On Friday, as members of locals 34 and 35 approved new contracts with Yale University, students marked the end of a challenging and difficult 23 days. During this strike, we watched as Yale marched riot police into its investment office to apprehend its retirees and marched Latinos with their own mops through black picket lines to break the strike; we listened as Yale produced strike participation statistics that made workers disappear and described the “normalcy” on campus with rhetoric that rendered the strikers invisible.
These weeks have demonstrated the depth and breadth of the movement for progressive change in this city, one of diverse members of a community bound by common interest, broad vision, and mutual survival in a troubled city in an inhospitable economy. We as students have witnessed retirees who left Yale jobs after decades of underappreciated service but returned to face down Yale’s highest-paid employee to demand that Yale deal in better faith with its next generation of workers. We have watched as Latinos — redlined and shut out of Yale jobs, exploited to break a Yale strike — at great personal risk turned and stood in solidarity with their fellow workers in a strikebreakers’ strike. We have learned from the thousands of men and women who have kept marching for something better for themselves, for their children, and for this community.
The strike has made loudly, visibly and unavoidably manifest a struggle between two competing visions for this school and this city and two approaches to power: Yale’s exercise of wealth for insulation and intimidation and the unions’ solidarity forged in organizing and coalitions. Some of us have seen ourselves as bystanders in this struggle, some as victims, many as actors. But what picket lines demonstrated, with a clarity undisrupted by Yale’s multimillion dollar ad campaign, is a clash between the type of institution that has flourished in the “new economy” our alumni have helped fashion, and the type of city that has foundered in it. Picket lines — from our president’s office, to our investment office, to our Office of New Haven and State Affairs — dramatized the divide between the nation’s second-wealthiest university and one of its poorest cities. Today, as workers and students return to our dining halls and classrooms, as we celebrate the resolution of a bitter strike, that divide remains.
I join with others from across this campus in commending President Levin for finally coming to the bargaining table and making the significant compromises necessary to achieve dignified contracts which — while in certain areas they fall short — represent a bold and urgent step toward light and truth. I’m proud, to see Yale signing contracts that, by doubling the size of the pension over the life of the contract and protecting workers’ jobs from subcontracting, serve to protect the economic security of the men and women who today return to their essential roles in the functioning of this institution. It’s unfortunate, but not unusual, that once again it took years of struggle and solidarity to push Yale to do what was in its best interest all along. Levin said, rightly, on Thursday that a contract that makes an investment in Yale’s work force makes an investment in the future of the University. Consultant John Stepp pointed this out in his recommendations to both sides close to two years ago.
The settlement of contracts at the end of last week was met with the ubiquitous promise in the press of “eight years of labor peace at Yale.” Several years without painful strikes is indeed an attractive prospect. But any lasting labor peace must be build on a foundation of labor justice, just as only a real social contract based on just partnership holds the potential to bring peace to Yale’s troubled relationship with its home city. It’s not by coincidence that the picket chant of “No contract — no work, no peace,” parallels the old protest chant “No justice — no peace.” The message is the same, and holds as true for the next years as for the past weeks.
The next years — and perhaps most vitally, the next months — represent a tremendous opportunity to confront the glaring fault lines recently brought before the eyes of the nation. At Yale–New Haven Hospital, 150 food service workers went back to work today without a contract after overwhelmingly rejecting an insulting offer from the hospital calling on workers to place their hope in bonuses from sympathetic managers rather than across-the-board raises. Over 1,000 of their coworkers, who work in a hospital whose health care most cannot afford without state assistance, continue their fight to organize a union despite documented and ongoing management abuse. Graduate students, who perform a significant and increasing portion of the teaching and research at this university, still face the obstinate refusal of Yale’s leaders to recognize the results of any type of secret-ballot election, let alone a card-check neutrality agreement that would better combat the pervasive anti-union intimidation documented at Saturday’s Academic Labor Board Hearing.
On Friday, three friends of mine were stopped by police in Sterling Memorial Library as they sat reading wearing signs saying “Democracy means freedom from coercion.” They were told that they would be forcibly removed if they did not remove their signs or leave the library; when they refused to leave, the police were called and told them they were allowed to stay only after submitting to questioning and providing personal identification to prove that they were students. Yale’s inconsistent and politically-motivated treatment of the rights of undergraduates to express their views on crises on this campus has unfortunately been a recurring feature of the labor struggle here that will remain at issue past the end of the strike.
Yale is still steered by a corporation of CEOs who fly in half a dozen times a year to chart the course of the University. The only way a local alum critical of Yale’s course could reasonably seek election is as a petition candidate hampered by Yale-funded smears; the only way a current Yale student could take a place at the Corporation table would be in the seat granted to the governor of Connecticut. Yale still pays more taxes annually to New York than to New Haven. This summer it failed to derail an aldermanic resolution calling on the city to calculate the amount of money lost because of Yale’s “tax super-exemption” status and calling on Yale to increase its voluntary contribution. The University continues to shirk responsibility to a city whose significant layoffs last year could have been averted with a day’s interest from Yale’s endowment.
Amid media images of displaced students struggling to cope and irate Yalies who disdain working people, too little ink was given to the student mobilization to end the strike — students marching on the picket lines, sleeping out on the doorsteps of Yale’s power, educating and organizing peers, raising money for strikers’ families, and rallying for a better way and a better Yale. The movement for change in New Haven has not only awed a growing number of students but empowered them; Yale’s treatment of workers has not only angered these students but mobilized them. With the strike over, our responsibility as students to work and struggle for a more progressive university and a stronger community continues. Our response to these challenges, as students and as citizens, will define us and this community. Too often, Yale’s leaders, faced with social movements for justice and partnership in this city, have responded with callous and cynical attempts to divide New Haven and thereby avoid the need to confront it. How Yale faces this movement — for organizing rights, for job access, for democracy, for a fair share contribution from the University to the city — will define both the values of this University and the potential for a just and lasting peace between Yale and New Haven grounded in a just and lasting partnership.
Josh Eidelson is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.