Labor leaders, professors, and students met for five hours in the Faculty Club last night to lay the foundations for a possible alliance of the academic and blue-collar worlds.
The meeting, which was organized by George Wald, Higgins Professor of Biology, brought together about 40 people, including Leonard Woodcook, president of the United Auto Workers; Jack Sheehan of the Steel Workers Union; Joseph Rhodes Jr., Junior Fellow and student member of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest; David Ifshin, president of the National Student Association; Ewart Guinier, professor of Afro-American Studies; and Howard Zinn, professor of Government at Boston University.
The group spent five hours discussing ways in which they could work towards common goals and against common enemies. At the end of the meeting they all signed a statement stating their intention to move towards "increasing the cooperation between labor organizations and the university community to foster our common interests and thereby promote the political health and social and economic welfare of our nation."
The group voted in favor of a larger and longer, possibly all-day, meeting to be held within the next two weeks, where they will discuss more specific issues in their proposed worker-student alliance.
But the real significance of the meeting was not the statement or any specific action taken. The point of the meeting, as Wald continually emphasized, was to show the American people, and the Administration in particular, that the intellectual and blue collar communities are not hostile groups.
"You hear talk of concentration camps being built," said Cleveland Robinson, president of the Distributive Workers Union. "When that comes it won't be just for black people but for every man who stands up for decency. We will only avoid them if we stand together." he added.
The statement, which was drawn up by Wald and Salvador Luria, professor of Biology at M. I. T., suggested the benefits of cooperation between labor and academia. "It would give the academic community what it now most lacks: a base in the outside community. It would make more available to the labor movement the universities' resources of disinterested research, expertise, and instruction on problems that most concern it."
In addition, David Garson, professor of Political Science at Tufts, suggested some specific ways in which academics might aid blue-collar workers. They could, he said:
help staff health care centers for workers;
work on the problems of converting war production to more peaceful purposes without cutting down on jobs;
help with public relations and fund-raising during strikes.
The last point raised the question of the strike against General Motors by the UAW, and Woodcock addressed himself to it. "We have enough money in our strike fund to last until about mid-November," he said. "By then we will be able to tell if this is a strike over basic issues or only a difference of opinion between big business and a big labor union. If it turns out to be a basic struggle, then we will need the help of everyone."
Wald in turn emphasized that General Motors isn't just another company. "I've had some experience with them in Campaign G. M," he said. "They are the biggest company in the world. Only nine nations on earth have gross national products bigger than the yearly income of G. M.
"To beat a corporation that big we must stand together," he added.