We Are Not Alone: the TAA and AGEL

We are not alone.
While the TAA was the first graduate workers union to form, many other grad workers at many other schools have unionized.  We are part of a larger grad worker and academic labor movement.  Every fall and spring, a group of grad unions get together as part of the Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals (AGEL).  Recently, a contingent of TAA activists traveled to the spring 2009 edition of the AGEL conference.  Read more on the grad union movement and the AGEL conference below…
Many of the grad union locals around the country are, like us, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (a union of professional workers that includes workers ranging from university faculty to doctors, lawyers, K12 teachers, and public employees at large).  AGEL is a part of AFT; in addition to AFT grad locals, there are other grad locals affiliated with other national unions like the UAW, and we are part of a similar grouping of grad locals through the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions (CGEU).  The annual CGEU conference is coming up this summer.  
When a semi-annual AGEL meeting takes place, it is an opportunity for fellow grad union activists to come together to share stories and experiences, swapping both ideas and best practices.  It is also a chance to proverbially rally the troops and re-dedicate ourselves as activists to building a grad labor movement and an academic labor movement.  These AGEL conferences are great experiences to build and develop leadership and vision for our local, and they are also a great time with cool people.
At this spring’s AGEL, which took place in Eugene, OR and was hosted by the GTFF at the University of Oregon, there were plenary sessions, workshops, and discussions, led by fellow grad union activists.  Our TAA contingent both participated and led some of these sessions, learning from others but also sharing what we can to build this movement.  Compared to many other grad locals, as noted by some first-time AGEL attendees from the TAA, our own union local is relatively advanced.  From locals in Florida, an anti-union “right-to-work” state, who struggle to have enough members paying dues to sustain collective bargaining, to a local at Ohio State seeking to even have the right to organize a union and bargain collectively, and even to established locals going through the normal travails of grad unionism, there are different kinds of struggles and varying degrees of advancement in other grad locals.  
We learned about some of the strategies and tactics as well as programs run by other grad employee locals around collective bargaining, such as contract campaigns, on particular issues like threats to tuition waivers, and in the political process like electing and working with pro-labor public officials.  Seeing that other union locals do in fact do things differently, and with varying degrees of success, enables us to evaluate how we can improve our work.  And as much value as can be found in formal sessions, much of the value gleaned from a conference like AGEL comes from informal conversations with leaders from other grad locals.  
In addition to the great knowledge and understanding that comes from attending a conference like AGEL, such events are great ways for union members to see the bigger picture of the grad labor movement that goes beyond on our campus, our own classrooms and labs.  They are also great ways for union members to become activists, for activists to develop into leaders.  To that end, the TAA contingent worked to convince the assembled AGEL delegates to consider holding one of the next two conferences on our campus with the TAA as the host.  Hopefully soon, we can have dozens of our members attend an AGEL, building the pool of engaged activists learning from and participating in the conference, building the benefits for our union.  Stay tuned for more information.
Sending member-activists to AGELs builds our union, builds our capacity for action, and builds our leadership, all vital to deliver for our members, rank-and-file members making the union work for rank-and-file members.