November 01, 2016

National SDS celebrates Harvard and Pennsylvania college strike victories

National SDS celebrates the victorious worker and faculty strikes at Harvard and campuses across Pennsylvania. When we dare to strike, we dare to win!

Picket lines graced the Harvard campuses for the first time in over thirty years this semester as Harvard University Dining Service (HUDS) workers voted 591-18 in favor of reviving the strike. HUDS workers drew a line in the sand over proposed health care cuts and the system of cyclical layoffs that leave most dining workers with no source of income for up to four months out of every year. Harvard has already forced similarly abusive contracts on other sectors of the workforce, but the brave individuals that work in Harvard’s dining hall said enough is enough! Workers gave the administration over three months to meet their demands, and when the administrators refused to budge, workers brought out the most powerful tool labor has at its disposal: the strike.

Over the course of the 22-day strike, HUDS workers built a strong united front of students, faculty, and lower-level administrative and clerical staff. Student organizations such as the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) and Reclaim Harvard Law held joint student-worker rallies, organized food drives for the striking workers, recruited their classmates to reinforce the picket lines, and called walk-outs that brought hundreds of students out of the classrooms and into the streets. More importantly, however, students at Harvard targeted the individual financiers and corporate elites at the very top of the chain of command-- the Fellows of the Harvard Corporation. Students flooded these individuals’ inboxes, voicemails, and mailboxes with complaints and condemnations of the way the Fellows were exploiting workers, thereby directly disrupting their lives. The final blow in the Harvard campaign came Monday, October 23, when SLAM led hundreds of students in a walk-out and marched on 124 Mt. Auburn, where the contract was being negotiated. By refusing to leave the premises until the administration offered the workers a fair contract, the students helped build direct pressure, and by the end of the evening the workers had a contract that met all of their demands without exception.

Students at West Chester University of Pennsylvania put these same direct action tactics into effect during the statewide faculty strike that kicked off on October 19. The strikers were organized under the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), a union that represents 14 different campuses across the state. By calling for a statewide strike, the faculty were able to fight back against changes to their healthcare and budget cuts, and to push for higher quality education and fairer wages for the lowest-paid faculty and teaching staff.

Students showed their solidarity with the striking faculty from the very beginning. Members of West Chester Students for a Democratic Society, for example, reinforced the picket lines from the moment they first emerged on their campus. On the first day of the strike, West Chester SDS organized a campus-wide walkout that not only disrupted classes and the normal functioning of the university, but also brought students into direct contact with striking faculty, who were able to discuss their struggle and educate students about the material conditions they were facing.

West Chester SDS also showed support by offering food, transportation, and solidarity to the striking faculty. Several members traveled to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education headquarters, in Harrisburg, where they directly confronted Chancellor Frank Brogan, forcing him to listen to faculty demands. At 10am on Friday, October 21, students marched into town and met with Mayor Carolyn Comitta, shoring up her support for the strike. Students then marched through campus and confronted Governor Tom Wolf at a local restaurant, where they demanded that the Governor visit West Chester University. Upon learning that Governor Wolf had fled the restaurant through the back door, students marched back to campus and once again joined the picket lines, where SDS helped to lead chants demanding a fair contract. By the end of the day, APSCUF had won a new contract that will help ensure quality education standards across the entire state.

The victories at Harvard and West Chester prove the importance of strong student-worker and student-faculty solidarity, and provide important models for labor struggles on campuses across the country. During a traditional strike, workers are able to shut down production at the factory by withholding their labor. Since our universities don’t rely on production in the same way, our tactics have to change as well. Although faculty workers may be in a unique position, workers are often unable to win a strike by simply withholding their labor; organizers must also apply direct pressure on high level decision-makers through the kinds of direct confrontations exemplified in the West Chester and Harvard strikes.

Students, faculty, and staff must be united in the fight against the corporatization of our education! Cuts to healthcare and salaries for the working class people that keep our campuses running only benefit the top level administrators, and it is our responsibility to unite all who can be united to fight against such measures. All power to campus workers, students, and professors!