YDSA and the Teamsters Fight at the University of Minnesota

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YDSA played purely a support role for the Teamsters Local 320. Being a student
organization, our primary aim was to educate students about the working conditions at the
university, and to build up support for the union among the student body. With this goal in mind,
we went about tabling outside of dorm cafeterias, lit-dropping pro-Teamsters literature in
university dorms and apartments, and organizing our rank-and-file members into specialized
action groups for things like student-worker outreach, and media production. We collected over
140 interested volunteers across three campuses, and garnered over 1200 signatures on our
petition supporting campus workers and denouncing the university’s mistreatment of them. This
was a cross-campus movement, and so we collaborated with UMD YDSA as well as other
left-wing student organizations across the University of Minnesota campuses. This was only
really the first phase of an expedited campaign. We had more plans in place in the event of a
strike, such as organizing rallies with and for the Teamsters, collaborating with other sympathetic
student organizations, and a general escalation of tactics, until the Teamsters’ demands were met.

Through having one-on-one conversations with other students, we came to realize that
it’s not too hard to win people over to our cause. People are naturally inclined to sympathize with
workers experiencing mistreatment and underappreciation from their employers, almost as if it
were a universal experience under capitalism. There also might be an implicit understanding that
both the students and the workers are being exploited by the university. While the university
extracts every cent from our wallets and leaves us with potentially decades of indebtedness, it
simultaneously extracts the physical, mental, and emotional energy from its workers, returning to
them only enough money for them to make it to their next shift. In general, students don’t need
much convincing that this is the case when it’s already what they see and experience every day.

The most important thing we learned though is that nothing scares bosses more than
workers who are organized, unified, and ready to fight; and no word causes bosses to lose more
sleep than the word “strike”. Although I can only back this up anecdotally, it seems to me and
many others that the university first came to the bargaining table dismissive of their bargaining
partners’ demands and uninterested in good-faith dialogue. This seemed to change as the threat of
a strike became more and more real. In the beginning they were arrogant, by the end they were
scared. And because they were scared, they caved. All workers should be able to scare their
bosses in that same way.

It has to be stressed that this was first-and-foremost a victory by and for the union, and
we are deeply grateful to them for letting us assist them. The Teamsters gave the university a
potent reminder of the power of organized labor which it will not soon forget. While the
Teamsters celebrate their victory, they also know that they must already be preparing for their
next battle. The university certainly is. And we must be preparing for that battle too, because that
is our role as workers, as organizers, and as socialists. Their struggle is our struggle, and we must
keep struggling, until our better future is realized.

– Jack B, YDSA UMN Steering Member