Student Labor Activists Plan To Target Coke Ties

SLAM leaders intend to attack Harvard’s extensive contracts with soft-drink maker

After successfully helping Harvard janitors in their effort to gain a wage increase last November, Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) is active once again. The organization met yesterday for the first time this semester, armed with a new agenda and hoping for similar achievements.

This semester, SLAM plans on focusing its efforts on securing for workers the right to organize, particularly the rights to unionize without fear of reprisals.

SLAM will primarily target Harvard’s extensive business ties with the Coca-Cola Company, which has been accused of intimidating their workers into forgoing efforts to unionize both within the United States and internationally.

SLAM will also target AlliedBarton Security Services, which employs the vast majority of security guards at Harvard.

“Harvard has an ethical obligation to make sure that its corporations uphold this fundamental human right,” said Adaner Usmani ’08, one of SLAM’s leaders, yesterday. “If these corporations are suppressing these workers, we think Harvard has an obligation to desist.”

Harvard has an exclusive contract with the Coca-Cola Company, which requires that only Coca-Cola drinks be served in dining halls and throughout campus.

The Coca-Cola Company has become mired in controversy lately over its alleged attempts to use violence to quash Colombian workers’ efforts to unionize.

Additionally, environmental advocates have accused the company of unfairly dominating ground water source in India, limiting some local Indians’ water source and irreparably damaging their crops.

Following the decision of at least nine other colleges—including New York University (NYU)—to drop their contracts with Coke, the University of Michigan most recently declined to renew its contract at the beginning of 2006.

SLAM hopes to be able to persuade Harvard to do the same and will employ tactics used at Michigan and NYU, said SLAM leader Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07.

“Anything would be preferable to Coke,” he said. “There’s literally blood on the hands of that corporation.”

Beyond advocating unionization rights, SLAM hopes to replicate its earlier success with janitors by supporting the dining services workers in their upcoming renegotiation with Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS). The HUDS workers’ contracts expires on June 1.

At the meeting yesterday, the organizers decided that the HUDS contract renegotiation cannot be SLAM’s top priority this semester. Because the negotiations will fall late in the semester, Usmani said, SLAM would have trouble galvanizing the support that would be necessary for a major effort.

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Weintraub can be reached at bweintr@fas.harvard.edu.