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Editorials

Undergraduates: Time To Support Striking Student Workers

By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

It’s a beautiful day for a strike in Cambridge. Today, Harvard’s graduate student union begins a three-day strike for livable wages and better harassment and assault arbitration — reminding our community this freshman parents weekend that Harvard is unwilling to offer its student workers these protections without a fight.

Despite a flurry of progress in the past 24 hours (a testament to the strike’s utility), the union and University remain at an impasse on bread and butter issues; Harvard’s proposed wage increase still lags behind last year’s cost of living hike in Cambridge, and proposed updates to the University’s internal harassment proceedings insufficiently address the system’s failings. How far the strike moves the needle on negotiations will undoubtedly be influenced by student and faculty support for the union’s disruption of business-as-usual.

To our fellow undergraduates: Don’t cross the picket line. Now is the time to stand with the graduate workers whose care and labor fuels our university. That means not attending class, sections, or office hours which are graduate student-led for the week’s remainder, leaving your 10:30 a.m. class 10 minutes early to join Thursday’s rally in Harvard Yard, and taking the time to join the union at the picket line over the next three days. For undergraduates who work as teaching fellows and course assistants, that means striking.

We’ve acknowledged the disarray and tough choices a strike would inject into undergraduate life. But disruption, again, is the point. Harvard’s product is its academic enterprise; to be effective, a strike has to scramble it.

It was the threat of a strike that pushed the University to move from the 8.5 percent wage increase over three years it proposed in September to the 13 percent over four years it proposed not even 24 hours ago. It's the strike, and the additional federal mediation sessions called in the lead-up to it, that pushed Harvard to raise its paltry $16 minimum wage to $20 as soon as a contract is ratified. And it was the 2016 Harvard University Dining Services worker’s strike which ensured, to this day, that dining hall workers wouldn’t be priced out of their healthcare.

Three days of making tough choices — skipping the section of a beloved class, or, as an undergraduate union member insulated from many of the concerns of graduate students, still withholding your labor in support — can help secure enduring, stronger protections for student workers. Ultimately, students will be left to decide what degree of support they give to the union. But we urge our peers, many of whom might one day be graduate students themselves, to show as much support as possible for striking workers.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers has proven itself willing to negotiate in good faith, giving in on key issues like third-party workplace complaint arbitration. The shift represents a major, and in some ways regrettable, concession for HGSU-UAW. Creating independent channels to arbitrate harassment and discrimination cases has been (and, despite its flexibility, remains) a top union priority since its inception in 2018, and one it previously had to abandon in 2019’s contract negotiation. It's a laudable goal: The University has a streak of mishandling sexual assault cases. A failure of its internal grievance proceedings allowed former government professor Jorge Domínguez to commit repeated acts of sexual misconduct over the course of four decades, and three senior Anthropology professors to weather allegations of sexual harassment for years, including some brought by students. Our graduate workers sorely deserve better alternatives.

In lieu of creating a full-blown third-party arbitration system, the union is now bargaining for the University to subsidize legal counsel for union members undergoing the Title IX process (which, last night, it encouragingly agreed to do to the tune of $50,000) and for the majority of deciders on Title IX hearing panels to have no university affiliation. We hope the union’s seismic movement on the issue, plus momentum from the strike, bring the University back to the bargaining table with renewed willingness to inject more independent arbitration into Harvard’s internal processes.

The second graduate student strike in Harvard’s history is here. The incredible movement on contract negotiations we’ve seen in the past 24 hours alone underscores the power of striking to secure a fairer contract. The union, in making tough concessions and deftly wielding its organizing power, is paving that path. All we have to do is support them.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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