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Fired by the strains of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” thousands of protesters—including 50 students and employees from Harvard—rallied in New Haven on Saturday in support of striking Yale workers.
Saturday’s protesters slowly marched from the New Haven green, winding past the Yale-New Haven Medical Center to the intersection of York and Elm Streets, where 151 people, including AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, were arrested.
The action marked an escalation in a series of daily protests staged since late August, as roughly 3,000 of the university’s clerical, technical and dining hall workers strike for better pensions, wages and job security.
“Our members feel good about fighting back against Yale’s intransigence,” said union spokesperson Bill Meyerson.
Yale officials were unavailable for comment over the weekend.
The labor organization United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) sponsored this national day of action, bringing more than 300 students from 30 universities all over the U.S.—some as far away as Florida and California—to the Yale campus.
“It is important to students because we have a certain amount of responsiblity and power; it’s our money that funds these universities,” said USAS national organizer Lenore Palladino, who was arrested in this weekend’s protest.
The Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) last week around campus, and Saturday at 9:30 a.m. the group gathered for the bus ride down to New Haven. No member of the group was arrested during three hours of marching.
PSLM member Daniel B. Weissman ’05 said he was surprised by the energetic vibe he found upon arriving in New Haven.
“It was a really fun atmosphere. I hadn’t expected it to be so lively and upbeat,” he said. “You know what you want...you know you’re going to win eventually.”
No Yale students were arrested in the civil disobedience action of this, Yale’s ninth strike in the last 30 years. Last year, 700 people were arrested in New Haven in labor protests, including 67 students, according to Josh R. Eidelson, the spokesperson for the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.
Wages and pensions remain the major sticking point of the negotiations between Yale’s representatives and its workers.
Local 34, one of the two major unions representing the striking workers, is demanding a 4 percent increase in salaries for their members—who average $33,000 a year—for the first year of their new contracts. Local 35—whose workers net about $3,000 less on average—is pushing for a 3 percent raise.
In what several protesters remembered as the most powerful moment of Saturday’s rally, 13 Latino strike-breakers appeared on stage just one day after walking off the jobs themselves in support of their striking comrades, most of whom are black.
The workers had been subcontracted by Yale in what activists claimed was mean-spirited attempt to divide the workers along racial lines.
Latinos make up only 3 percent of Yale’s workforce despite forming more than 20 percent of New Haven’s population.
According to union activists, Saturday’s protests kicked off an intensification of pressure on Yale officials to end the strike.
“Basically we’re just getting started,” Eidelson said. “There are going to be a lot of opportunities to take the action needed.”
More civil disobedience actions are planned for cities beyond New Haven, to put pressure on the members of the Yale Corporation—most of whom live and work outside the city.
—Staff writer Jonathan P. Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
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