Campus Life

Op-Ed: Scabs Bother Me

Scabs bother me. I’m fine with nerds having fun in an overindulgent nerdfest. What really bothers me is the amount of importance some students put on not recognizing graduate student labor. People pretend like this is some celebration of creativity and intellectual originality. No. Wake up. The administration is not doing anything more significant in not recognizing GSU than those weird geeks with Japanese fetishes who show up at anime conventions in droves having paid hundreds of dollars to create the most accurate Chun Li costume.

You want to do something creative? Don’t cross the graduate student’s picket line. Start there. Instead of bashing those participating in labor action, why don’t you realize that you need some proper training from real academics, people who understand humanity with more breadth and nuance?

You want to do something intellectual? Why not picket with GSU outside of Cobb Monday through Wednesday, instead of indulging yourselves in weird abstract geekery that has zero social impact? You think your Core is oh-so-profound because everyone has to read works by Durkheim, but the real world doesn’t exist in an abstraction. The real world is complicated and doesn’t quite fit neatly into intellectual arguments, broad or specific. Producing t-shirts that ask “That’s all well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory?” is not helpful.

So I guess the real reason scabs bother me so much is that they’re emblematic of the whole self-indulgent, self-congratulating University of Chicago culture that is completely unaware of its privilege and so detached from reality. You have been given such blessings and resources that many students around the world can only dream of having. There are so many talented teenagers I have met working with under-resourced school districts that would probably look at your crossing the picket line and see the same thing we see when we look at Wall St — an immense waste of talent and money.

When GSU hosts information sessions, they often talk about the kind of holistic growth that is possible when graduate workers aren’t exploited and can afford food and a roof over their heads, etc etc. A few months ago, an elderly tired-looking woman raised her hand and asked me why they were talking about union-busting instead of focusing on academics. I told her that the level of academics here is top-notch, but academics is just a given — it’s a baseline on which we build more multifaceted, impactful things. I told her it’s not a waste of time, because think about it: if we want to stop labor rights violations in the U.S., do you want your policies designed by a social scientist who assiduously studied the problem on paper, or do you want someone who did studied the theory but also committed to labor action when UChicago refused to recognize GSU for over a year? Scabs do in fact waste ridiculous amounts of time and resources doing crap like crossing picket lines, snitching, and otherwise subverting collective action.

At least GSU wants to make some sort of impact, and at least they care about our larger society while pursuing their own successes. When have scabs ever changed our society? This place has talent and resources. Why are we wasting them being scabs when we can use that time to do much more meaningful things? Why are we ignoring our social responsibility?