Until All Halls Are Hind’s Hall

Independent Student Worker’s conclude Sickout, but the fight for a free Palestine persists.

The following is a statement by the Independent Student Workers of Columbia University:

On April 30th, the NYPD invaded our campus for a second time, inflicting unprecedented violence on our students and community members. They did so at the behest of the Columbia administration, Board of Trustees, and powerful individuals unrelated to our community. In direct response, hundreds of student workers at Columbia coalesced to take action. In spite of our contractual obligations, in spite of the limitations of end-of-term labor actions, we came together and forged a strategy forward to tell Columbia: there is no threat, no contract, no suppression that will keep us from standing up for what is right and just.

We formed the Independent Student Workers at Columbia, a rank-and-file group of teaching assistants, researchers, graders, and instructors of record. On May 6, 2024, we announced the start of a sickout. A sickout, for those unfamiliar, is a labor action in which workers call in sick as a means to disrupt the functioning of their employer’s business. On May 24, 2024, after two and a half weeks of successful labor action, we concluded the sickout.

We called this sickout because we were sick of Columbia. We were sick of the administration’s reprehensible treatment of student-protesters. We were sick of the militarization of our campus. We were sick of the University’s complicity and investment in genocide and apartheid. We called the sickout to demand amnesty for those facing disciplinary action for their participation in pro-Palestinian protest, including fired employees,  and to demand the immediate and permanent removal of the NYPD from campus.

From the onset of the sickout, hundreds of graduate and undergraduate student-workers, faculty, and staff joined our movement to withhold labor. Together, we refused to submit grades, provide service work, or otherwise contribute to the administration’s attempts to conduct business as usual. Through our combined efforts, we withheld over 6000 grades across at least 45 different departments. The administration knows this well, even as they desperately try to divert public attention from the impact of these concerted actions.

Success, however, stems not only from what we interrupt, but also from what we gain. So, what did we gain from this action?

Over two and a half weeks, we saw numerous suspensions lifted, and watched as the NYPD slinked off campus. While we have not yet won total amnesty nor the permanent removal of the NYPD, the victories so far reflect the strength of our movement. Our message is clear: if Columbia does not resolve these demands, we will be back in the Fall. If we have learnt anything through years of labor organizing at Columbia, it is how to strike and how to win – with or without union protections. Indeed, as pressure mounted with our concerted action, we protected each other from threats of retaliation, and watched as the administration flinched.

We claim these victories alongside our faculty, staff, and undergraduate allies at Barnard and Columbia. Through these weeks, we have gained a robust alliance with these different constituencies that make up our campus community. Indeed, in the previous three weeks, faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students came together on short notice to launch the largest coordinated labor action on campus since the Fall 2021 SWC strike. Our sickout coincided with the first ever faculty and staff service strike, while undergraduates amplified both actions with letters to department chairs, deans, and university officials. Our sickout was but one of a wave of actions on campus. This the administration would be wise not to forget.

We gained, too, hundreds of new organizers. As the sickout took off, nearly 200 new graduate and undergraduate students and student-workers volunteered to organize their departments and friends in the name of divestment and justice. The political activation engendered by the sickout will carry us far. As we chant at our rallies and pickets, we will always stand up and fight back. This, too, the university would be wise not to forget.

Though the sickout has ended, we will all remember why we fell ill in the first place. Some became sick the moment they learned of the Nakba and of Columbia’s investment in the settler-colonial state of Israel. Others fell ill this past fall, when the University banned SJP and JVP and began to suspend student-activists. Hundreds caught the sickness on April 18, when the NYPD flooded East Butler Lawn and arrested peaceful activists en masse for the first time since 1968.

Many more fell ill on the evening of April 30. We fell ill when the administration locked down campus. We fell ill when pigs in riot gear created a militarized zone that stretched for blocks, preventing witnesses and journalists from documenting police brutality. We fell ill when the NYPD kettled us and threatened us on the streets outside our own university; when they threw our friends to the ground and arrested our colleagues for as little as calling for an EMT; when they prevented injured students from accessing medical care; when a bullet ripped through the air inside of Hind’s Hall, fired by some careless or idiotic cop.

We fell ill because when our students cried out in protest—in an earnest plea for humanity—the administration ignored them, then threatened them, suspended them, tried to corral them into designated free-speech zones, and finally sicced the NYPD on them. This we will not forget.

When student-activists set up the first encampment on the morning of April 17, they helped set off an international student movement. Just as they had modeled their encampment on those that had come before, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment became a model for protests that would rise up after. In other words, these student-activists helped set a precedent for a wave of conscientious protests.

When Shafik called the police on those same students the next day, she established another precedent—one in which police violence became an acceptable response to student activism. University administrators across the country followed her example, and police violence toward students escalated rapidly.

On April 30, the Baroness set yet another dangerous precedent by inviting and then lauding the invasion of our campus by the NYPD, whose officers, like Shafik, are equal parts brutal and incompetent. She and the Board of Trustees sought to make the occupation of college campuses by armed police the new normal. They hoped to establish this new precedent in which the specter of police violence looms ever present. This is a direct threat not only to pro-Palestinian activists, but to any organization and any group that speaks against the administration, and indeed to any student at all. This, too, we will not forget.

The administration has worked hard to make us feel disempowered and isolated as individuals. But as the Gaza Solidarity Encampment has demonstrated, as the faculty and staff service strike has demonstrated, and as our sickout has demonstrated, we are powerful together.

We conclude this sickout in a moment of strength and of hope. We conclude this sickout emboldened by our successes and poised for future actions. We remain in solidarity with our students, our faculty, and staff. Though campus has emptied for the summer, we will be back – all of us, together, undaunted, in the Fall. We will continue to mobilize and organize until then. On College Walk, in the streets of Morningside Heights, in dorm rooms and classrooms, in administrative buildings, in libraries and dining halls, we will be back, and we will continue our struggle for collective liberation until all halls are Hind’s Hall – until we are all free.