Pro-UAW Activism Shows Best of Obies

 With only one day’s notice after President Carmen Twillie Ambar announced the College’s plan to formally consider outsourcing 108 United Automobile Workers jobs, over 600 students and other community members assembled outside of the General Faculty meeting on Feb. 19 to voice their support of unionized employees. As Oberlin students, we are proud of the scale of the protest, the speed and skill with which it was organized, and the commitment that pro-union organizers have demonstrated to continue making their work more open to and inclusive of students and other community members of color.

As outlined in our previous editorial, we believe that the College should not move forward with its proposal to outsource more than 100 jobs (“Outsourcing Proposal Creates Unfair Burden; Cuts Must Come From Elsewhere,” Feb. 21, 2020). We believe that activism from both students and alumni has the potential to help shift the conversation and encourage senior administrators to more fully consider paths forward that do not include the elimination of campus UAW jobs.

To this point, activists have done a remarkable job setting themselves up for success. They have organized in a way that is beyond the reproach of administrators, stuck to clear and effective messaging, and, when possible, articulated tangible goals for the next steps they would like to see administrators take.

The steps that organizers took to ensure that student voices were protected and to maintain the safety of those who attended last Wednesday’s demonstration were impressive. Student liaisons wore color-coded clothes to signify their role as spokespeople responsible for answering questions and speaking to press, or as coordinators dedicated to maintaining a safe environment and de-escalating any potentially challenging interactions with Campus Safety or law enforcement officials. These measures established a structure that ensured the student organizers’ message was received.

In addition to largely effective campus communication during last Wednesday’s demonstration and beyond, student organizers should also be commended for effectively engaging with outside media. The protest was written about by publications in Lorain and Cleveland, and candidates running for Ohio’s fourth congressional district were asked about their opinion on the issue in a local debate last Monday. Students have been thorough in documenting the unfolding demonstrations through video, photography, and press releases.

While we commend the efforts of student activists, we also feel drawn to comment on another important conversation regarding the role of diversity and inclusion at pro-union demonstrations in the future. Students of color who did not feel that they were represented or fully respected in initial pro-union organizing spaces held an event — UAW Solidarity: POC Forum, which took place in the Third World House Lounge on Feb. 25 — in order to ensure that their thoughts and opinions are heard as activism continues.

The discussions surrounding inclusivity present an opportunity for student organizers as a whole to reaffirm their commitment to centering the voices of people of color on campus. Student activism will only be made stronger by becoming more diverse and inclusive, and we are glad to see conversations to this effect taking place.

Today marks the first formal conversations that will take place between UAW leadership and senior College administrators since last week’s outsourcing announcement. While we don’t know at the time of writing this editorial what those conversations will entail, we are glad to know that student support of unionized campus workers is unwavering. We know that students will continue to fight for the values that initially drew so many of us to this campus, and also that they will continually seek better, more inclusive ways to do that hard but important work of imagining better futures. As contentious and challenging as this moment is, we remain proud to be Obies.