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"We threatened to strike once and we'll do it again!"
So proclaimed Joseph Stefani last week at a meeting of the unions to which over 90 per cent of the Harvard cooks and waitresses belong. Apparently he had delved a bit into the contract signed last March, and had come up with the unique conclusion that for Harvard to hire its own students in its own dining halls to serve its own meals was an "unfair labor practice." If his mental somersault was merely for the purpose of boosting his prestige among the members of his flock, he cannot be very harshly criticized; but if he really contemplates a strike--and if the workers are nursing any such idea--they are in for some disillusioning jolts.
Action by the Business School may indeed have been a precursor of further steps toward student employment in the dining halls. The idea has possibilities. Recurring criticism of some waitresses; the need for economy; and the unsatisfied student demand for term-time work all point to the same conclusion.
Of course the picture is not one-sided. Criticism of dining hall service is usually exaggerated; the conclusion that all waitresses are unaccommodating, lazy, indifferent, or simply incapable, is a generalization from isolated instances. And it doesn't follow that students would be an improvement. This much, however, can be said: under such a system, waiters who were extraordinarily bad could be fired and a substitute found, while at present all girls--good and bad alike--are as solidly entrenched as Supreme Court justices.
Nothing is more certain than this: that more than enough applicants could be found for the jobs. Every year a growing percentage of students look for work to help pay expenses. Every year almost as may men haunt the Student Employment Office unsuccessfully as apply for jobs and obtain them. It should become more and more possible for brilliant men of small means to earn their way at Harvard.
There is, nonetheless, a skeleton in the closet: it is social democracy. Here is a problem far more perplexing than any arising from the union. Would there be serious consequences from the assignment of one group of students to wait on another? How real is Harvard democracy? They are questions to be raised, not answered now. Doubtless they are bothering both University Hall and the Student Council committee. To conclude that all would be perfectly tranquil is certainly unrealistic; to say that Harvard would be divided into social castes is to subscribe wholeheartedly to New Haven versions of Harvard life. Perhaps a plebiscite in each of the separate Houses will be necessary to clarify the issues.
In a complicated situation, one thing is perfectly clear: that a decision can be reached entirely apart from Union interference. Last March, with undergraduates behind the waitresses, they won many points. But the absurd suggestion that Harvard is not free to hire its students as it chooses will not find such friendly reception. The March contract specifically provides for such a possibility, if further proof were needed. In tenth grade English, it states that the contract applies to workers "except students who are or may be employed . . ." Harvard has granted its workers a mile; it will not be easy for them to take a hundred.
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