Open Collective
Open Collective
2022 Student Worker Aid Collective end of year update
Published on December 22, 2022 by Johannah King-Slutzky

Open Collective has asked us to answer three questions for our end of year review:

1. What did you accomplish during 2022? How did you use money?
2.  What challenges did you face during 2022? What did your Collective learn? How did you change or grow?
3. What are your plans for 2023? Anything exciting coming up?

Before we answer these questions, we want to start by thanking all our supporters in 2022. Student Workers of Columbia, or SWC, signed its first contract with Columbia University in January 2022, and has spent the remainder of the year fortifying a new post-strike identity, a process that has been full of challenges and discoveries. Because of your contributions, the Student Worker Aid Collective (SWAC) was able to distribute thousands of dollars to members of SWC who had gone without compensation for months. Because of this, our beneficiaries, the members of SWC, were able to stay on strike as long as it took to get a fair deal and signed a strong contract in January that changed the higher ed labor movement in ways that are still unfolding. For example, SWC’s UAW colleagues at the University of California are currently on strike for a better contract and have said that many of their strategic calculations are partly based on SWC’s experiences. Neither SWC’s successful strike nor subsequent higher ed labor movements would have looked the same without your support for SWAC.

After the strike ended, SWC members came together to draft and ratify new bylaws that emphasize democratic rank and file principles. Support from community members like you affirmed that a rank and file led strike is more powerful than one led by union staffers. SWC is now one of the most prominent examples of democratic unionism in higher ed.

Throughout the strike, we distributed your gifts to supplement lost earnings for workers who had withheld labor at Columbia. Our main challenge was determining how to distribute the money equitably so that the greatest amounts went to those in the greatest need. It turns out this is hard work! We learned we  needed a community of committed super-volunteers to asses needs and allocate funds. It was also important to us that funds be distributed without reviewers knowing which applications belonged to whom, which requires more time and more volunteers. We learned a lot about how to recruit a committed and detail-oriented funds allocation team this year.

We are still figuring out our path forward in 2023. While nothing is certain yet, it is likely we will keep funds in reserve for the next SWC strike, which will not be for at least three more years.

Thank you for everything, supporters! Your contributions not only benefitted Columbia student workers, they also helped change the labor movement at a pivotal moment. We are truly grateful.