Activists march for labor issues

More than a thousand people marched downtown Wednesday in a rally for organized labor and city jobs.
More than a thousand people marched downtown Wednesday in a rally for organized labor and city jobs. Photo by Vivienne Jiao Zhang.

More than a thousand students, labor union members and community activists flooded Yale’s campus and downtown New Haven in a call for the University and the city to provide more youth opportunities and union jobs.

The “Let’s Get to Work” march and rally was jointly organized by the undergraduate community advocacy group Students Unite Now, the Local 34 and Local 35 unions that represent University technical, clerical and dining hall employees, the Graduate Employees Student Organization (GESO) and the non-profit progressive advocacy group Connecticut Center for a New Economy. While the organizations leading the march identified different goals, leaders from each group said protesting together provides a “show of force” to Yale administrators and city officials that youth employment and union jobs are important issues for New Haven residents.

“I’m marching today because there is a movement building across the city for economic and social justice,” said Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 in a speech at the march. “We can only make the change if thousands of us take to the streets — it’s about all of us fighting for change.”

Organizers said yesterday’s march was designed to be this year’s equivalent of last March’s “We Are One” rally, in which students, labor unions, clergy and other activists marched on City Hall in protest of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s demands that city employees make significant concessions on their benefits to help balance the city budget. Local 34 and 35 members interviewed said this year’s protest comes at a key time, as the Yale unions are currently in negotiations with the University over the terms of future union contracts. Leaders of the unions could not be reached for comment.

Members of GESO, Local 34 and 35 as well as Students Unite Now gathered at separate locations at approximately 5 p.m. Undergraduates convened outside Dwight Hall, where members of Students Unite Now distributed signs and delivered speeches about the importance of Yalies’ advocating for city youth and employment issues to a crowd of around 120 students by 5:30 p.m.

Following the speeches, the Students Unite Now group marched down High Street and through Cross Campus before merging with GESO and Local 34 and 35 members at the United Methodist Church on the corner of College and Elm Streets. The group shouted chants including “Together we stand, divided we fall,” “We’re coming together to make it all better” and “Jobs for youth, jobs for all.”

Police blocked off part of the College and Elm Streets intersection to vehicle traffic as a crowd of more than one thousand chanted and band of drummers and trumpeters played “The Saints are Marching In.” The crowd then marched to the center of the New Haven Green and toward the march’s final destination — the Yale School of Medicine.

“I’m excited by the turnout and the energy,” said a Local 35 union member at the protest who works in one of Yale’s residential colleges. “This kind of unity shows Yale that we mean business and we’re willing to fight for good jobs.”

Seven Local 34 and Local 35 members interviewed said that in the current contract negotiation with the University, they hope to see the preservation of the Yale’s current retiree health care policy as well as strong wages and job security. With “nothing set in stone” yet, one Local 34 member who works within IT support at Yale said Wednesday’s protest helped ensure that workers’ concerns would not go unheard.

GESO marchers also stressed the protest’s significance in the group’s nearly 20-year struggle to win recognition from the University. The organization was formed in 1991 and since then has advocated for the collective bargaining rights of graduate teachers in the humanities and social sciences without success.

“The march is really a way to demonstrate the growing consensus among graduate students that they desire to organize,” said Kate Irving GRD ’15. “We came to Yale’s graduate school because we believe in the power of teaching and shaping the school and world around us — we want to have more of a say in the shape and planning of our program.”

While undergraduates are not members of the union groups present at Wednesday’s protest, members of Students Unite Now said all students have a stake in the city and thus have a moral responsibility to be involved in advocating for progressive change.

Tom Stanley-Becker ’13, a member of Students Unite Now, said the newly formed group came about as a result of last fall’s aldermanic campaigns, as students learned about the major issues affecting New Haven. In the past several months, he said, the group has been surveying the student body to determine which city issues Yalies care about most. With New Haven’s unemployment at 11.7 percent, Stanley-Becker said advocating for greater job accesibility, particularly for the city’s youth, is a key issue for the group.

“If you look at the endowment figures and fundraising from the Yale Tomorrow capital campaign, the University isn’t hurting in terms of cash right now. I think Yale can be a progressive partner in getting more jobs in New Haven,” he said. “Yale could put money directly into places like Dixwell Avenue and create training programs for residents.”

Stanley-Becker added that Yale could also work to ensure the continuation of strong labor contracts and hire more local residents to work on some of the University’s large-scale construction projects, such as the two new residential colleges slated to be built on Prospect Street.

But not all Yalies agree with Students Unite Now’s vision for the University’s role in the city. Three students interviewed said they do not think Yale needs to devote more money to local causes.

The “We Are One” rally, one of a series of well-attended protests on the Green last year, took place March 30, 2011.

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