A strike is coming, and it’s going to force students to make decisions that most don’t want to make. The hesitant should remember a few things: Concerning locals 34 and 35, claims that they are paid a fair market value (itself extremely dubious) are beside the point — Yale’s workers deserve to be paid a decent living wage for how hard they work, not for what the market allows. Concerning graduate students, undergraduates who support 34 and 35 but wonder if graduate students really need a union should remember that TAs perform much of the actual labor of teaching that in no way contributes to their education in their field, and they currently lack a real voice to improve these conditions. Furthermore, the goals of graduate students will improve undergrads’ education (i.e. smaller sections). Concerning the workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Yale has consistently and illegally thwarted their attempts to unionize while publicly proclaiming their freedom.
Yale has more than enough money to grant these requests without making a dent in the $11 billion endowment.
Students may be wondering what they can do to support the strike apart from skipping all their classes. The Yale administration wants to claim that its workers are not essential to the functioning of the University, that business can go on as usual with little disruption. Undergraduates are at the center of this — if we can show the University that this is not the case, they will be much more willing to settle and give workers their due. Here are some possibilities:
Talk to professors about moving classes off campus. The unions and local churches will be working in conjunction to make spaces available to teach classes. To hold a class in a Yale building forces students (and professors) to make the choice between skipping classes and crossing a picket line.
As a general rule, don’t use buildings that are being picketed. This means that one should avoid classroom buildings as well as libraries, dining halls and the gym.
Yale has yet to make it clear what they plan to do in the dining halls. In past work stoppages student money has been refunded to be used off campus, but there is a distinct possibility that Yale will take the outrageous step of staffing the dining hall with replacement workers and forcing students to choose between supporting scabs and losing the money they have already paid for meals. On-campus students should sign one of the petitions asking for refund checks over replacement workers that will be presented at the dining halls.
Students should get out on the picket lines. While many students have relationships with administrative assistants, dining hall workers and graduate students, few have had much interaction with the majority of these employees as well as those who work behind the scenes, such as janitors. Spending some time with them on the picket line, if only to talk with them about why they are striking and what their experience has been with Yale, can be a boost in morale for striking workers.
Yale has consistently claimed that students are on its side of any labor strife. The University already lacks the support of its workers, its graduate students, and much of New Haven, so undergraduates are the last leg that the University has to stand on. I hope that most students will exercise some of the methods of support that I have enumerated. When people’s careers are on the line, actions speak louder than words.
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson is a junior in Davenport College. His column appears regularly on alternate Tuesdays.