Student, Worker Solidarity Leads to Victory at the U of M

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The MN Higher Ed Worker Center (HEWC) and a coalition of faculty, student groups, frontline unions and community organizations (including TCDSA) experienced a big victory during Monday night’s UMN Board of Regents election. Following weeks of intensive lobbying and outside pressure and organizing, right-wing populist Michael Hsu and union-busting attorney Karen Schanfield were both defeated during an hours-long joint convention of the MN House and Senate.

UMN regent selection is a corrupt and opaque process that has historically been captured by party insiders and the university’s wealthy and powerful. In recent years, the rightwing has learned to game the selection processand ram through its appointees while the DFL has sat idly by, content to back its own neoliberal and technocratic alternatives for the Board. As a result, the regents produced by the legislature in the past two decades have driven the UMN down an increasingly corporate, anti-union, racist and misogynist path. Hsu’s reappointment and Schanfield’s inclusion threatened to deepen that trajectory, motivating HEWC and other groups on campus to intervene.

petition was released against these two candidates that was signed by over 1,000 people, ranging from custodians and university food service workers, to undergraduates, grad students, staff, alumni, and contingent and tenured faculty. Among the 30+ organizations that joined the petition coalition were Teamsters 320, AFSCME 3800, UMN Students for Climate Justice, and a variety of campus cultural groups. Taken together, the coalition represents a coming-together of diverse elements of the university community to fight against the threat posed by candidates like Karen Schanfield and Michael Hsu to public higher education. This was many student organizers’ first time working intensively with their professors and the labor movement to fight for the common good; conversely, this was also an opportunity for faculty and frontline unions like Teamsters to work closely with student movements.

Active and card-carrying DSA members were at the forefront of this campaign, helping to organize the coalition within the university community and pressing for our demands at the state legislature. Our DSA-endorsed state senators Omar Fateh and Jen McEwen were an invaluable help, working closely with Teamsters and HEWC to whip votes and align their colleagues against the two dangerous candidates. On the day of the convention, regent Hsu lost his election by two votes, and Republicans made the unexpected move of dropping their support for Schanfield and settling for a much more moderate candidate. Both of these wins can be directly attributed to the pressure exerted within and outside the legislature by students, faculty, staff, socialist legislators, and militant Teamsters.

On its face it might not seem like much, but this is a major achievement for students and the labor movement in the Twin Cities. Without this intervention, it is conceivable that the DFL would have enabled the appointment of a union buster and a rightwing populist to the governing Board of the state’s largest employer. More importantly, the regents campaign is an example of the sort of cross-categorical and cross-hierarchical organizing that is essential to securing wins in a complex workplace/organization like the UMN. It’s not every day that you see Teamsters, environmental groups, faculty, and the university’s cultural groups standing in solidarity with one another, unified around a shared vision for our collective future.

The HEWC will continue to organize and build off of this win. Please contact [email protected] if you want to get involved or learn more.

–Jackson K.

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