System, the TAA is joined by the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association (MGAA), AFT #3220. We share much in common, including objectives of advancing the interests of graduate workers at UW schools, improving the academy and higher education, and building an academic labor movement. The possibilities of and potential for collaboration between the TAA and the MGAA, from bargaining to organizing to political action are myriad and plentiful.

However, our unions previously have not put together a coherent and consistent program for collaboration and partnership. With this in mind, the TAA and the MGAA recently put together an initial summit of Co-Presidents and staff to begin to outline how we can work together both better and more. This group met, facilitated by staff from our state federation, AFT-Wisconsin, for a whole day’s worth of discussion and strategizing. From the MGAA, Co-Presidents Jessica Stender and Lee Abbott as well as staffperson Paul Sickel joined the TAA’s Co-Presidents Katie Lindstrom and Peter Rickman as well as staffperson Claiborne Hill in conversations about collective bargaining and our contracts, action in the local, state, and national political arenas, internal and external organizing. Throughout the summit, from introductory conversations about our respective locals and their general characteristics and directions to substantive discussions on the aforementioned content, we pursued the creation of shared space between and within our local unions as well as the formulation of concrete steps to actualize our vision for cross-union collective action.

The summit produced both lively discussion and a set of next steps to pursue. Prior to the summit, our respective leaderships agreed that our initial meeting would in fact be the first of much collaboration, formal and informal both. To that end, we decided upon a framework to engage our own local memberships and create venues for cross-union participation of all, from rank-and-file members to engaged activists to elected leaders. This summit represented a beginning to our collaboration and a first step toward expanded engagement between our memberships to work with one another.

As unionists, we believe in collective action as a first principle. We entered this summit hoping to fulfill that by creating more and greater collectivity in our action as unionists and with our unions. The productive content, as well as simply getting to know one another initially, means that we can work as a coherent academic and graduate labor movement here in Wisconsin and beyond. In the coming weeks and months, the TAA and the MGAA will be working to formulate ways for our unions and our members to get to know another, to work together, and to achieve shared goals and objectives. This summit began that process, and we will look forward with great excitement to connecting our unions with one another. As much as anything, this summit proved to each respective union that we can and should be working together with so much in common both in environment and orientation.

As a step in the beginning of bringing together the TAA and the MGAA for shared collective action, our summit yielded gains for each union individually as well as in building for ourselves the prospects of a united graduate labor movement in the UW System for all graduate workers, be we in Madison or Milwaukee. Now, we set ourselves upon the tasks of making that real, and we look forward to our rank-and-file memberships participating deeply in that enterprise.