Harvard strike escalates as students occupy negotiations office
Cambridge, MA – Oct. 24 marks day 20 of the Harvard University Dining Service (HUDS) workers’ strike. The HUDS union, UNITE HERE Local 26, has been negotiating since May of this year with management. Harvard bosses refuse to budge on two key demands: fair healthcare and sustainable salaries for all full-time employees.
Harvard’s students and workers are organizing together to put pressure on Harvard administrators.
“There are two competing visions for the future of the Harvard community; a school that runs like a corporation and puts profit over people, or one that teaches solidarity and is controlled by the working-class people who keep this place running,” said Daniel Espo, a second-year student at Harvard Law School.
Workers sent a loud message earlier in the struggle by focusing on the financial elites who rule over the Harvard Corporation. Local 26 coordinated with union locals across the country to send worker solidarity delegations to the corporate offices of each of the 12 fellows of the Harvard Corporation.
Following this strategy of targeted disruption, students at Harvard organized phone bank events. Students called the Harvard Fellows on their personal and work phone numbers, leaving messages to express their outrage at the poor treatment given the people who prepare and serve their meals. One fellow, William Lee, was visited multiple times at his office in downtown Boston, first by workers and then by students. Students also sent hundreds of signed postcards to Harvard Fellows demanding they give HUDS a decent contract.
On Saturday, Oct. 22, Teamsters, SEIU and other unions joined HUDS workers in a march of over a thousand. The rally marched through rain and heavy wind before gathering on the front steps of the Cambridge City Hall. Vice Mayor Marc McGovern came out and spoke in solidarity.
On Oct. 24, Harvard students escalated their tactics. 400 students walked out of their classrooms and into the streets. The students marched to 124 Mount Auburn Street, where negotiations are held. Hundreds of students packed the building lobby, with the crowd erupting into chants, “When Harvard workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Harvard negotiators were peeking out of their office windows to get a better look at the crowd. After 15 minutes of chanting, students decided to launch a spontaneous sit-in. The students chose not to leave the building lobby until Harvard negotiators gave the union a new offer. To keep spirits high, students sang songs including Solidarity Forever and We Shall Overcome.
“The only way to make sure the strike succeeds is to continue this kind of direct action that confronts the financial elites at the top of the ladder,” said second-year law student Collin Poirot.
Poirot continued, “Right now the administration thinks it can handle the strike without causing too much disruption. Our job is to amplify the strike by creating new crises that the Administration can’t handle.”