After more than 100 days of frustration and stalemate, the strike by nearly 350 Brown University service workers came to an end this week, but not before taking a heavy toll on the university.
Eleven students, in a courageous show of support for the striking workers, were arrested while attempting to prevent a delivery truck from crossing picket lines near a Brown dining hall last Thursday. The unprecedented arrests by local police of students on the Providence campus were directly authorized by the Brown administration.
The strike was tentatively settled the next day.
The Brown administration's action in last Thursday's incident was irrational and cowardly. Instead of resolving the matter internally, the administration sought immediate recourse to local authorities. The arrested students now face up to a year in jail and $500 fines, as well as possible disciplinary action from Brown.
These students represent the vanguard of a movement toward student-worker unity which has been growing on the Providence campus since the strike began in July. Student demonstrations, which culminated in Thursday's action, helped pave the way for a quick and amicable resolution of the dispute.
Throughout the strike the university consistently refused to submit the matter to binding arbitration, consistently refused to involve students in open discussions of the matter, and consistently refused to yield on wage demands until after the embarrassing arrests. Further, the university attempted to break the union by keeping a non-union dining hall open during the walkout; students sympathetic to the strike but unable to afford weeks of off-campus meals, were forced to cross picket lines. During a similar strike at the University of Pennsylvania last year, the university closed its dining halls and paid students to eat off-campus until the strike was settled.
The union leaders are to be praised for their offer to contribute to the defense of the arrested students. By this gesture, the financially strapped union affirms its belief in the importance of student-worker solidarity.
While the dining service workers strike is now over, a separate walkout by nearly 100 Brown library workers continues, with no end in sight. Students should continue to show their support for the striking workers by joining picket lines each day; student support which helped to end the service workers' strike can also help the library workers.
Brown must strive to reach a quick and equitable settlement with the library workers, who are requesting salary increases comparable to those granted to the service workers. The Brown administration should also do all in its power to erase the charges pending against the eleven arrested students.
Finally, safeguards must be adopted, based upon input from students, faculty members and workers, to assure that such a dark episode is never repeated at Brown.