With picket lines forming early Monday morning, the five-day strike scheduled for next week will thrust a once-distant labor dispute right to the heart of campus. Undergraduates, once peripheral to the debate, will suddenly find themselves confronted with a divided community and forced to pick a side in a dispute they had little to do with creating.
Striking graduate students mixed in with members of locals 34 and 35 will separate students from classrooms, libraries and other campus buildings. Many students will wonder whether it is possible to go about the day-to-day while remaining neutral to the strike.
It is not.
On the most basic level, the strike will be an inconvenience. It will force students living on campus to find meals elsewhere. It means bathrooms will go largely uncleaned and administrative paperwork will go largely unprocessed. It will wake us up in the morning and make studying in the library more difficult in the afternoon.
More subtly, it will demand decisions. Walking to class will require students to cross picket lines, putting some in the uncomfortable position of choosing between their views on unions and their education. Attending class will mean using buildings that must be staffed by nonstriking workers, something even the most oblivious class-goers will be reminded of by workers protesting outside classroom buildings.
Put simply, undergraduates will not be able to occupy a neutral ground because we do not exist in a bubble on campus. We may have had nothing to do with events leading up to the strike. But as the recipients of workers’ services and of the education that may well be disrupted, we play an implicitly central role in the situation.
Regardless of one’s position on the merits of the strike or the politics of either side, the walkout and its associated activities will dominate campus life next week. And awkward as our position as students may be, the strike will provide a chance to experience firsthand the divisive atmosphere and complicated realities of labor disputes. Much of it will not be pleasant, with tensions and frustrations running high across campus even if they remain civil. Students may view it as an inconvenience and discomfort, but we should not see it as just that.
For many months the dispute between Yale and the unions has remained an abstract concept for most undergraduates. The difficult choices and complex nature of the strike will at the very least bring a realistic grounding to our understanding of a complicated issue.
While the strike undoubtedly puts undergraduates in a precarious position, it also gives us the opportunity to think about the issue in a deeper way. As students, we should look beyond the immediate, practical questions — who will clean our bathrooms, where we will eat — and think about the larger issues revealed during labor disputes at Yale.