The Limitations and Possibilities of Student-Labor Coalitions

Source: Sarah Jaffe, Talking Union blog, July 9, 2014

….The subpoena brouhaha was only the latest chapter in an expansive battle with Straus’s companies on one side and 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East, 1199 SEIU New England, and the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) at NYU on the other—while NYU, claiming neutrality, remained in the middle. It’s a multi-year, multi-state struggle that began with low-wage care workers being locked out in 2011 and hasn’t ended with Straus losing his seat on the law school’s board. A close examination of the story yields important lessons about the possibilities and limitations of student-labor coalitions, the latest anti-union strategies of corporations, and the current state of labor struggles…..

…Universities, particularly large research universities, of which NYU is the prototype, provide useful points of pressure on corporate bad actors because of the customer-service relationship with their students that they cultivate. That means that students making demands, whether in response to labor law violations or investments in dirty energy, have some sway with administrators, who in turn control large chunks of money or, in the case of Straus, prestigious board appointments.

But once Straus is off the board, the university students no longer have much power, though their solidarity and support is still appreciated. The workers at HealthBridge and CareOne continue to struggle, and the RICO suit goes forward; the subpoenas have not gone away…..