As founding president of the University of Wisconsin Teaching Assistants Association, I learned firsthand how workers cannot rely exclusively on the legal process. I was reminded of that lesson when I read the Aug. 25 Politics & the Nation article “Graduate students won right to organize, but victory in peril under Trump.”
In 1969, the Wisconsin legislature refused to recognize us as employees, even though we did more than 60 percent of undergraduate teaching. The university agreed to bargain with us only after we threatened an illegal strike. We won the first TA contract in the country in 1970 only after we waged a 24-day illegal strike.
It took us four years to get our rights. At every turn, the legal process told us to give up. Had we relied on a rigged legal process, a half-century later we would still be waiting to start a union.
The Aug. 25 news article “For many, getting to work isn’t the problem. It’s low pay” reported that “economists are stumped” to explain why wages remain low with unemployment at 4.3 percent. The decline of unions was not considered a significant part of the answer.
Workers need higher pay. The country needs more democracy. We need more unions. We won’t get any of these by relying on legal processes whose entire purpose is to keep all of us in our place.
Robert L. Muehlenkamp, Takoma Park