A round-table discussion led by affiliates of Yale’s labor unions last night emphasized the connection between one’s faith and one’s involvement in local labor issues.
The event, held at Linsly-Chittenden Hall, was sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance for Justice. The talk featured the Rev. Scott Marks and Dan Smokler ’01, representatives of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, who both encouraged students to become involved with the labor movement at Yale and in New Haven.
CCNE is a nonprofit advocacy group closely aligned with Yale’s unions.
Both speakers said they felt their faith called for them to try actively to enact change in the community. Smokler said that to produce change, it is important to ask what level of organization can be put forward.
“[There is] a tremendous possibility for faith to be an organizing force,” he said.
Smokler added that undergraduates are as much a part of the Yale community as graduate students and union members and that they have a responsibility to be aware of and involved in issues like labor.
Marks said he sees his work as a way of building a labor movement.
“One of the places where a lot of disrespect happens is the workplace,” he said.
Marks added that people must come together in a movement to promote their views. He added that the Yale Corporation campaign of the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 has done a great deal to unite community members.
“Lee has done a tremendous amount to excite the community at large,” he said.
Smokler said he has seen that union members, such as those in Local 34 — which represents Yale’s clerical and technical workers — care about enacting change at Yale.
“[They] all have a sort of passion for making this a better place,” he said.
Students who attended the event said they agreed with the speakers’ view that there is a relationship between religion and the labor movement.
Carolina Oster ’05, an IAJ member, said the event was important to her because it allowed her to discuss this connection with other students. She said she was not so much concerned with seeing both sides of the ongoing labor debate as much as she was with learning more about how the issue is related to her faith.
“To me, the question to be addressed was never why should I support unions but rather why should I care about unions,” she said.
Yakubu Agbese ’05 said he feels religious issues should be made a part of labor discussions but recognizes that the inclusion of this topic could cause problems.
“People have a tendency to focus on the religious part of it rather than the whole thing,” he said.
Smokler said he made a decision at the end of his senior year to become a CCNE organizer instead of a rabbi. He said he felt his religious beliefs call for him to try to better the Yale and New Haven communities.
“[There is the] chance that Yale could remake itself,” he said. “If the workers at Yale win, the community wins.”