UE Grad Worker Locals Fighting for Peace, Free Speech

May 11, 2024

As Israel prepares to expand its offensive in Gaza, UE graduate worker locals across the country have been supporting the encampments that have been established on campuses to protest the war — and taking action to protect the free-speech rights of their members who are participating in the protests.

The membership of UE Local 256 (MIT-GSU), which represents almost four thousand graduate workers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire several months ago. MIT has suspended several UE members for their participation in the encampments, and on Friday morning, arrested six students, including the vice president of Local 256. The union been supporting the unjustly disciplined workers and fighting for the right to protest on campus.

In a video recorded at the scene of the arrests, Local 256 President Sophie Coppieters 't Wallant called the suspensions and arrests “completely unacceptable, unjust and illegal, and so we’re here as a union ready to fight for our co-workers.”

Cornell University, where Local 300-CGSU is in negotiations for a first contract, has also suspended multiple graduate workers for exercising their free-speech rights. The local has made this an issue in bargaining, and is working hard to ensure that the university administration will not simply be able to use academic suspension (which, for graduate workers, results in them losing their jobs) as a way to undo workers’ rights to just cause.

UE graduate worker locals also took the lead in organizing a statement, signed by unions representing over 100,000 university workers across the country, condemning “the use of violent force and disciplinary actions by university administrations against students and workers peacefully protesting to demand their university administrations divest from the Israeli military and from companies profiting from the genocide in Gaza.”

The statement further points out that “As unionized workers, we understand that the freedom to assemble and protest are foundational to democracy and to our ability as workers to collectively fight for meaningful changes in our workplaces and the world. We recognize the disciplinary actions and mobilization of police forces against peaceful protestors as attempts by university administrations to curtail the freedom of speech and protest on campuses.”

Christopher Iacovetti, a member of Local 1103-GSU at the University of Chicago, described the commitment of the protesters in a news interview that went viral this week:

There are limits to when we continue following orders. And when you’re talking about a genocide, visited upon a colonized population that’s two million people trapped in a ghetto … when that ghetto is being systematically starved, slaughtered, every hospital bombed, every university bombed, seventy percent of homes destroyed, 40,000 people murdered, 15,000 children murdered, the entire population on the brink of starvation, we say, if our government and our academic institutions are complicit in this, there comes a point at which we say we’re not following orders and it doesn’t matter what you do to us.


If you like what you read, please consider subscribing to the UE NEWS — for as little as $5/year you can support great labor journalism and receive the print edition of the UE NEWS four times per year.

You can also sign up to receive monthly UE NEWS Bulletins via email, or follow UE on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.