Few pronouncements on the present contract negotiations disgust me more than those that accuse labor activists of being fraudulently progressive.
Take the recent Yale Daily News column by Justin Zaremby ’03 (“Union plan disgraces MLK,” 9/24) on today’s civil disobedience as an example. In the piece, Zaremby argues that the planned action represents a gross misinterpretation of the principles of non-violent social change advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. “[The activists] malign civil disobedience by making that noble form of protest into a pageant for self-righteous Yalies,” he writes. While King “used civil disobedience against laws that oppressed an entire race of people,” he says, Yale’s unions are using it “merely over their contracts.”
In other words, those participating in today’s protest are not being true to the leftist tradition. Setting aside the obvious fact that Zaremby completely misreads King (King actively supported the labor movement during his life and viewed labor activism as a potentially liberating force, one which could generate widespread economic and social equality), his column worries me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve read or heard someone try to divorce campus labor activism from its progressive political foundations, thus reducing activists, at best, to mindless drones, and, at worst, to fanatics. The simplistic view that the unions and the community and student activists are fighting for new contracts essentially because they are selfish and greedy, and not, say, because they hope to promote greater economic and social equality in New Haven, is sadly one that many administrators, professors and students believe.
I’m attending the protest today not just to support the workers. I will be there to help prove that the labor movement at Yale is about far more than wages and benefits and that issues of social and economic equality are more urgent than ever.
Jacob Blecher is a junior in Davenport College.