Workers Protest Year of Cuts, Layoffs

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The rallies in front of Holyoke and then Mass. Hall lasted a combined two hours, beginning shortly after 4 p.m. when emcees Michael Gould ’07 and Vanessa A. Pope ’07 introduced Edward Chiles of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees’ Local 26—the union which represents dining hall workers at Harvard.

“Just like other corporations in this country, they’ve hired little Nazis to harass our workers and intimidate them,” Chiles said, setting the tone for the rest of the protest. “We won’t put up with these agents of President Summers. We will not be intimidated by any little Nazis.”

Chiles said that the University had unfairly taken away benefits from disabled workers, and discriminated against “mostly immigrants, black and Latin workers.”

Wrinn said these accusations were unfounded.

Event organizers distributed flyers to the crowd as Chiles spoke, summarizing their grievances in 11 points, which were reiterated throughout the afternoon.

“While Harvard keeps getting richer...its workers continue to be denied basic rights like full-time jobs, job security, and union representation,” the flyer said. “Over the past year, Harvard workers have been subject to numerous attacks by the Harvard administration.”

The demands which followed ranged from specific to general, as some called for a halt to layoffs and outsourcing, while others simply urged readers to “support the struggles of working people worldwide” in honor of International Workers’ Day. The flyer also demanded an increased dedication to health care benefits and financial aid for working-class students.

“I’m excited to see that we’re talking about everything from labor market structure to housing and health care and discrimination,” said Undergraduate Council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05. “If enough students and workers combine their power, they can do anything.”

Mahan pointed to the living wage sit-in as an example of successful activism, saying that it “definitely showed that students do have power when they speak with one voice and organize.”

By 4:45 p.m., Spoken Word Society member Okechukwu W. Iweala ’06 had performed a sprawling spoken word piece, and a pair of sibling Harvard graduates now working as independent journalists for Democracy Now! encouraged the onlooking students to persist in their activist efforts.

“We’ve won before, you’ll win again,” said David Goodman, who helped found the dining hall workers union during his time at Harvard. “This is an important cause. You shouldn’t be getting a world-class education while people are getting third-world wages.”

Other speakers included a pair of unionized janitors, a representative from the Radcliffe Union of Students and members of the Socialist Alternative—a national organization which shares many of its Cambridge members with Harvard’s No Layoffs Campaign, an activist group that has been protesting the University’s job cuts since last summer.

The Socialist Alternative was just one of several socialist groups represented at Friday’s rally, which also drew members of the Workers’ Vanguard newspaper and the Revolutionary Worker magazine. Several people in the crowd said that the socialist presence might scare off some potentially interested moderates, but most of them maintained that the rally’s strongest point was its unification of many different groups behind a single cause.

“The most important thing achieved is a sense of union solidarity,” said Aaron Bartley, an organizer in Local 615 of the Service Employees International Union. “The University has been aware of each of the issues expressed today for over a year. What’s new is that they’ve now been expressed in a unified voice.”

Not everybody at the rally was in agreement, however.