DISSENT: Striking a Blow Against Injustice

A hunger strike is an appropriate and laudable form of protest

When I first saw a girl in my history section wearing a sign that said, “Ask me why I’m fasting,” I was disgusted. I wrote it off as a self-referential and misguided form of protest in the name of increasing wages for security officers at Harvard. I assumed I knew, and I didn’t ask.

That assumption was a mistake, and my dismissal of the student hunger strike as a form of protest was far more misguided than the movement I had jumped to criticize. Most members of the Harvard community can acknowledge that the poverty wages being offered to Harvard’s security officers are pitiful and unacceptable from an institution as progressive and influential as ours. But few have acknowledged the true gravity of the situation—most notably, the extremely protracted and delayed response on the part of the University.

A hunger strike might seem like an extraordinary measure for what, at first glance, appears to be an unfortunate but omnipresent issue of underpaid workers. However, the degree of underpayment of Harvard’s security officers—compounded with the consistent resistance Harvard has shown to alleviating the problem—renders the hunger strike a legitimate and commendable form of protest.

Few would dispute that our security officers’ wages, which force employees to work full-time seven days per week or to choose between buying food and medicine for their family, are inhumane. In 2002, the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies declared that Harvard should not use outsourcing as a means to allow the veritable abuse of its workers, and Harvard codified this sentiment in its Wage and Benefits Parity Policy. Yet Harvard has been outsourcing its security officers since 1992, allowing the University to lower wages and shirk its committment to basic worker welfare.

Opponents to the hunger strike claim that the situation is not dire enough to warrant such a measure. There are, of course, human rights violations across the globe of far greater gravity than the situation of security officers at Harvard.

But just because there are worse injustices, it does not mean we should not take action in situations where we can actually exert influence. And to claim that a security officer does not deserve to be paid a living wage because he can sit down on the job—or even do something as audacious as read a book—is unfair.

All humans deserve to be treated with dignity and to be fairly compensated for their labor, regardless of its nature. A hunger strike demonstrates the appropriate degree of urgency in the situation.

Emma M. Lind ’09, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a history and literature concentrator in Winthrop House.