Nearly 500 students attended the rally “Justice for Janitors,” the largest since the end of last spring’s sit-in.
Members of the Progressive Students Labor Movement (PSLM), who helped organize the rally, said it was held at the behest of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254, which represents Harvard’s unionized janitors. SEIU will be negotiating a new contract with the University early next year—earlier than planned as a direct result of PSLM’s sit-in last spring.
Nearly 100 custodians and family members met marching students on Friday afternoon as they passed Holyoke Center and the two groups walked together in a procession up Mass. Ave., through Johnston Gate and to the front of Mass. Hall.
Even though the venue was familiar from last year’s sit-in, the rally bore the marks of SEIU’s recent actions at Tufts, in which the union obtained a wage floor, employer-supported health insurance and a promise of job security following several months of occasional protests and sometimes contentious negotiations.
A small contingent of protestors from Tufts’ Student Labor Action Movement attended Friday’s rally, where speakers alluded to the Tufts contract as a vindication of the living wage agenda.
“We can do even better here than they did at Tufts, because we’re a lot
richer,” PSLM member Emma S. Mackinnon ’05 told the crowd assembled outside the Science Center.
The relatively small speaker list at the rally included such sit-in mainstays as State Representative Jarrett T. Barrios ’90 and Kennedy School of Government Professor Marshall L. Ganz.
Jean Phane, a custodian from Harvard Medical School, told the crowd that his salary of $9.65 per hour was inadequate to the expenses of living in the Boston area.
“Are you listening, Harvard? I am Jean Phane. I work at the Harvard Medical
School and I need more money!” he shouted.
SEIU emblems—flags, posters, banners and t-shirts in the union colors of purple and yellow—dominated the rally, but PSLM pageantry was also in evidence, in the form of a ten foot-long mop and two gigantic puppets that towered over the crowd.
Clothed in black, with Easter Island faces and pilgrim hats, the puppets bore labels on their chests identifying them as members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing board and a frequent target of PSLM protests.
The puppets danced and cheered as the crowd chanted “Larry Summers, wake up call. You can’t hide in Mass