Sitting-In at Harvard


Carlos Suárez-Boulangger


On May 8 at 4:00
PM an exultant group of 35 Harvard students marched out of Massachusetts Hall,
the building they had occupied since April 18, claiming partial victory in
their campaign to get the university to pay campus workers a minimum living
wage of $10.25 plus benefits. The sit-in was the culmination of a campaign
initiated two and a half years ago by members of the Progressive Student Labor
Movement (PSLM), which sought to extend to Harvard University workers the
benefits of the City of Cambridge Living Wage ordinance, passed by the
Cambridge City Council in 1999. This ordinance establishes a wage standard for
all city employees and for workers employed by mayor city contracts. In March
1999, the Campaign received an added boost when, recognizing that Harvard
University is the city’s largest and richest employer, the Cambridge City
Council passed a resolution strongly urging Harvard to raise wages.

Conditions for
campus workers, however, have not improved in the last two years, and are
“worse even than they were just six months ago,” according to PSLM members Ben
McKean and Amy Offner. In the Crimson of April 16, they claim that by
“out-sourcing jobs to firms that pay poverty-level wages and benefits, Harvard
administrators consciously caused conditions to deteriorate.” Consuelo Tizón,
an emerging leader of SEIU Local 254, which represents custodians and
janitors, outlined the reason for those worsening conditions. “Half the
janitorial services have been sold to UNICCO [a private company], as part of
the cost-cutting out-sourcing,” she said, “[but] our salaries have been frozen
for the last seven years.”

A flier put out
at the beginning of the sit-in clearly outlines this situation.
“Directly-hired janitors are paid as little as $7.50 per hour, and some
subcontracted dining hall workers earn only $6.50 per hour. Hundreds of
employees are forced to work two and even three jobs and still struggle to
support themselves and their families. There are Harvard janitors who
regularly eat in soup kitchens and sleep in shelters.”

It is important
to note that the agreement conceded by the university, and mediated by AFL-CIO
lawyers because the Adminis- tration refused to negotiate with the students,
came up short from the stated goal of obtaining minimum living wages for all
campus workers. It was nevertheless perceived as a victory for the students
because it places a six-month moratorium on the outsourcing of jobs;
immediately considers health benefits for low-wage workers; and renegotiates
the contract of 650 janitors making retroactive any agreement to May 1.

The agreement
establishes the formation of a committee to “discuss, debate, and make
recommendations” regarding issues of wages at the university. This is
something President Rudenstine considered “too time consuming” before the
sit-in. This committee led by economics professor Lawrence Katz, includes ten
handpicked faculty members, two undergraduate and two graduate students to be
selected by the student body, two senior administrators, and three union
employees. The union employees represent the custodians and janitors of SEIU
Local 254, the dining service workers of HERE Local 26, and the clerical
workers of HUCTW. Although the recommendations of the committee are
non-binding, the students feel that the inclusion of workers is a decisive
step forward and one that could not have been reached without the sit-in.

From the
beginning students understood the significance of workers’ inclusions in
negotiations. Paul Lekas, a law student working with the PSLM and the Workers
Center, clearly articulated the issue a week before the Administration
consented to negotiate. “What’s at the heart of the issue is that during the
last 10 years Harvard has been increasingly out- sourcing. That allows the
university to cut benefits and wages, and to depersonalize the labor they are
using and commodify people even more. If before workers couldn’t get to the
table, now there is no table in sight, they are in the next room and can’t get
out.”

Background


The Living Wage
Campaign started in the fall of 1998 with PSLM students interviewing the
workers with whom they came into daily contact and some union members. Their
aim was to disseminate this information and educate the larger university
community about the plight of campus workers, many of whom are forced to work
as many as 80 hours per week, just to make ends meet. In February 1999, after
Harvard President Neil Rudenstine refused to meet with students to discuss the
implementation of a living wage at Harvard, the Campaign held its first rally.
Over 200 students, faculty, campus workers, and union representatives marched
to Massachusetts Hall to set up a meeting with President Ruden- stine, but
were turned away. The students were undeterred and organized a series of
rallies and demonstrations. In March 1999, 400 people participated in a Rally
for Justice, organized jointly with Harvard Students Against Sweatshops and
the Harvard Coalition Against Sexual Violence. In April 1999 students joined
Harvard Security, Parking, and Museum Guards to highlight the plight of the
guards, who had worked four years without a contract and had filed a complaint
against Harvard with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).


President
Rudenstine’s response to all these activities was to appoint a faculty task
force to study the issue. The Ad Hoc Committee on Employment Policies, as the
faculty committee was called, worked over a year evaluating Harvard’s wage
criteria and released its report in May 2000, rejecting the implementation of
a living wage, but recommending the expansion of the benefits package, which
the Administration promised to implement. While the Ad Hoc Committee was
conducting its study the university was practically forcing the security
guards to accept a buy-out package in the closing of contract negotiations,
and using its power to keep a living wage out of its contract with SEIU 254.
As a result all but 25 guards accepted the package and left. Although many
were re-hired through a non-union subcontractor to do the same job for less
pay, hundreds of janitors still earn wages below living standards and none of
the part-time janitors receive health benefits.

President
Rudenstine refused to meet with students to address the issue of living wages
at Harvard and only agreed to a meeting in November 2000, after Campaign
members discovered that even the meager benefits the university had granted
were not being implemented. At the meeting Ruden- stine argued that his
handpicked committee represented the entire Harvard community and that the
Living Wage issue was dead. This was a slap in the face to the 115 faculty who
endorsed the Campaign, the 100 alumni who pledged never to give money to
Harvard until a living wage was implemented, and the hundreds of workers and
students who had rallied for the Campaign. To make matters worse, the
university continued its relentless attack on workers’ wages.

In February
2001 the Harvard Business School reclassified dining workers in order to
reduce their wages but kept their duties constant. The same month the medical
school announced that it was outsourcing the jobs of 112 custodians. In
response the PSLM targeted the Harvard Corporation, the highest power at the
university and in March organized a series of demonstrations in New York city
in front of their offices to demand a meeting to discuss living wages at
Harvard, which corporation members refused to do. Meetings at Harvard with
Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Polly Price, proved less than
satisfactory. She falsely claimed that it would be illegal to establish a
board composed of faculty, students, workers, union representatives, and
administrators to oversee implementation of the Ad Hoc Committee
recommendations, as the PSLM students suggested.

Meetings with
President Ruden- stine in April proved similarly unproductive. He defended the
actions of his Administration, although a year after the Ad Hoc Committee
released its recommendations they were still to be implemented, and he refused
to initiate any further research into a living wage policy alleging it would
be “too time consuming.” This latter refusal seemed even more onerous when the
university had just announced that its endowment had reached an all time high
of $19 billion, the largest endowment of any university in the world,
according to the May 4 issue of Lingua Franca. Students, in turn, had
calculated that it would take $6 million to pay 2,000 workers $10.25, the same
amount that, as reported by the Harvard Magazine, the university paid
Jonathon Jacobson, one of its equity managers.

 


The Sit-in


When the Ad Hoc
Committee on Employment Policies released its report in May 2000, opposing any
wage increases, the Harvard administration considered that the issue was
settled. On April 18 Harvard flak Joe Wrinn told the Boston Globe, “We
will not be adopting a living wage. We believe the decision has been made.”

On April 18, 50
students stormed Massachusetts Hall carrying food, water, and laptop
computers. After securing the bathrooms, students linked arms to block the
police and handed a letter to police officers announcing that they would be
occupying the offices indefinitely. The Yale Daily characterized the
sit-in as “The culmination of three years of frustrating efforts to encourage
the university to pay all its workers a fair wage.” Aaron Bartley, a law
student occupying the building declared to the Boston Globe on April
19, “This is anything but a rash move. Our only recourse left has been civil
disobedience.”

In a statement
issued by the Campaign, students outlined the reasons for the sit-in: “We are
sitting in because we have exhausted every other strategy when dialogue with
the Administration has failed. We are sitting in because administrators have
not only failed to improve wages and benefits, but have aggressively worked to
slash them as support for a living wage policy has grown. Finally, we are
sitting in because poverty on our campus is brutal and cannot wait any longer
for remedy. [Those] of us who are forced to be complicit in [this]
exploitation, cannot wait for the remote possibility that administrators will
decide to reopen what they have called a ‘closed issue.’ The human and social
costs of Harvard’s policies are immense, and require remedy now.”

This bold
action earned the 50 students sitting-in the support of their classmates, who
pitched about 50 tents in Harvard Yard and encamped in solidarity with them,
held daily rallies at noon and candlelight vigils at night, and marched from
their houses or schools to Massachusetts Hall. The Tent City was key to
mobilizing support because, according to PSLM organizer Roona Ray, “[The Tent
City] provides communication with the campus community, keeps up the morale of
the people inside and distribute tasks to our many volunteers.”

Many faculty
members expressed support for the students, 250 signed a public statement of
support published in the Boston Globe, and some conducted lectures in
front of Mass Hall. Thirteen House Masters wrote a letter of support and the
AFL-CIO and the Cambridge City Council endorsed the campaign. Parents’ support
for the students became a feature of the May 1 issue of the Boston Herald.
In that article parent Judi Laing explained, “You raise your children to do
the right thing.” Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy visited the students on
April 24. According to the Cambridge Chronicle, Cambridge Mayor Anthony
Gallucio and Councilors Decker and Ken Reeves attended a candlelight vigil in
Harvard Yard.

The campaign
also received letters of support from the Massachusetts Democratic Party,
former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Jesse Jackson, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck,
NAACP chair Julian Bond, and Rage Against the Machine.

More
importantly, the courageous action of the students inspired campus workers, in
particular the janitors of SEIU Local 254 and HERE Local 26, to confront their
fear of administrative intimidation and come out in support of the students.
Many campus workers went to Massachusetts Hall to talk to the students. Dining
hall workers brought them food, as did many people from the community. Some
brought them clean union T-shirts to wear, hundreds rallied in solidarity, and
the Local 26 president proposed making students honorary union members.

On April 26, a
rally of 2,000 workers and students, who marched from Central Square to
Harvard Square bringing news of the occupation to the surrounding community,
energized the participants and established the potential of the campaign. On
May 1, the National President of the AFL- CIO John Sweeney, addressed a crowd
of 600 announcing, “We will stand with you.” On May 2, a group of 200 HERE
Local 26 workers marched to Harvard Yard—after taking a strike authorization
vote—to join the students in a candlelight vigil. After a solidarity speech by
union president Janice Loux, over 300 workers and students marched out of the
university to hold a rally in Harvard Square. On May 3, workers and students
rallied at the Medical School to demand a living wage and, on May 4, a larger
group marched to Harvard’s Labor Relations office. The Campaign had gathered
enough momentum for the editors of The American Prospect to proclaim,
“Real leadership has finally emerged on the left,” and conclude, “No wonder
the whole country is watching.”


On May 8, after
the university accepted an agreement mediated by AFL-CIO lawyers, the students
marched out of Massachusetts Hall to receive the warm cheers of friends and
supporters. The crowd enthusiastically cheered speeches by PSLM member Ben
McKean, HERE Local 26 shop steward Ed Chields, and SEIU spokesperson David
Mejia. A Northeastern University student was also invited to speak about the
month-long occupation of the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute,
which that university was planning to tear down.

The Students


The majority of
students working in the Living Wage Campaign, particularly undergraduates, are
members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement, a group that has been
active for the last four years and is affiliated with the Phillips Brook
House, a community service clearinghouse that is part of Harvard University.
Many students are also members of the Workers Center, a relatively new
organization that is part of the Labor Law Project, a 10-year-old entity based
at the Harvard Law School. While the Workers Center has only been around for
the last year and began organizing campus workers just a couple of months
before the sit-in, the PSLM has been involved in a series of campaigns
including Anti-Sweatshop organizing to pressure the university to join the
Workers Right Consortium. Economics student Arin Dube traced inspiration for
the campaign to the work of students at the University of Virginia and at John
Hopkins University who organized similar Living Wage Campaigns. “At the
University of Virginia students successfully negotiated the acceptance of a
living wage for campus workers, while the campaign at John Hopkins more
closely resembles what we have done here. At Hopkins 17 students occupied one
of the administration buildings.” He thought that at Harvard, unlike what
happened at Hopkins, there had been a larger participation of undergraduates
and much more support from the campus community.

In addition,
some students have benefited from their participation in Union Summer; a
program sponsored by the AFL-CIO designed to train university students in
organizing. Joe Power, the spokesperson for the carpenters’ union Local 40,
underscored this connection in his speech celebrating the students victory on
May 8 when he said, “Those of you who participated in Union Summer, you sure
learned something.”

Before the
sit-in the students had set in place a type of organization, which was
expanded once the sit-in began. As the organization grew it became more
diffuse, but overall it maintained a non-hierarchical approach. Before the
sit-in, meetings were coordinated by a moderator, whose job it was to develop
the agenda. The moderator sent the agenda around, via email, for people to
comment and add topics to be discussed at the meeting. At the meetings the
moderator posted the agenda on the wall and people raised their hands and
asked questions, which everybody tried to answer. This structure was
maintained during the sit-in, but included an outside team and an inside team.
The outside team organized rallies, press support, and contact with the
faculty. There were point people for each group to streamline the work, which
led to the formation of a very fluid organization, one that shunned the idea
of “a leader.” Since almost every school, from the Kennedy School, to the Law
School, and the Divinity School had set up parallel organizations, all
speaking as the Living Wage Campaign, there were times when there wasn’t even
a comprehensive roster of activities.


Overall,
students are aware of the significance of their actions, not only locally but
also at the national level. PSLM member Emilou MacLean explained her
excitement about the sit-in in terms of its role as part of a larger movement.
“The campaign has helped mobilize other campuses and has built alliances with
groups of students and faculty on other campuses who are interested in
buildings campaigns similar to ours.” Almost as if to prove her right, on May
7 University of Connecticut students occupied the president’s office in Gully
Hall to demand that the university pay janitors the prevailing wage set by the
Connecticut General Assembly. This action was part of a protracted struggle
launched as part of the SEIU Justice for Janitors Campaign, which, according
to the students’ press release, has been quite successful in Hartford and
Stamford.

Campus
Unions


Harvard workers
are represented by 11 separate unions, which negotiate contracts with the
university at different times. SEIU Local 254 is the union representing
janitors and custodians, and until the time of the students’ sit-in was
notoriously corrupt. According to Arin Dube, one of the students working with
the Workers Center, “the union not only tolerated low wages, but also
encouraged the breaking up of full time jobs into part time positions as a way
to increase the number of dues paying members. Some janitors had not seen a
shop steward on the main campus in ten years. We were trying to organize an
unorganized union membership.” That changed when criminal charges were brought
against the leadership and the local was placed under the trusteeship of the
international union. Now the local must elect new leadership as it gets ready
to negotiate a new contract with the university in July. SEIU member Consuelo
Tizón was grateful that the students’ actions had brought attention to the
plight of the janitor but also acknowledged the hard road ahead. She felt that
the union had to gear itself up for contract negotiations to demand higher
wages and benefits lost in the last seven years. “We have 400 members but
people are still too hesitant to get involved,” she said, explaining that past
union corruption and acquiescence had sapped workers’ militancy and built
cynicism among her co-workers.

That hesitancy
began to break during the sit-in. On May 3, 50 out of 80 custodians who worked
at the Medical School and 50 students held a rally in front of the school
administrative office, demanding in Haitian Creole, Spanish, and English a
living wage and the elimination of subcontracting. They attempted to bring
their demand to the Dean of the Medical School but were turned away by campus
police. The following day, a large group of custodians from the main campus
and from the Medical School marched to Holyoke Center in Harvard Square, where
the university has its Labor Relations office, demanding a meeting with the
administrators. One of the touted successes of the sit-in has been to force
the Administration to re-negotiate its contract with the union one year ahead
of schedule and to make the new agreement retroactive to the mid-point of the
contract currently in effect.

The road back
to trade union militancy, however, can be very long and hard, as Ed Child, a
shop steward for HERE Local 26, which represents dining workers, can attest. A
large part of the problem is that non-union subcontractors like
Sodexho-Marriot employ many food service workers. In an interview with
Lingua Franca
Child acknowledged that “over the last ten years the
university has attacked us with outsourcing. Even when we were able to win
outsourced workers back into the union, we weren’t able to win them back at
the pay scale we had.”

The students’
sit-in inspired these workers to fight the Harvard administration with renewed
vigor and, on May 2, they met at the First Unitarian Church, across from the
occupied buildings, for a strike authorization vote. An energized group of 200
workers and sympathizers unanimously authorized a strike as an option during
the upcoming contract negotiations. Then union president Janice Loux urged
workers to support the students occupying Mass Hall and drew cheers when she
proposed making students honorary members of Local 26. After the meeting the
entire group crossed the street to join the students holding a vigil in front
of Mass Hall.

On May 17 Local
26 workers ratified a five-year contract with the university, which Local
President Janice Loux called “a great victory for the workers.” A statement by
the Living Wage Campaign indicates that the contract “produces substantive
gains for low wage workers on this campus.” The agreement raises the wages of
the lowest paid workers, and limits the hiring of casual employment to 10
percent. The pay raises, however, are not indexed to the cost of living and at
least eight dining service workers will be making less than $10.25. The
statement expressed disappointment that Harvard failed to extend a living wage
to all workers, and Ben McKean, a member of the PSLM commented in a May 18
Associated Press
article that “the university’s refusal to pay eight
workers a living wage is anything but stubborn pride.” This attitude of not
giving the workers anything that “other universities could interpret as a
victory for confrontational bargaining” has a long tradition at Harvard. This
view was most clearly articulated by Assistant General Council for Labor
Relations Edward Powers in 1983 in the context of demands by the same Local 26
union for higher wages.


Members of the
largest union on campus, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers
(HUCTW), overwhelmingly supported the sit-in; many rank and file HUCTW members
joined the students during daily noon rallies and wore buttons supporting the
campaign to their offices. This union won certification in 1988 after a bitter
fight with Harvard University that AFSCME President Gerald McEntee described
as the “most violently anti-union campaign” he had ever seen. Even after the
university lost the NLRB- supervised union election it tried to stall the
certification by alleging “unfair electioneering,” and since then has
continued to try to undermine union strength. Since then, according to How
Harvard Rules,
“the administration has created a large number of
administrative and management positions in order to decrease the number of
potential union members.” In spite of this, “even some administrators
expressed sympathy for the students,” according to rank and file HUCTW member
Ahmed Jebari. All through the students’ sit-in, however, the union maintained
a discrete silence, and on May 1, at the height of the students’ occupation,
it signed a three-year contract with the university, which Harvard President
Rudenstine described as “an excellent agreement.” Pressured by the membership
the union passed a vote of support for the students during their meeting to
ratify the contract.

But according
to Jebari, “There are very undemocratic trends in the union. We’re supposed to
have mass meetings and a newsletter, but that hasn’t happened. There’s a small
group pushing for a more democratic union, but the university has been
attempting to isolate them.” This union will have a representative on the
committee created as a result of the students’ sit-in, now know as the Katz
Committee.

 

The Faculty
Committee


One of the
positive developments of the sit-in has been the support that Harvard faculty
has given to the campaign; amply demonstrated by the ubiquitous presence of
faculty at students’ rallies. Several instructors held classes in front of
Massachusetts Hall for the benefit of students sitting in as well as for those
involved in daily vigils. The LA Times of May 3 illustrated faculty
support for the campaign quoting senior Jane Martin, one of the students
inside Mass Hall, indicating that “her professors have told her she can take
incompletes and make her exams up later if she misses finals.” Similarly, Ben
McKean, one of the undergraduates occupying Massachusetts Hall, mentioned that
his review tutor had come by to bring him review notes, and that he could
conceivably finish the semester.

More
importantly, at the initiative of Women’s Studies Department chair Juliet
Schor and Kennedy School of Government professor Marshall Ganz, a group of
faculty formed the Faculty Committee for the Living Wage. This committee then
drafted a letter in support of the Living Wage Campaign and quickly gathered
close to 400 signatures, which included the high profile names of Lani
Guinier, Lawrence Tribe, and Cornel West. This letter stated, “If Harvard
employees are not adequately compensated for making Harvard run as smoothly as
it does, then the Harvard community as a whole should assume responsibility
for correcting the situation.” While support for the campaign among faculty is
hardly unanimous, several departments discussed endorsing the campaign, and
according to Lingua Franca, the social anthropology wing of the
anthropology department passed a resolution supporting the Living Wage
Campaign.

 


The Harvard
Corporation


Ultimately, the
demands that students are raising explicitly challenge the way decisions are
made at the university. “At the beginning of the occupation we were much more
concerned with the issue of wages,” said PSLM student Matt Vogel. “As the
occupation went on we began to think about the larger issue of power and the
way power in the university is concentrated in very few hands.” Those few
people who hold power at the university are all members of the Harvard
Corporation.

The seven
members of the Harvard Corporation, a self-electing and self-perpetuating
corporate group that also selects the president of the university, secretly
make all the important decisions at the university. The Presidents and
Fellows, as the corporation is also known, can, and in practice have delegated
much of its power, but at its own discretion. The power of the corporation is
somewhat shielded from public scrutiny by the presence of the Board of
Overseers, a body entrusted with overseeing the activities of the corporation,
but that mostly rubber stamps decisions. In the words of former judge and
Overseer George Leighton: “The Board of Overseers does not advise on policy.
What it does is consent.”

The current
members of the Harvard Corporation are the multi-billionaire directors of the
largest corporations in America. James Houghton is the director of
Exxon-Mobile, Chase J.P. Morgan, and MetLife. Robert Stone is the director of
Coral Energy, Tejas Energy, and Kirby Corporation; the first two are large
natural gas companies, while Kirby Corp. is a huge energy pipeline. He is also
director of ABB Co., a company that engineers power plants worldwide and has
$6 billion annual revenue.

Stone, who is
married to a Rockefeller, became particularly notorious during the 1988-89
Pittston mining strike. Stone was in the governing board of Pittston that
slashed the health benefits of workers vulnerable to black lung. Herbert
Winokur, Jr. is director of Enron, a natural gas conglomerate and according to
Fortune, the 17th largest American corporation. He is also the director
of the WMF group, a real state investment company, and DynCorp, a $1.4 billion
company ostensibly benefiting from government largesse. The fortune of the WMF
group has been associated to the assets forfeiture and penalties resulting
from the War on Drugs in neighborhoods subsidized by HUD. The enormous capital
gains experienced by the Harvard endowment in 1997, the largest since 1986, is
also linked to the operation and sale of WMF. On the other hand, DynCorp plays
a more prominent role abroad.

According to
Catherine Austin’s The Money Lords of Harvard, “DynCorp has a $600
million government contract to provide support to the War on Drugs in
Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. As the military of these three Andean countries
push people off the land, as part of the War on Drugs, a process of real state
accumulation by private investors takes place.” According to a recent article
in the New York Times (May 18, 2001) DynCorp is “the largest of the
[U.S.] companies operating in Colombia [employing] 100 Americans, 100
Colombians and third- country nationals, according to the State Department.”
This article explains that “as the drug war intensified in the 1990s [the US
hired] pilots, radar operators, former Army Special Forces trainers and other
former military personnel to carry out important missions.”

The other
members of the Harvard Corporation are somewhat less prominent. Ronald Daniels
is the chair of WRC media, which owns Newsweek and the Weekly Reader,
but he is also the director of the Brooking Institute and Rockefeller
University. Conrad Harper is the first African American head of the NYC Bar
Association, and Hanna Gray is a former Morgan Director. More importantly
however, is that, with the exception of Stone, they are all members of the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), as is incoming Harvard president Lawrence
Summers. The CFR is the most influential think-tank in the U.S., guiding
imperialist expansion abroad and the building of consensus at home.

According to
Ferdinand Lund- berg’s The Rockefeller Syndrome, “Members of the CFR
have a closer and more specific connection with foreign relations. For it is,
largely, their properties, branches, and affiliations abroad that are guarded
by the State Department and the army, navy, and air force.”

 

Looking
Backwards, Looking Forward


The Living Wage
Campaign at Harvard must be seen in the context of renewed college activism.
All through April and early May Northeastern University students occupied the
African American Institute to prevent the university from tearing down the
building, while at Penn State University a week-long students’ sit-in forced
the university to grant more opportunities for African American students and
faculty. Living Wage campaigns, according to Lingua Franca, have become
a hot issue on campuses, reflecting “a newfound emphasis on labor issues.” It
reports that currently “there are living wage campaigns on 16 campuses.”


On April 18,
the same day Harvard students began their sit-in, part-time professors at
Emerson College voted overwhelmingly to form a labor union. According to the
Boston Globe, “the vote represents the first success in a year long
campaign to unionize all of the Boston area’s private colleges.” The same
month Temple University’s graduate students joined the American Federation of
Teachers, graduate students at Michigan State formed a union, and graduate
students at Penn State initiated an unionization drive. They were all
following the lead of graduate teaching and research assistants at NYU, who
last October, joined the UAW. The unionization of graduate students will
continue, since according to the May 15 New York Times, “graduate
students at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia and Brandeis have began
unionization drives.” The unionization of graduate assistants could be
significant in the Boston area, where there are more than 8,000 working at
private universities, with Harvard and MIT topping the list with more than
2,000 and 3,000 graduate assistants working at each institution.

Meanwhile, PSLM
students have vowed to continue the struggle for social justice to guarantee
that every worker on campus gets paid a living wage. Already, janitors are
getting ready to negotiate a new contract a year ahead of schedule, agreed as
part of the negotiations that ended the students’ sit-in. Immediately after
the sit-in Harvard supervisors initiated a campaign of harassment against
outspoken SEIU members Con- suelo Tizón and Wilson St. Clair, a Latina and a
Haitian worker. Workers and students are now demanding an immediate end to
this harassment. The new campaigns should get the support of the Workers
Center, which, as a result of the publicity surrounding the Living Wage
Campaign, received contributions of more than $10,000.

By now, it is
no secret that education is a big business. Beyond that, however, the struggle
over living wages at Harvard exposed the undemocratic nature of the
Administration, which uses its decision making power to promote its political
and economical interests, at their expense of campus workers, faculty and
students. “For 21 days,” as PSLM student Ben McKean proclaimed on May 8, “The
people who thought they could run this place without regard for students, for
workers, for faculty, for alumni and for the Cambridge-area community—those
people didn’t have a clue. For 21 days it was not business as usual in the
halls of power.”

It is now up to
the Harvard community and its allies to expand the struggle for social justice
at the university and to wrench the decision making attributes from the hands
of the Harvard Corporation. Optimistically, it makes sense to remember that
the sit-in at Harvard demonstrates the potential for a worker-student
alliance, an alliance that can greatly contribute to the struggle to
democratize the university and larger society.                              Z

Carlos
Suárez-Boulangger is a political activist and writer living in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. In 1976 he was a member of Harvard dining service workers union
HERE Local 26.