NEW YORK — Several hundred unionists, students, teachers and elected officials turned out May 11 to support New York University graduate teaching assistants, represented by GSOC/UAW Local 2110, who have been on strike for six months.

Roger Toussaint, who recently spent five days in jail for leading a strike of transit workers, pointed to the grad students’ struggle as a pivotal fight for the labor movement. “We are defining whether there will be a fight back or whether the powers that be will be able to shape the future of America in their own image — an America without unions, pensions or health care benefits, without union rights, without a voice,” he said.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “This is my 10th trip to New York in solidarity with these workers,” adding, “There will be no peace anywhere on this campus until NYU honors the lawful desire of graduate employees to be represented by their union.”

Local 2110 was the first union of graduate students in the U.S. to win official recognition with a private university. After a clear victory in a 2000 vote, the Graduating Students Organizing Committee was certified, becoming GSOC/UAW Local 2110. A four-year contract that raised workers’ pay by an average of 40 percent and guaranteed health care was negotiated and ratified in 2002. However, after an influx of Bush administration appointees, the National Labor Relations Board reversed its position and gave private universities the option to disregard the earlier decision.

The grad students point out that NYU’s success is heavily dependent on their work. Their knowledge and dedication to their profession is a strong drawing card for any successful institution of learning.

“The longer we stay out the more the administration will feel the pressure,” said Steve Fletcher, a grad student teaching assistant. “This isn’t a trend or fad,” he added.

Julian Pena Vargas, a third-year undergrad who has been supporting the strike for the last year, said it was important to him to improve the quality of education in the future, especially for students who receive financial aid. “We want the opportunity for good paying decent jobs with health care,” he said.