Today, this community faces the largest strike in its history. One year ago our leaders promised us a “new era in labor relations”; last month they rejected binding arbitration — turning contracts over to a third-party mediator — on the grounds that “excellent contracts” could be achieved by the same process that has guided negotiations every time before. After a year in which our leaders have subcontracted union jobs as a bargaining tool, countenanced the use of police threat against leafleting students and arrest against leafleting workers, and lavished money on expensive ads while refusing to bring decision-makers or meaningful offers to the negotiating table, they appear to be clinging to the same failed tactics which have brought the past 11 strikes. As yet another strike begins, we must ask ourselves how we got here, where we are going, and what our place is in that process and that struggle.
One route has been laid out for us very clearly: frame the strike as a disruption, as an unwarranted obstacle to the continuation of our peaceful academic lives. Go about your business as a student — go to class in WLH, eat at Commons, work out at the gym — and trust that the powers that be will resolve a fight that was never yours in the first place. This is the route advocated by Justin Zaremby ’03, and by Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead — the former reassuring us that “while we are affected by the events of the coming weeks, this battle is not ours,” the latter guiding us to “do everything to keep your daily life as normal as possible.” This is, indeed, the path of least resistance. It may be the appropriate route if one shares the agenda of Zaremby, or of Dean Brodhead. It may be convenient, and it may be popular. What such a route is not is apolitical.
Strikes demand choices. Strikes wreak havoc not only on the daily administration of business as usual but also on the potential for carefully maintained academic indifference. A picket line is more than a symbolic posture or a noisy inconvenience. A picket line divides. It represents a choice. And it is the kind of choice that we as students must prepare ourselves to make. Moving class off campus and making sandwiches on Beinecke Plaza are neither acts of martyrdom nor acts of futility. They are refusals to be used to break a strike and to further distance the demands of striking workers. They are ways to continue our learning here without vindicating the lessons our leaders have taught about the use of power, and to fulfill our need to eat without ignoring the unmet needs of others. For Zaremby to call for “as little disruption as possible,” is a call for complacency in the face of crisis.
On Thursday, Feb. 20, more than 200 undergraduates rallied on Beinecke for just contracts. This Thursday, at 11 a.m., hundreds more will walk into College Street to meet thousands of striking workers. When the men and women who make our institution work are forced to strike for wages that can support a child without a second job, for pensions that secure a livable retirement, for opportunities to train and advance, for job security, for the right to organize, education in the classroom is not enough. Our education must also be in the streets. Strikes present many challenges. One of them is the challenge to live today the values we were planning to enact tomorrow.
The events of the next several months will determine the future of labor relations at Yale for years to come. They will impact the livelihood of thousands of workers, and the relationship of Yale to New Haven. They will reshape the type of leadership our university offers, and redefine, for each of us, what being at Yale, and what being a Yalie, should be about. That is why this is our fight. That is why we pursue a resolution which is quick and is just.
Josh Eidelson is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College.