The rally, timed to coincide with Saturday’s International Workers’ Day, was the largest of four major labor-related demonstrations staged at Harvard since last September, and by far the most widely attended.
The high turnout was dominated by students, many of them members of the Harvard Social Forum Labor Caucus, one of the event’s main organizers. Also present were representatives from the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), the group which took over Mass. Hall—the site of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ office—in 2001 as part of the living wage campaign.
The crowd of approximately 150 workers and students began the proceedings with a series of speeches on justice in labor relations, before marching on to Mass. Hall with soda can noisemakers andbanners in hand.
The protest wound through Harvard Yard, past a tour group and past the John Harvard statue, stopping outside of Mass. Hall.
Campus police stood guard as a few more speeches were delivered—including one by Lecturer on the Study of Religion Brian C.W. Palmer ’86, the lone member of the faculty to speak at the event.
Palmer dismissed the University’s ongoing budget crunch as a contrived attempt to pander to future donors.
“The Corporation needs to manufacture an aura of crisis, budget cuts and belt tightening to please the alumni,” he said, “to be able to tell them ‘we are running out of money and you, as business people, will appreciate the way we’ve been cutting the fat out of our work force.’”
The student-heavy crowd, which also included members of five different campus unions, responded with applause and shouts of “Lay off Larry!” before joining hands and surrounding Mass. Hall in a human chain.
It is unclear whether Summers was in the building when protesters yelled defiant chants at his windows, but according to University spokesperson Joe Wrinn, he was likely given advanced briefing on the event.
Merry Touborg, a spokesperson for Harvard’s Office of Human Resources, said that central administration approves of Friday’s student activism, but is frustrated that the University’s improvements often go unnoticed.
“It is a strange conflict for people who feel very dedicated to the same kinds of things that the students are talking about to hear criticism that leaves out a great deal of what the University does,” she said.
Touborg added that many of the University’s cost-cutting measures are “systemic,” and that many of the protesters’ demands are unfeasible in light of the faltering national economy.
Wrinn, meanwhile, said that upcoming projects in Allston and in the science department necessitated the University’s cost-cutting moves.
Labor protesters have traditionally shrugged off such defenses, however, and as the number of layoffs at Harvard continues to grow, workers seem to have only gotten angrier.