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Five Harvard students narrowly avoided a conflict with Boston police Thursday after protesting with supporters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) against the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company.
The Boston UFW branch was protesting the firm's investments in the California Desert Valley Citrus Company, which is having contract disputes with migrant farm-workers in California's Coachella Valley, protester Bernard Bell '78 said yesterday.
Give Them a Call
Two separate protest delegations, numbering 17 persons, repeatedly requested that Helen McCue, the Boston office manager, call the insurance company's main office in Hartford, Conn. and inform the company of the protest.
McCue refused to acquiese and when the delegation persisted she contacted the building's security guards who called the police. The protesters left three minutes before the police arrived.
The Desert Valley packaging company buys fruit from Coachella Growers, which employ 450 workers represented by the UFW.
In a series of negotiations held over the past year, Coachella turned down UFW proposals for adequate medical and pension plans, transportation to and from the ranch and a grievance procedure.
"All we wanted was for Miss McCue to call the Hartford office where policy decisions are made and tell them we were here protesting their investment in the company," Bell said.
"She not only refused to do that, but also would not let us speak to Mr. Mimken, who is the Boston office agent in charge," he added.
McCue said yesterday that Mr. Mimken was not in the office Thursday.
McCue said she did not call the Harvard office because she did it for another UFW delegation last week.
"We didn't want to call the police, but we had no choice--it was a very busy day, there was clientele to be helped, and the group refused to leave after I said I couldn't help them," she said.
"There must a breakdown in communications somewhere," Nicholas Mimken said yesterday. "Our branch is simply a selling branch, we have no say in where money gets invested."
Connecticut Mutual is not involved in daily supervision of the negotiations between the farmworkers and Coachella growers, Robert Stevens, vice president of the insurance company, said yesterday.
Bell said until yesterday he knew nothing about the problems with the farm workers.
"What we are anxious to do is encourage both parties to negotiate in good faith. We don't want to see anyone exploited," he added. "The company or the labor force. Our responsibilities lie where the facts lie."
"I don't think that's true," organizer Rebecca Smith said yesterday. "I think that it's important for us to keep on pressuring them until they do something about the situation."
The Boston chapter of UFW the Harvard students are affiliated with is planning to send more protest delegations to the company despite the company's reaction Thursday.
"It's conceivable that it's not the best method," Robert Wallach '78 said yesterday. "We may be alienating the people in the office, but persisting by letting them know we're mad and serious is worth that risk."
McCue said yesterday that she would call the police again if the protesters return.
"The group's not being well received; their intent is good, but their approach is wrong," she said.
"Harassing people doesn't make them look too good--it only turns people away from the cause," McCue added
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