Taxing people out of higher education, with Tom DePaola

One of the remarked-upon features of the House version of the Republican tax bill currently headed to reconciliation is that it would tax tuition waivers given to graduate students who do much of the teaching and research workloads on campus as income. (To explain: When I was a graduate student teacher, my stipend–the money in my pocket–was around $16,000 per year. Tuition for my program was nearly $30,000, but was “waived”–no checks were written, no loans taken out. The GOP plan would tax me as though I made $46,000 for that year, taxes I would have to pay out of my measly $16,000 to live on.)

Graduate workers, though, have been organizing their workplaces in recent years, and are ready to fight. A group of graduate workers organizing with SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign went to Washington, D.C. to greet Paul Ryan and ask him why he wants to raise their taxes. When Ryan wouldn’t talk to them, Tom DePaola and others were arrested. DePaola, an education PhD student and researcher at the University of Southern California, talks to me about the tax bill, the Republican attacks on campus, and the universities’ ambivalent response to the Trump administration.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread and butter issues as opposed to what we might call social movement unionism where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other. USC is the largest private employer and the largest private export in the entire city of LA. We have the most international students of any private university in the country. They like to say that this the evidence that their fundamental valuing of diversity, but when we saw the immigration ban rolling out, we saw DACA, all of these things, the university was basically silent. A couple of memos went out, “Oh, we respect everyone. Oh, if you need some advice, head on down to the law school and maybe someone can talk to you there.” If I were an international student who was scared, that would have done nothing to assuage my fears. We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn’t going to protect us. I have tons of work to do. None of us have the time for this. None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan’s office to get arrested. But, at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us and our ideals and intellectualism at large.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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