Friday, March 07, 2003

today, i struck

yes folks. i got up at 6:30 AM to go walk circles around the Yale Medical School. we drank coffee, chanted, and beat on metal cans with sticks. it was a rockin' good time. due to the extreme cold and an almost dead battery, i have no pictures to share, but watching thousands of people gather on the main campus to finish the strike was pretty incredible. how i love a good protest!

below i have reprinted this op-ed from today's ny times, since i think it summarizes some of the major issues surrounding the strike:

Harvard and Yale have long been rivals, in sports and
academics as well as in prestige. But when it comes
to labor strife, Yale's got Harvard beat. Since 1968,
Yale has seen at least eight strikes. Harvard? Not
even half as many. Just this week, as Harvard undergraduates
anxiously awaited their midterm grades, Yale students
confronted picket lines, hunted for meals off campus,
picked their way past uncollected trash and wondered
when graduate-student
teachers would return to class.

It's strike season at Yale. And once again alumni like
me are wondering what's wrong with our alma mater.

If you want to know why Yale's workers so often walk
off the job while Harvard's do not, read the fine print
of the two universities' union contracts. Harvard's
employees can take up to two classes per semester at
the university because, as the contract puts it, "the
university and the union share a commitment to making
Harvard a workplace where all staff members have rich,
plentiful opportunities for learning." Yale workers
enjoy no such privilege.

Why not? Granting workers this benefit wouldn't cost
Yale much. Perhaps it's because Yale views workers
who try to take classes with its distinguished faculty
as workers who don't know their place.

Yale's workers also earn lower salaries than Harvard's.
After 30 years of service, the highest paid secretary
at Yale still makes less than his entry-level counterpart
at Harvard. When a Yale librarian retires, she receives
a monthly pension of less than $1,000. Yale's president,
by contrast, could one day retire with as much as $42,000
per month under a recent proposal.

How did a university founded in revolt against old
Boston come to practice such lordly rule? Because it
can. Unlike Harvard, which must compete with large
private employers, other major universities and cultural
institutions, Yale is by far the largest employer in
New Haven. In 1965, Yale accounted for one out of every
20 jobs in New Haven. Today, because of a combination
of Yale's growth and New Haven's decline, Yale employs
more than 11,000 workers - one out of
every five jobs in the city.

I used to have one of them. In 1990 I arrived at Yale
as a graduate student. Some of my colleagues had begun
to unionize, but I thought they were silly. We aren't
workers, I said, and I didn't come to Yale to join
a union. Yes, graduate students do a lot of teaching
and grading - but that was an honor, not a burden.
True, one dean had compared us to rats. Still, I resisted.

A year later, graduate students went on strike. I did,
too - reluctantly. But on the picket line, something
happened to me. As we marched around the freshman quad,
an undergraduate yelled out his dorm window, "Get back
to work." For the first time in my life, I felt like
a maid. And suddenly I realized that this was how other
workers at Yale - in the dining halls, the labs, the
offices - routinely felt. I kept marching, determined
never to forget what it's like to work at a place like

The university's administrators like to claim Yale
has changed. And it has - thanks in part to the unions,
which do as much as any professor to teach students
about the dignity of work. But old habits die hard.
On Wednesday, an undergraduate columnist in Yale's
student newspaper ended her essay with a message to
Anita Seth, the leader of the graduate students' union:
"Oh, and Anita? Go teach a section."

How do students so young exercise such breezy command?
Where do they learn such imperial disregard, talking
to teachers - and dishwashers and janitors - as if
they were personal servants? I don't know, but I don't
blame the students. They've just learned a lesson from

Corey Robin is assistant professor of political science
at Brooklyn College.


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