Take Over: PSLM Sits In

Last year, it was Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. This year, God came out in support of a living wage.

Or so proclaimed one of the many banners hanging for the trees of Harvard Yard during the longest sit-in in University history, as more than 20 members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) occupied Mass. Hall for three weeks to call for a living wage of at least $10.25 per hour for all Harvard employees.

Supporters of the sit-in transformed the normally pristine Yard, decorating the windows of the president’s office with colorful home-made signs, erecting a “tent city” with a resident mayor, doctor, musicians and jugglers, and organizing daily rallies and vigils, some attracting more than 1,000 students, workers and community activists.

PSLM members occupying the administrative building drew strength from deliveries of home-baked food and impromptu messages of support from local and national politicians including U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.), former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney.

Finally, on May 8, the 23 PSLM members remaining in Mass. Hall exited the administrative building to applause, red roses and a set of promises to reexamine workers' issues at the University.


The decision to leave the administrative building came after a marathon negotiation session that included high-ranking AFL-CIO officials and top Harvard administrators, including General Counsel Anne Taylor, Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Paul S. Grogan and Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley.

The University agreed to form a new committee, with student and worker representatives, to report back to incoming University President Lawrence H. Summers by Dec. 19 on all aspects of workers’ benefits, including outsourcing and the possibility of implementing a living wage.

The agreement also promised to reopen contract negotiations with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing Harvard’s janitors, four weeks after the committee issues its report. The new contract for SEIU members, some of whom earn less than a living wage, will be retroactive to May 1 of this year.

Additionally, the University issued a moratorium on new outsourcing until the committee issues its report.

The agreement--which PSLM members unilaterally characterized as a “victory”--concluded a year that began with a series of low-profile, light-hearted actions and ended with the longest building occupation in University history.

With the sit-in behind them, PSLM members vow to continue to work for a living wage. They are already meeting with members of the newly formed committee and many PSLM members have decided to spend the summer to work with Harvard’s unions.

“That it’s a victory doesn’t mean we’re going to go home and forget about the issue,” said third-year law student and PSLM member Aaron D. Bartley. “It’s more important than ever now that we have these structures. The word we keep using is vigilant. We need to stay organized.”

Back Where It All Begins

The activism this spring came after a relatively quiet first semester in the three-year-old campaign for a living wage.

A year ago, in response to PSLM’s calls for a living wage, a high-ranking committee of faculty members and administrators released a 100-page report recommending that the University enlarge the scope of worker benefits, including health insurance, education and access to campus facilities, but not raise wages.

Recommended Articles