Three weeks after members of Yale’s unions began their strike, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee — a pro-union student group — sponsored a teach-in Sept. 12 to address issues such as pensions and Yale’s relationship with New Haven.
More than 80 students gathered in Dwight Hall to hear union supporters’ views on a number of unresolved issues, such as retroactive pay, the well-being of the New Haven community, and the future of labor across the country. A six-person panel — which included union representatives, undergraduates, a community member and American studies professor Michael Denning — offered their various views on the strike and its implications.
UOC organizer Ivanna Yi ’06 said the teach-in offered students a different perspective than the one coming from Yale President Richard Levin’s office.
“[I am] happy that this could happen, and that you guys could get another viewpoint of what is going on,” Yi said.
Shirley Lawrence, a member of Local 35 and a lifetime resident of New Haven, said Yale has been “abusing the community” with unlivable wages and pensions in a city where Yale employs a quarter of the workforce.
Meg Robertson, a community organizer at Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a union-affiliated research group, said the strike is intended to make Yale realize that it cannot treat the New Haven community like a corporation.
Denning, elaborating on Robertson’s comments, said Yale and the unions are fighting over two conflicting visions of the future — one in which there is a “polarization” of the classes, and one where there is some class equality. Denning went on to characterize this strike as “one of the first great labor strikes in the 21st century.”
When the panelists finished speaking, students asked questions regarding specifics about the pension plan and Yale’s duty to set a precedent for better worker compensation.
Members of the panel also assured students that they are not the target of early morning rallies and picket lines.
“Students are not the problem,” said Dwaine Mellor, who has worked since 1973 as a librarian at the Geology Library. “We serve you.”
Mellor said Yale has a history of “long, mean, vicious” strikes, saying that this is his seventh strike, and the fifth one in which he has been on the picket lines.
Undergraduates Julie Gonzalez ’05 and Bill Strom ’05 also emphasized that the strikers are not against the students. Gonzalez said the unions’ early morning rallies are meant to urge the University to consider the interests of its students and end the strike.
Strom added that students do not have to get involved based on principle alone. It is also appropriate to become active out of self-interest and the desire to reclaim a functioning Yale community, he said.