On Saturday, April 9, eight members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO 6300) got on a bus headed to a rally for workers rights in Chicago—this marked the last event in a series of rallies, work-ins, campus talks and other activities GEO participated in as part of a ‘Solidarity Vigil’ over the past eight weeks. Started in response to the unprecedented attacks on labor and public education taking place in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and right here in Illinois—the GEO called a Solidarity Vigil to give local unionists and community members an opportunity to participate a coordinated, member-driven effort in support of the national movement to fight back against these attacks.
The Vigil began on February 21, with a rally initiated by the Campus Faculty Association. Since then there have been three more campus rallies—which have included participation from both on campus and off-campus unions, community members, undergraduates and even local high school students. In total, more than 500 people have attended these rallies in support of worker’s rights, making their voices heard.
In addition to the rallies, throughout the Vigil the GEO sponsored two talks, three movie nights, a meet-and-greet with the Indiana Democratic Representatives who were exiled here in Champaign-Urbana to protect worker’s rights in their state, as well as two weeks of work-ins at the Student Union. Dozens of GEO members took part in these events, alongside faculty, undergraduates and brothers and sisters from other unions on campus. GEO members have also joined in multiple pickets in support of the Champaign area Construction Local and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). We sent more than 100 of our members to Madison, Wisconsin, along with supplies for the protestors there. More than two-dozen made two trips to rallies in Indianapolis, and we also worked hard to show our support of the Indiana Representatives while they were here in town—bringing them cookies, messages from home, and getting to know these courageous legislators.
“What strikes me about the past eight weeks is the unbelievable solidarity I have witnessed,” said Katie Walkiewicz, GEO Co-President. “These activities have strengthened our relationship with other unions on campus, as well in the wider Champaign-Urbana community. I have had the opportunity to talk with Champaign teachers, to march alongside AFSCME members, to hear the concerns of workers in SEIU. It has been a powerful experience, and one that is sure to strengthen the union-movement in this community.”
While the vigil went on a bit of a hiatus during Spring Break, this past week marked a “Week of Action” to culminate the solidarity efforts. On April 4, the GEO hosted a rally at the Alma Mater Statue—as part of a national day of action to commemorate the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dedication to civil rights and workers rights. The next day four GEO members headed to Springfield to urge our legislators there to support education worker’s rights.
Then on Friday, April 8, the GEO hosted a round table discussion with members of SEIU to talk about their potential upcoming work action here on campus. Approximately 30 people joined in the discussion, and learn more about the concerns and hopes of SEIU members.
The week ended with the trip to Chicago. Also on the bus were members of other local unions including the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), the Illinois Education Association (IEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a few community organizations, who made the trip and joined with thousands in Daley Square to stand up for workers rights.
The GEO now is calling its Solidarity Vigil to a close—but that does not mean the fight ends here. With a potential strike by SEIU coming very soon, as well as the continued attack on tuition waivers impacting many of our own members in the College of Fine and Applied Arts—there remains work to be done. The last eight weeks have taught us much about the power of labor when we come together and unite in a common struggle. These are lessons we will bring to our ongoing fights in the upcoming weeks, months, and years ahead.