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For the first time in its modern history the University has come face to face with the disturbing problem of organized labor. Although union men have been employed here for many years, Harvard has never inquired, when hiring men, if they belonged to a union. In the case of the cooks in the dining halls and the carpenters, electricians, and plumbers of the Maintenance Department, the union has dealt with the men individually, never with Harvard. Thus, union activities have at no moment before conflicted with, nor come to the official attention of, the University.


Now that a local organizer has succeeded in unionizing allegedly ninety percent of all dining hall workers, the University is confronted directly with the question of whether or not to recognize the union as the sole bargaining power of a hundred per cent of these employees. By a recently enacted state law, not yet tested, Harvard might be compelled to recognize the union as the only bargaining agent of union members working in the University, which include supposedly nine-tenths of the total number employed. From the fact that officials are still negotiating with the local organizer, it can be rightly surmised that they desire a compromise in short order. What the terms of that compromise will be is a matter of speculation. As far as the union is concerned, it would probably accept wage scales only slightly higher than present rates providing that the University would grant a closed shop.


The permitting of a closed shop, which might mean a nine-tenths majority would dominate and discipline a one-tenth minority of the dining hall employees, involves several considerations not entirely favorable to the interests of the student and the University. It must be realized that, in reaching a settlement, Harvard is acting not only for itself, but directly for the student. Any manner of decision will affect the student body as a whole. If the University grants a further wage increase, it is almost axiomatic that the student board rate will rise accordingly--perhaps to the extent of an extra fifty cents a week, were the wage scale raised, for instance, to eighteen dollars for waitresses. With a relatively insignificant amount of surplus profit to spend freely, Harvard has no other alternative than to throw a heavier burden upon student shoulders.


Recognition of a closed shop may have two results. First, all non-union employees of the University will be forced, for the sake of their job, either to join the union or to leave and seek another position. Such an abandonment of these who have worked here for many years, who relish its protection through the guarantee of steady work, with slight chance of dismissal for economic or political reasons, who benefit by its group insurance and pension plans, is unlike the attitude that should be assumed by a liberal employer.


Second, there is the possibility that once a closed shop becomes established at Harvard, both officials and students will have to deal with a force which, if in complete power, may wreak great damage, even to the point of closing the dining halls. As a free educational institution Harvard can scarcely take the risk of being circumscribed by an outside force. Impractical demands for higher and higher wages by the closed shop, or objections to the employment of non-union workers in other parts of the University, may foster disputes between the two organizations. As a leader in liberal thought, Harvard should practice enlightened leadership in dealing with its labor problem, but at the same time it should reserve the right to exercise independent action.

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