For several years, higher education has energized organized labor, building membership density at a breakneck pace. SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign leads this wave, and St. Louis is an early epicenter—after a successful faculty unionization campaign at Washington University in St. Louis in 2014, similar successes followed at three other schools, with more on the way.

This organizing success comes surprises no one who has followed higher education in recent decades. As the neoliberal revolution invaded our public institutions, higher education sat on the bleeding edge of the worst developments of the twenty-first century worklife: benefits, wages, and job security have all eroded as three quarters of university faculty now work in a “gig economy” model since exported everywhere from Amazon to law firms, FedEx to Silicon Valley.

Now that higher ed faculty have a nationally organized power base, Faculty Forward’s Bargaining for the Common Good campaign turns its strength toward social and community issues that intersect university life outside of faculty working conditions. As a social institution, the University can be either a reactionary or progressive force in the free speech struggle, gentrification, local infrastructural development, and the research priorities of our country. BCG will stand on our power base to make sure it’s the latter. Presenter: Michael O’Bryan, professor, Washington University in St. Louis