Workers and Activists Rally Against Layoffs

Over 100 attend rally in front of Holyoke Center

Gloria B. Ho

Children joined with students, faculty members and Harvard workers outside Holyoke Center yesterday afternoon to protest recent job layoffs by the University.

More than 100 Harvard workers, students and faculty joined community activists outside of Holyoke Center yesterday to protest University layoffs and service cuts.

The rally, which got off to a slow start at 5 p.m., built to a crowd of well over 100 people within half an hour as activists criticized Harvard’s spending priorities.

“The University has plenty of money to buy up land and make lavish improvements around campus but it claims there’s not enough money to pay the salaries of people who depend on their jobs to live,” said Geoff P. Carens, a Harvard College Librarian and member of the No Layoffs Campaign (NLC), the activist group that organized the rally.

Throughout his speech, Carens contrasted recent job cuts with the University’s $19.3-billion endowment and its multimillion dollar salaries for top money managers at the Harvard Management Corporation.

As Carens listed his grievances, the the crowd booed on cue.

Carens has been involved in the NLC since its foundation this summer. He is an employee of Government Documents, a division of the library that will lose 40 percent of its staff in a wave of layoffs at the Harvard College Library (HCL) scheduled to take effect at the end of June 2004.

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Carens is also a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), but criticized the Union for not driving a tough enough bargain in negotiations with the University. He reiterated one of the NLC’s planks—a call for a contract provision that would prohibit the University from laying off any more Union workers.

But HUCTW Director William Jaeger dismissed this proposed “no layoffs” clause as an unrealistic, if appealing “sound byte.”

According to Jaeger, HUCTW is currently in negotiations with the University to ensure that those who were laid off are given priority in in-house job searches.

“There are more and more people who are part of an urgent conversation about that,” he said. “The members of our union know that it’s a hugely high priority question in the negotiations going on right now.”

Although older activists dominated the megaphone for most of the rally, Harvard students like Hank R. Gonzales ’06, also spoke out.

A member of the Socialist Alternative, Gonzales called the University a “big corporation that masquerades under the status of a non-profit educational institution.”

Daniel DiMaggio ’04, a member of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), called the University a “corporate money-making machine.”

Before his speech, DiMaggio, who was involved in the 2001 sit-in at Mass. Hall, said that PSLM’s past victories are being undermined by the University’s current practices.

“Harvard’s doing the same things that it always does,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if people are making a living wage if they don’t have a job.”

Merry Touborg, spokesperson for Harvard University Human Resources, said that although layoffs were difficult, the University has a responsibility to its donors, students and alums “to ensure that as large a portion of resources as possible is preserved to meet Harvard’s academic goals.”