By Roshan Bliss

With scant representation on campus, students are building student unions to defend their own interests — and the interests of university workers as a whole.

Over the last few months, it appeared that the faculty of Portland State University would be going on strike for the first time in the school’s history as negotiations over a new contract with PSU administration stalled. The strike date was set for April 16. Just days before, it was averted as the PSU administration and the faculty union—the PSU branch of the American Association of University Professors (PSU AAUP)—came to an agreement.

PSU AAUP worked hard to bring enough pressure on the administration to force it to give PSU faculty a fair deal, but one aspect of how the union built up enough pressure to win the new contract has been underreported—the support and solidarity of the student union. The students of PSU recently formed the Portland State University Student Union, and PSU AAUP’s efforts were bolstered every step of the way in the recent negotiations by the extra pressure being brought by PSUSU’s student organizing.

The effectiveness of Portland students’ support of their teachers is part of an important trend on US campuses. Despite the fact that they pay thousands of dollars in tuition each semester, students often find themselves with little to no substantive representation on campus, and in recent years, many have turned to building student unions (not the confusingly named “student union” buildings on campus). Since the widely celebrated, though little publicized, success of the 2012 student strike in Quebec, a veritable student unionism movement been spreading across the country, a trend that bodes well not only for students themselves, but also for teachers increasingly being squeezed by austerity policies in education.

PSUSU’s success is an important lesson in what is possible when students and teachers work in solidarity. In the age of austerity and budget cuts to education, teachers and students have many mutual interests to defend. Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions (and in the case of many graduate student employees and student athletes, working conditions). The more students and teachers use their combined influence to steer institutions of education, the more those institutions will become democratized and serve the interests of the public.


Similar Posts