Universities have already been encroached on by the logic of capital. In such a tendency, graduate student employees have long served as a profession that provides the necessary workforce to maintain and recreate academic institutions and academic world. The current graduate employee is an educatee and a worker responsible for administration, education, and research in academia. This dual identity of graduate employees is typical of the world-universal next generation of the discipline.
In Korea, although the current unstable conditions of graduate employees, which comes from the dual identity as workers and next generation of the discipline, are obvious, an institutional mechanism to present and mediate such reality is absent. The old detrimental practices of academia still have a strong influence and the labor rights of graduate employees have not been institutionalized. In this reality, the workforce of graduate employees is privatized by hierarchical relationships with professors, and even various types of violence and human rights violations occur frequently against graduate employees. The Korean Graduate Employee Union (KGEU) was formed to break through such contradictions between reality and institutions.
In Korea, currently, public debate on graduate employees’ workforce in universities is underway, and some legislation has been proposed to improve the treatment of graduate employees. Accordingly, it is time for the Korean Graduate Employee Union (KGEU) to carry out more active and strategic activities. We know that North American graduate employee unions have fought to attain basic labor rights for over half a century, overcoming various evil labor laws, wrong precedent cases (especially Brown’s decision), and conservative judicial officials.
North American graduate employee unions have played a key role in advancing graduate workers’ rights through regular collective bargaining and negotiations with university administrations to increase wages and social safety nets, and sometimes through active intervention in real politics. This inspired the graduate employee union movement in Korea. Korea, like the United States, has not ratified much of the ILO Core Conventions, and for a long time, the Korean government and corporations (as well as universities) have ignored the demand for workers’ basic rights. The history, achievement, and the struggles of North American graduate employee unions, which have overcome the difficult conditions so far, will serve as a precedent and role model for Korean graduate employee union.
The international solidarity between the two organizations whose research workers are the main members, the North American Graduate Employee Union and the Korean Graduate Employee Union (KGEU), retains the meaning of both the present and the days to come. Graduate employees who carry out specific labor in the university are current workers as well as are in the process of becoming future research and education workers. After graduation, graduate employees remain in universities as research and education workers to continue their work or leave academia for other places such as private companies. Therefore, recognizing and raising awareness of the graduate workers experience in terms of work class as well as reconstructing our work experience are revealing the injustices of the present and transforming the future to change the world. In addition, sharing and disseminating experience, relevant practices, and strategies through international solidarity among graduate employees establish a virtuous global ecosystem by improving the treatment of next generation of the discipline. At the same time, it will also contribute to the expansion of the basic labor rights of the working class around the world.
Today, the North American Graduate Employee Unions and the Korean Graduate Employee Union are gathered together and resolving as follows. First, we will work together to achieve and expand the labor rights of graduate employees. Second, we will continue to work collaboratively to promote measures for active intellectual exchange and human interchange.