Boston, MA -Harvard, the world’s wealthiest university, saw its first workers’ strike in over 30 years this week as Harvard University Dining Service (HUDS) food service workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 26, took to the picket lines on Oct. 5. Workers were in contract negotiations with the Harvard administration since the end of May. The administration is refusing to budge on key workers’ demands including equitable healthcare, year-round employment, and a racial justice task force to promote equality at work.
Students from across the Harvard system are showing their support for the strike by issuing statements of solidarity, sharing meals with striking workers, and most importantly, reinforcing the picket lines. Almost 3000 students signed a petition supporting the HUDS workers strike, and now over 400 are pledged to stand on picket lines until worker’ demands are met.
A large coalition of student organizations issued joint declarations of support for the strike. Just this week, the Harvard chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and Reclaim Harvard Law released a co-authored, bilingual statement exposing that African American, Latino, Haitian and other oppressed nationalities and women are often given the lowest paying jobs at the law school and rarely receive promotions.
Undergraduate students have also held ‘dine-ins’ with the HUDS workers. Students and workers then share a meal and discuss the HUDS struggle and the experiences of Harvard’s workers.
Last week on Sept. 30, students and workers held a joint rally building towards the strike, followed by a worker speak-out in the main lounge of Harvard Law School. In response to the widespread student support for the HUDS strike, the Harvard Law School administration was forced to shut down law school cafeterias, rather than bringing in scabs to break the strike.
“Harvard has a long history of pitting its own students against workers. One president of the university, Abbott Lowell, owned a steel mill north of campus. The steel workers at the mill joined the famous Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Harvard President Lowell offered students a passing grade on their mid-term exams if they would agree to reinforce the Massachusetts State Militia in harassing the workers and breaking the picket line,” explained Harvard Law student Collin Poirot during an Oct. 6 student-worker solidarity rally.
Poirot finished his speech, “These students traded in their solidarity and support for working-class people in exchange for good grades and upward mobility. We will never make that mistake again.”
While solidarity with the Harvard workers continues to grow on campus, it is apparent that the Harvard administration is negotiating on behalf of the financial elites who control the Harvard Corporation.
The HUDS workers are winning and participation is increasing with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other workers joining them. On Oct. 7, UNITE HERE Local 26 members from hotels and universities across the city of Boston rallied with Harvard workers.
The HUDS workers are fierce in their commitment to winning this campaign. It is likely that solidarity with Harvard workers will spread to other campuses and cities in coming weeks, showing that reviving the strike is a good way to win.