From Maria Starzmann
January 24, 2019
Statement in support of a New Museum Union
My name is Maria Starzmann, and I worked at the New Museum as a Visitor Assistant for 6 months in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017. At the end of a long work day, I would often chat with my coworkers in Visitor Services, but also with the staff in security and maintenance, and I soon realized that we all experienced our jobs as precarious.
No one made enough money, so everyone was always on the lookout for the next gig, which also meant that hardly anyone stuck around long enough to try to change this situation. But what if we got organized, I would ask? It’s not going to make a difference, was the usual answer. When I learned from an article in ArtNews earlier this month that workers at the New Museum were fighting for a union, I was thrilled. Getting organized does make a difference, and I support your struggle with all my heart!
Before I joined the New Museum, I had been unionized in every single job I held. Somehow, it was the natural thing for me to do and I didn’t think too much about the political importance of it. But today I want to share with you a list of the most important reasons why I think forming a New Museum Union is the right thing to do:
- The New Museum profits from its image as a non-traditional, alternative museum space. Its founder, Marcia Tucker, insisted that the museum was built on collectivity and consensus among all, not only some staff. This includes you!
- In an increasingly competitive economy with fewer and fewer jobs, the bosses hold all the power. Even if a worker threatens to leave an exploitative job, this threat remains empty as long as there are others waiting to take a job regardless of how exploitative it is. Unions assure a fair labor market.
- When workers are isolated from each other, they are more likely to let their demands be undermined. Once a boss makes even minor concessions and workers settle for them, they accept temporary fixes instead of demanding the long-term solutions unions can bargain for.
- And last but not least, unionizing is more than organizing: think of it as a form of accompaniment—of going somewhere together, of being there with and for each other. This union is only the beginning of a journey for justice that you’re taking together. I am aware that it can feel incredibly risky to voice demands for better working conditions when there is no guarantee of job safety. But this is precisely the moment to get organized. There is power in a union! Today, you have a chance to effect change—for yourself and for your coworkers!
Maria Starzmann, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York Office / Member of UAW Local 2110