There are many dining hall workers wearing pins that say, “I don’t want to strike, but I will.” I would like to start wearing a pin that says, “I don’t want to cross picket lines, but I will.”
I consider myself an enemy of corporate greed. I would never buy from a shop that has workers demonstrating outside. But I will go to classes, no matter where they are held.
Few have really considered why seven of the last 10 labor disputes have ended in strikes. Most blame it on the stubbornness of either the unions’ or the University’s current leaders.
This is clearly not the case. Yale’s problems with unions go back several decades, well before Richard Levin, Bob Proto and Laura Smith arrived on the scene.
The reason Yale has had such problems with unions is that Yale is not a business that works like any business I know. With a business, a strike leads to massive loss of profits. Yale’s revenues, however, are unaffected. The vast majority of Yalies have made a four-year commitment to Yale. At the least, they’ve made a $19,000 commitment for this semester. That’s money Yale gets whether or not we attend class. And that means that we’re not hurting Yale by not attending class.
The act of not attending class is an act of completely symbolic support for the unions. Contrary to popular belief, the unions’ strength does not depend on our support. It depends on the University’s need to provide us with food and facilities. The only thing that would really distress the Yale administration is a lower yield — fewer potential Yalies choosing to come here. If the prefrosh come to Bulldog Days and find that they can’t get a meal, they’re very likely to choose Harvard, Brown or Stanford over Yale. As for us, Yale doesn’t care what we the students think; they already have our parents’ checks. If you really want to help locals 34 and 35, there’s someone selling shirts that say “Locals 34 and 35: yes, GESO: no.” The proceeds go to buying food for the dining hall workers while they’re picketing. Ironically, they’re being sold outside Commons.
Actually, crossing picket lines to go to class hurts the administration. Yale will need more people to take out the trash from WLH, more people to clean the bathroom, etc. The same principle applies to the library, gym and other free facilities. If no one goes to the gym, Yale won’t be distressed that no one will be there to clean it. And remember, the people who clean your bathroom (to whom you should be very grateful) will be non-union for March 3 through March 7.
The exception to this rule is Commons. Students who eat in Commons are giving the University money and essentially voting for the University with their dollars. If you hate the unions, I recommend eating all your meals in Commons. But anyone with taste buds will avoid Commons during lunch and dinner.
But the workers who do not go on strike are not scum, even if they are pawns of the administration. After all, I gave Yale $38,000 this year and so did you, so it’s hypocritical to hate the “scab” workers. The only workers who won’t go on strike are the workers who can’t. To quote Local 35 member Debbie Hall, “People can’t afford to go out on strike.”
I’m not sure the union leaders have their members’ best interests at heart. The union leaders have convinced their members not to accept a very generous offer by the administration — an immediate raise of 8 percent to 19 percent and annual raises totaling 42 percent after six years, says Yale — well above the rate of inflation. The personal interest that John Wilhelm, the president of HERE, has taken in this case does not please me. He is probably making the big decisions, because I cannot imagine Bob Proto and Laura Smith saying no the most powerful union man in the country. Wilhelm has spent more than 40 years working as a labor leader, not as a laborer. He has not spent months saving for a strike. During the strike, he will not be worried about how he will pay rent. I will not judge a man I’ve never met, but I would feel better if the members of locals 34 and 35 made the decisions about the strike without interference from the union leadership.
In summary, we have to accept that no matter how many times we try to “Reclaim Our Campus,” Levin and Wilhelm will never pay attention. If your professor decides to hold class off campus that’s great, but don’t think you’re affecting anything by playing hooky. Not going to class to help the unions is as useful as not going to class to free Tibet. If you hate Yale that much, drop out.
I’m reminded of what happened to my Great-Aunt Gerri. She was a non-union secretary for Yale. Locals 34 and 35 went on strike, and a few days into the strike, she decided to join them. Gerri packed up her things, and walked out of the office with her head held high. She held her head so high that she didn’t notice that she was walking into an open manhole.
Aaron Margolis is a freshman in Berkeley College.