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Harvard University markets itself as a bastion of enlightenment unrivaled anywhere in the world. When it comes to anti-union rhetoric, they are as dreary and retrograde as any old standard issue greedball.

Tomorrow, graduate student workers at Harvard will begin to vote on whether or not to unionize with the UAW. They join thousands of other grad student workers at prestigious universities across America who have unionized over the past few years, all of them seeking basic workplace protections in an academic industry in which costs are high, jobs are scarce, pay is low, and debt is a constant companion. People of all political persuasions should be able to admit that it is not unreasonable for the lowest-paid academic workers at a multibillion-dollar institution to seek at least a minimal safety net. If Ivy League grad students were not smart enough to want to unionize, it would raise serious doubts about the ability of these schools to teach critical thinking skills.

In every such campaign at an elite university, there is always the faint hope: Perhaps the school will live up to its progressive reputation and not run an oafish anti-union campaign against these low level workers. Alas! This consistently turns out to be too much to ask. And Harvard (Endowment value: $37 billion) is no better than anyone else.

If you were a Harvard grad student wondering whether or not to vote to unionize tomorrow, you could consult the union’s website, where you would find rationales such as the desire to “give graduate workers a meaningful voice in how the university operates,” “protect our benefits and working conditions from unilateral changes by the university administration,” and “make our university a healthy place to live and work.” Or you could consult the Harvard administration’s own website about unionization, where the school is happy to inform you that the key issues surrounding the union campaign are, uh:

  • You have to pay union dues
  • “It is impossible to state with any certainty what might be included in a bargaining agreement”
  • Even though grad student workers at different Harvard schools “have different concerns” from one another, they would all be in one union, which is scary.


It’s funny, is it not, that all of these Ivy League students would go to all the trouble of starting a union drive just because they want to promote uncertainty and scariness? But that’s what Harvard University says, so it must be true. Furthermore, Harvard’s Labor Relations Director, Paul Curran, emailed all the grad students last weekend with this helpful information:

Will I have to pay union dues if students vote for the UAW?

Yes. The United Auto Workers requires dues of 1.44% from its membership, and approximately 60% of the dues and fees collected will go directly to the international UAW union—not to local Harvard students—to support strike pay and organizing activity at other locations. In aggregate, Harvard students will likely pay more than $1,400,000 in union dues and fees per year (calculated based on 2017 pay, at a rate of 1.44%.)


If I did not know better I might think that Harvard, despite its lofty reputation, thinks that its grad students are unable to grasp the fact that they get benefits in return for their union dues, or that the fact that union dues can help other members of the same union at “other locations” is a feature, not a bug, that contributes to the fundamental power of unions themselves. Common sense tells us that the Harvard administration must not think its own grad students are simplistic narcissistic fucking morons incapable of grasping the most basic aspects of how power dynamics work, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Anyone who happens to be a proud alumni of Harvard can be slightly less proud now.