TWO LOCALS of the Graphic Arts International Union with members employed by Harvard are striking for a larger wage increase than the university wants to grant. The workers, whose current wages range from $150.44 a week for deliverer-drivers to $240.34 a week for certain classes of pressmen, want 10 to 14 per cent increases. Harvard has offered 5.5 per cent, with John B. Butler, director of personnel, explaining that the university needs to "slow inflation."
As is often the case, each side in the dispute commands authoritative sounding statistics designed to make the other's position sound unreasonable. Harvard likes to point out that it pays its printers more than printers in Boston average; the GAIU takes as its standard prevailing union rates. The GAIU's approach seems more reasonable. If profit-seeking printing shops are able to pay union scale, the Printing Office--which does non-official printing at competitive rates, but belongs to a non-profit institution--ought to be able to afford them, too. Six years ago--a year after the GAIU, with student support, won its first strike here--Harvard printers earned wages comparable to those of other union printers in Boston. Since then average union wages have gone up 52 per cent, according to Labor Department figures, while Harvard wages went up between 34 and 44 per cent. Harvard's refusal to accept binding arbitration suggests that it feels some uneasiness about the reasonableness of its own position.
But support for the printers should derive from sources deeper than a statistical comparison of their wages with those of other printers in the area. It derives also from a belief that $7822.88--the yearly salary of a deliverer-driver--is just less than he deserves, and that it's time large institutions stopped slowing inflation at the expense of working people.
It's not true that paying bookbinders decent wages means raising tuition. Harvard works on an every-tub-on-its-own-bottom system, under which each department--including the printing office--is self-supporting. But a broader argument--that increasing the wages of campus workers as a group will mean increasing student fees--deserves a more general reply.
Basically, that reply is the same as it has always been--the same as it was when Harvard claimed it couldn't afford to meet striking teaching fellows' demands, for instance. Harvard is the richest university in the world, an enormous corporation with intimate links to the world of other enormous corporations. It finished last year with a $2.1 million surplus. If it expects its claims--to be not just a corporation playing conventional financial games but a university, interested not in money but in truth--to be taken seriously, then it ought to act as though it takes its claims seriously. That would mean opening its books to public scrutiny, as the teaching fellows asked last year. When the university does that, students and faculty and printers (everyone who lives and works at Harvard) will be able to decide together how much Harvard can afford. In the meantime, students and employees already have a common interest--resisting the administration's attempts to quietly tighten the financial screws on them both.