Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Jonnell Robinson

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


A 2016 NLRB decision that made graduate labor unions legal has contributed significantly to a wave of graduate organizing, continuing a 50-year history of graduate unions. This research investigates this contemporary wave of graduate unionization using two papers, which take a theoretical and an empirical approach respectively. The first paper uses a Marxist analysis to connect the narrow antagonism between graduates and management with larger-scale phenomena that involves other workers too, such as the growing population of contingent academic workers. It describes how corporate interests have influenced higher education and administrators have become managers of workers in order to help serve capitalist interests. The second paper is an empirical investigation into the strategies that graduate unions are pursuing in this third wave of graduate union organizing, based on interviews from twelve graduates from eight different unions across the country. Graduate organizers discussed their unions’ experiences of building and maintaining an organization that represents and forwards the interests of the body of graduate workers at their institutions, as well as how their unions are connecting with other communities and developing broader targets for action. The goal of these papers is to understand the nature of contemporary graduate employment as well as to develop insights that organizers have gained in their experiences organizing in unions.


Open Access



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