It is a rare occasion to feel warmth in the outdoors of a frozen Minnesota winter, but on January 21, 2010, the impassioned voices of about 50 AFSCME workers and student allies thawed the cold air with their cries for worker justice. The rally was held in response to recent decisions the university has made in an effort to balance the budget. While university president Robert Bruininks continues to make cuts that negatively impact students and staff, there has been no move to scale back on the salaries of over 250 administrators who earn $200,000 per year. Instead, Bruininks is continuing staff lay offs, attempting to implement mandatory furlough days (10 unpaid off days), and is looking to find ways to cut student and worker benefits. In addition, these insidious budget cut strategies are also impacting undergraduate tuition, which has raised 68% between 2000-2007.
To speak to these injustices, members of the clerical workers union, AFSCME Local 3800, shared stories of how budget cuts have resulted in unpaid heat bills, filing for bankruptcy, and, as one worker noted, “There are staff workers who can no longer afford to fly to a relative’s funeral, but cutting back on administrators’ salaries would mean the difference of a vacation in Hawaii to a vacation to California.” Undergraduate students from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and graduate student workers (that’s me!) from Graduate Student Workers United (GSWU) also rallied to support the action. In between speeches, SDS members led the crowd in chants like “Workers rights are under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and “Chop from the top!” In a one-hour rally, we felt sorrow during stories of dismal struggle, joy during the empowered chorus of chanting voices, and, ultimately, an overwhelming sense of unwavering determination.
As our GSWU representative speaker, Sri, reminded us, that while the bosses may have more money, “We have something they don’t have. We have solidarity.”
Stay up-to-date on upcoming AFSCME actions; visit them on the web at: http://afscme3800.org/.