Harvard Occupy Celebrates, Looks Toward Future

Harvard Occupiers and members of the Student Labor Action Movement will gather to celebrate the custodial workers’ new contract on Tuesday. But with the most visible Occupy goal achieved and Thanksgiving break looming, the movement faces a transitional moment.

Tuesday’s rally celebrates what custodial workers’ representatives have called a “huge victory” for workers on campus. The contract guarantees, among other things, that custodial workers keep their present health care benefits and receive an increase in wages. Additionally, the contract guarantees benefit parity between contracted and direct employees of the University.

Leaders of the Occupy movement said that with the custodial contract settled, Occupy will shift its focus to other issues, specifically what protestors’ perceive to be Harvard’s socially irresponsible investments.

“I think, with the resolution of the custodial contract, that the Occupy movement is reforming itself—taking on a different focus,” said William P. Whitham ’14, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement. “Occupy Harvard still has several other keys issues we want to explore, most notably socially responsible investing.”

Occupy has called for Harvard to pledge not to reinvest in HEI Hotels & Resorts, a hotel management company that has received several complaints from the National Labor Relations Board. Branches of SEIU, the union which represents Harvard custodial workers, are boycotting select HEI locations across the country.

The reformation of the Occupy Harvard movement comes not only on the cusp of Thanksgiving break, but also as the national Occupy movement begins to face obstacles such as government opposition, dwindling numbers, and dropping temperatures.

Occupy protesters across the country, including Zuccotti Park in New York City and Acacia Park in Colorado Springs, have been evicted by state police forces, leading to the arrest of several occupiers.

Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a SLAM member and a Crimson editorial editor, said that SLAM, whose members have been an integral part of the Occupy movement, will be stepping back from “Occupy Harvard” to pursue other issues.

“SLAM has been devoting a lot of energy into Occupy, and a huge amount of support from SLAM is not really necessary any more,” Korn said. “SLAM is going to be focusing on other things—of course, we continue to support Occupy.  But now it’s SLAM working with Occupy Harvard, not necessarily in Occupy Harvard.”

Both Korn and Whitham emphasized their belief that Occupy would last through the resolution of the custodial contract and Thanksgiving break.

“What the contract being signed means is that some people who were putting a lot of energy into that will be stepping back a little bit, while others are stepping up and taking more responsibility,” Whitham said. “While there might be fewer people in the tents over Thanksgiving, we will be increasing our outreach and education.”

For Karen A. Narefsky ’11, the presence of the tents in Harvard Yard are secondary to the intellectual consequences of the movement on Harvard’s campus.

“Whatever eventual end to the physical encampment, the Occupy movement is not over because the contract has been won,” she said. “There has been a lot of mobilization and a lot of education about issues of inequality thanks to the movement, and people will continue to engage in education and outreach whether or not tents are still standing in the yard.”

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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