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Wisconsin Grad Students Organize Against Notorious Anti-Union Law “Act 10”

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August Easton-Calabria is a graduate student in the TAA at UW-Madison, writing in personal capacity.

Graduate workers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and members of Workers Strike Back are running for leadership of our union, and getting organized in defiance of one of the most repressive and anti-union laws in the country!

Act 10 is a Wisconsin state law that forces public-sector union members to vote to certify our unions every year in order to retain our collective bargaining rights, and prevents unions from bargaining for wages over annual inflation – which means we effectively can’t bargain for a raise. It was passed in 2011 in spite of massive protests against it, just three years after the devastating global financial crash. It was designed to foist the crisis created by the corporate elite onto us, the workers. But that was thirteen long years ago, and the labor movement in the US is waking up again. Since 2011, overturning Act 10 should have been the primary objective of the labor movement in Wisconsin, and union leadership should have coordinated to mobilize their memberships to strike in defiance of the law. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. For workers who are eager to fight for better lives, it’s our job to take on this fight ourselves, with a new strategy to rebuild fighting unions.

Abiding by this anti-union law makes it impossible to fight on bread-and-butter issues like wages. Our so-called “progressive” university doesn’t even have to bargain with my union, the Teachers Assistant Association (TAA), because it’s been decertified. With across-the-board inflation and rapid rent increases nationwide, our already-low University of Wisconsin graduate stipends have become unlivable. Instead of paying us a living wage, the university sends us emails advertising local food banks.

For the last year, grad students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been organizing with Workers Strike Back to rebuild our graduate union, the TAA, back into a powerful union to fight for $50,000 stipends and 12-month contracts for all graduate workers. That’s what is necessary to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Madison without being rent burdened – rent has increased over 30% since 2020 in Madison!

Bargaining for anything other than wages up to inflation is illegal for public-sector unions under Act 10. In other words, our demand for $50,000 stipends violates Wisconsin state law. But that is precisely the point. We need to build a strong movement that’s capable of re-certifying our union to regain bargaining rights, getting strike-ready, and organizing with other public-sector unions, like Madison’s teachers and nurses. We’ve been organizing for months and have built a base of graduate workers pushing this campaign forward – to succeed, we need to win our union to this campaign. That’s why we are now running to win leadership of our graduate union!

Act 10 is hated among Wisconsin’s workers – in 2011, thousands of people marched on Wisconsin’s Capitol to stop it from being passed. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful then. But with the resurgence of the labor movement, the time is now to take on fights that can electrify the whole working class to fight for our own needs. If we can build a movement strong enough to overturn Act 10, it will give new life to unions across the entire state, and become a reference point for workers to rebuild their own unions and fight against Right to Work and other anti-union laws.

Follow our fight on Instagram at @wsb_madison, and if you’re a Wisconsin worker, join our movement to overturn Act 10!

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