Grinnell, Iowa - On April 26, student workers at Iowa’s Grinnell College elected to create the first wall-to-wall undergraduate student union in the country, expanding their Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) to include all hourly student workers. On March 4, UGSDW and Grinnell College signed “a first-of-its-kind neutrality and election agreement,” which, members of the union explained in Labor Notes, “legally binds the College to respect the results of an election.” On the night of the 26th — delayed from April 21, the original ballot-count date, after a toxic gas leak at the local National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) offices — the UGSDW voted to expand, with 327 voting for the expansion and 6 voting against.
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About 40 students and activists march to the office of Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson on Sept. 24, 2021, demanding a halt to the construction of a $278 million gas power plant. “We will not give up,” Chandler Rupert, leader of the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, blasts over a megaphone. Columbus is Ohio’s capital and the fastest-growing city in the Midwest. And its climate action plan is aggressive. In 2020, the mayor announced a goal to go carbon neutral by 2050, and voters passed a Sierra Club-backed plan for 100% renewable energy by 2024. Some of Columbus’ large companies, which are exempt from these requirements, have opted into the city’s 100% renewables pilot.
Language assistants at Grinnell can be asked to work up to 20 hours per week, although it’s unclear how many hours are actually scheduled for the typical student worker. However, if someone worked 20 hours per week every week for the full academic year (nine months) at $12/hour, they would still only make $9,072. Even including the value of room and board, which the language assistants receive for free, their income is still only $23,470 for the year — about $5,000 less than what is considered a living wage for Poweshiek County, Iowa, where Grinnell is located.
The violence wreaked by U.S. wars since 9/11 has been immense — more than 929,000 total deaths, including an estimated 380,000 civilian deaths. And the U.S. has spent a staggering $14 trillion in Pentagon expenditures since the Afghanistan War in 2001, up to one-half of which went directly to defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon. While these facts are outrageous, they aren’t surprising in a country built on colonial violence — a country whose power and expansion are derived from war-making, with such militarism being grounded in every institution arising from the state, including education. Students and young people are witnesses to the ways in which the U.S. education system is deeply complicit with war and militarism, and in increasing numbers we are demanding change.
The pandemic has created extraordinary need for millions of people across the U.S. This is particularly acute, though often hidden, on college campuses, where students are sometimes left to choose between paying rent and having enough to eat. During their college careers, far too many students lack reliable access to nutritious food, hampering their efforts to advance their education and skills. Even before the pandemic, 43 percent of students at two- and four-year colleges reported facing food insecurity — defined as limited or uncertain access to adequate food — in the previous month, the nonprofit Hope Center found. Black, Latino and Native American students were at even greater risk. This inequality compounds systemic economic disparities.