Some progress in the University of California strike, but nowhere near enough. And by the way, where’s Gavin?
By Harold Meyerson
In her 2019 book Squeezed, Alissa Quart gave a name to the middle class that was just getting by in today’s middle-class-unfriendly economy: the middle precariat.
One group that may just manage to ascend, wobbily, to the ranks of the precarious middle are the 12,000 striking postdoctoral scholars who reached a tentative agreement with the University of California earlier today to boost their wages and benefits. Under the agreement, which will shortly be presented to the postdocs for an up-or-down vote, the scholars will receive raises of between 20 percent and 23 percent to take effect next year, as well as a couple thousand dollars in child care assistance. By my very rough calculations, that should put them in the lower ranks of the mid-precar, with annual incomes in the mid- or upper 40 thousands—not enough to get a decent rental in coastal California, but able to buy a good-sized car to sleep in.
But the 36,000 teaching and research assistants, most of whose annual incomes come in at around the mid-20 thousands, remain on strike, and the postdocs made very clear that they’re not reporting back to work until the TAs and RAs get a contract they can live with (if not live on, exactly), too. In a sense, the postdocs’ solidarity is in the grand historic tradition of UAW strikes against the Big Three auto companies, in which the skilled craft workers for those companies—the ones who could fix the assembly lines if they sputtered to a halt—won comparatively higher pay than their union brothers and sisters who actually worked on those assembly lines.
Those craft workers often settled their contracts first, but stayed off the job until the far more numerous assembly line workers could settle theirs. As the union credo goes, an injury to one was, and still is, an injury to all.
The importance of this UC strike cannot be overstated. Like their fellow Gen Zers and millennials who work at Starbucks, the TAs and RAs are well educated and lowly paid.
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