Yale is under siege. No, the Huns are not invading, the British aren’t coming, and the Cantabs have too many of their own problems to give us any worries. Rather, Yale is besieged from within, beset by a malaise that throughout the world is known as “class warfare.” At Yale, we call this “social justice.”
Based in noble principles that posit an inherent dignity and basket of rights for every person, the concept of social justice goes further than its healthy cousin, classical liberalism, and sees evil lurking within any entity or individual that wields any sort of power. For many Yale students, this straw man — er, woman — is Mother Yale herself. There are all sorts of reasons why this is the case, but I’m going to focus on one of them, namely the civil rights movement, and defer to Alexis de Tocqueville and Allan Bloom for the rest. Now, before I get into this, let me offer the obligatory disclaimers: the civil rights movement was a great and necessary thing for this country, and its heroes, big and small, deserve a place in the pantheon of great Americans.
Today’s college kids, like college kids in every time, want to be like their heroes. And in the American intelligentsia for the last 30 years, there have been no bigger heroes than those of the civil rights movement. That is largely why many Yalies profess to despise power, and to ally themselves with those who seemingly have none. That’s substantially the reason why union-generated rhetoric about social justice at Yale and in New Haven, which depicts a David-and-Goliath struggle between Yale and its workers, is so seductive to students presently at Yale.
Even though the current labor dispute concerns the fine points of pay and benefits packages and not civil rights issues, the unions are conveniently using the rhetoric (and as of Wednesday, the tactics) of the civil rights movement to gain the support of Yale students. As it happens, this strategy generates a lot of sympathy from New Haven residents, for many of the same reasons Yale students are sympathetic to it. In this, there are the makings of a broad political coalition, useful for things like embarrassing the University administration to the point where it will cave in during negotiations. A natural ally is found in the Graduate Employees and Students Organization movement, adding another large constituency to the union coalition, and another front on which to battle the University.
The problem with this latest round of labor pains at Yale is not that workers want to increase their pay and benefits, but that there is so much that they have put on the table that has nothing to do with the well-being of Yale’s workers. In noticing the movements supported by Local 34, Local 35, GESO, the Corporation candidacy of the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, and slave reparations (the last of which was the impetus for the largely misleading “Yale and Slavery” report), one cannot help but think that the unions are waging their battle by way of class warfare and political alliance.
Which brings us to Wednesday’s events. With Lee’s candidacy long extinguished and the slave reparations movement largely discredited, locals 34, 35 and their allies appeared to have changed their tactics, emphasizing, among other things, “diversity on campus” and “affordable housing” in the dining hall fliers that advertise their demonstration. The ethnic and community appeal inherent in these demands is the latest example of political coalition-building by the unions, and further suggests that the unions are creating a “big tent,” so to speak, in order to amplify their voice and ability to embarrass the University with demonstrations.
Yale pays well-above minimum wage and has employee benefit programs, like Yale’s homebuyer assistance program and Yale’s generous contribution to the college tuition of its employees’ children, that the vast majority of workers in the United States could only dream about. The leaders of locals 34 and 35 are doing their jobs in pushing for even greater pay and benefits for their members. But, sadly, they have also declared a class war on the University.
It is discouraging to me to see so many of my colleagues take up this ideological battle. It is true that in many ages, in both the recent and in the distant past, great struggles have been defined by powerful individuals who defied malignant yet powerful forces and institutions. But it is also true that power can be held by good people and good institutions. Yale is a vastly beneficent school, its good deeds bettering not only mankind but also the local community. To make Yale the enemy is spiteful and arrogant. Making Yale an enemy attacks the very essence of the collegiate environment, and it is downright sinister.
Jack Snyder is a senior in Davenport College.