When I was in graduate school, some of my fellow grad students decided to unionize. I wasn’t excited about the idea. We did teach for wages, but I didn’t think a union was the right vehicle to manage our several-faceted relationship to the university and the profession. When the aspiring unionists staged a job action, I moved the class I was teaching off campus. I take picket lines case by case, but in general I try not to cross them. When the university gave us a modest raise, I made a donation to the unionists’ organization in an amount equal to membership dues. I hadn’t asked them to get me a raise, but I figured they were entitled to some of it. Still, I let them go their way, and I went mine.
So I don’t exactly have a rich history as an academic union firebrand. But I am in favor of the current movement for adjunct, part-time, and other non-tenure-track faculty at colleges and universities to unionize. They’re essential to the enterprise of higher education, which has never been more important to more people in this country, and they frequently get a raw deal from employers who depend on their work. Like fast food workers and Walmart employees, they can improve that deal by combining their individually negligible leverage in the labor market.