Activists SLAM Coke, Security Firm

Organizer suggests that Harvard switch to Polar Beverages or Mecca-Cola

Labor activists staged a “teach-in” targeting Harvard’s ties to the Coca-Cola Company at Boylston Hall last night, with an anti-sweatshop organizer leading dozens of students and workers in a chant proclaiming, “Cherry, Diet, or Vanilla, Coca-Cola is a killa.”

Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) sponsored the event as part of its spring “Right To Organize” campaign, which—in addition to its anti-Coke component—also targets AlliedBarton Security Services, a firm that Harvard employs.

The campaign focuses on securing workers their legal right to unionize without fear of reprisal.

A national organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops, Camilo A. Romero, translated a speech delivered by Gerrardo Cajamarca, a former Coke employee in Colombia who now works for the Colombian food and beverages workers union Sinal Trainal.

Cajamarca charged that Coke-funded paramilitaries had assassinated eight Colomobian unionizers. Through Romero, Cajamarca said, “this is an effort to sew fear, sew terror in the hearts of these workers who are trying to form a union.”

He also stressed the importance of student support and action.

“We believe that the students in fact are the key part of the conscience of our people,” and that they can force administrators to act, he said.

Several top U.S. schools have cancelled some of their contracts with Coke to protest alleged abuses—including the University of Michigan, which suspended Coke sales on campus at the beginning of January, and Swarthmore, which ousted Coke from some of its dining facilities.

Romero suggested that Harvard turn to alternative soft-drink suppliers such as Worcester, Mass.-based Polar Beverages or Dubai-based Mecca-Cola.

Romero praised Mecca-Cola for donating part of its profits to charity. According to the company’s website, 10 percent of profits go to Palestinian humanitarian groups and 10 percent go to “local charitable organizations.” The company’s website says that the Palestinians whom it aids are victims of “Zionist fascism.”

ALLIED AGAINST ALLIED

The other component of SLAM’s campaign targets AlliedBarton, whose officers patrol Harvard’s campuses 24 hours a day.

Fidel E. Solano, a security officer for AlliedBarton at Harvard, and Emerson Harris, an organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615 who is working with the SLAM campaign, spoke together to publicize AlliedBarton’s allegedly unfair policies toward worker unionization.

Since the employees technically work for AlliedBarton and not Harvard, SEIU and SLAM plan on pressuring the University into applying its own pressure on the company to amend its practices.

“Since we don’t have a union here, they [AlliedBarton] use intimidation,” according to Solano. “They say, ‘We’re not going to fire you for starting a union, but we’re going to make your lives a living hell.’”

Solano said that if AlliedBarton employees try to unionize, the company intimidates the workers, cuts their hours, or delays extra pay for overtime.

Despite the alleged threats, Solano is determined and confident. “We need the union and, trust me, sooner or later, we’re going to have it.”

SLAM leader Jamila R. Martin ’07 said that the combination of the anti-Coke advocacy and the pressure against AlliedBarton at last night’s event would help students to see these two efforts as part of “one struggle.”

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