NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ877508
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0190-2946
Singing All the Way to the Union
Feinberg, Joe Grim
Academe, v96 n1 p18-20 Jan-Feb 2010
In early 1909, just over a hundred years ago, the Spokane, Washington, branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) got a reputation as a "singing union." Later that year, the same Spokane branch of the IWW embarked on a massive free speech fight. IWW agitators would arrive on street corners, call on the crowds not to pay for work, and inform them that the union could find them better jobs. The IWW speakers would also sing. Public agitation was an essential part of organizing, and song was essential to agitation. Free speech had been won, not by the bourgeois intelligentsia that usually gets credit for such things, but by the organization and performance-artistry of the working class. Today, people still complain about limits on their free speech. Yet they no longer agitate, and they rarely sing. And graduate students do so least of all. Yet graduate students, no matter how quiet voiced and library prone, are in a special position to revive the proletarian publicness that was at the center of the old free speech fights. This is not only because they make it their life's work to learn things that the public might want to hear them say but also because the campus quad remains one of the few places in society where crowds can still be found--where there is actually a public to hear their voice. In its very origin, the university was a place of work, a collection of guilds founded by medieval students and instructors to negotiate ideals of craft and realities of labor exploitation. From loose networks of precariously living teachers and students, divided into differently funded disciplines and institutions, deprived of rights in the foreign cities where they came to teach and study, the "universitas magistrorum et scholarium" was born: a universal community of masters and students, founded to gain and defend scholars' rights to live decently while pursuing their chosen trade. By organizing, these fragmented academic workers combined to form a public, grounded in a professional collectivity whose rebellious esprit de corps is expressed so vividly in Europe's old goliard and "commercium" songs. The university was born as a "union." By organizing, people can create a space where their work takes on new social meaning. And there may be no better place to begin than with graduate student workers, who occupy that sector of the academy where labor and scholarship are hardest to separate.
American Association of University Professors. 1012 Fourteenth Street NW Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. Tel: 800-424-2973; Tel: 202-737-5900; Fax: 202-737-5526; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Washington