Returning to Union Semester

Union Semester fall 2007 participants from left to right: Alex Bloom, UFT member and teacher at PS 8 in Brooklyn, Ryan Richardson works at New York Taxi worker Alliance, Sally Kim works at the UAW Global Organizing Initiative in Detroit, Emma Lang is the Board President of the Bread and Roses Heritage Festival in Lawrence, MA and Sarah Hughes is the Coordinator of the Union Semester Program at the Murphy Institute.

Sarah Hughes came on as the Union Semester Program Coordinator at the Murphy Institute in February.

“Tourists take pictures of the World Trade Center site; I go to press conferences there and meet rescue workers trying to get workers’ compensation. Tourists shop down Broadway or see the musicals; I march down Broadway with other union members to end the war in Iraq and meet striking stagehands.”

On my first day of work at the Murphy Institute as the coordinator of the Union Semester program, I found this newsletter clipping on my desk, with a picture of a much younger me at the top. It was an article I had written for the CWA 1180 Communique, where I had been placed as an intern when I participated in the Union Semester program in the fall of 2007.

“My labor studies classes and living in New York have made this an incredible semester of college. My internship at CWA 1180 has been pivotal for me. For better or worse, my interest in class equality and social justice has found a home in the labor movement, and that has far surpassed my expectations.”

In retrospect, it’s no surprise I’ve returned to work at the Murphy Institute, coordinating the program in which I found my vocation. After completing Union Semester I returned to my home school to finish my BA, but chomped at the bit until I could return to the East Coast, the labor movement, and my community of friends and activists.

My story isn’t a unique one. I hear versions of it from union staff and community organizers all the time. I meet many of them through other Union Semester alumni at rallies and over drinks and at conferences. None of us have been able to pinpoint what it is about the intensive semester program that triggers such loyalty and camaraderie. I suspect it’s a similar phenomenon to what an organizing committee feels like after an election, or volunteers after a strenuous political campaign, or activists who huddled together at Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street.  It’s a tough program that demands rigorous scholarship, practically a full work week, and the demands of living in a vibrant, political city. Only, our Union Semester students do it together.