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News ::
MLK Day Harvard Living Wage Rally
22 Jan 2002
Modified: 28 Feb 2002
At 2:00 on Martin Luther King Day (01/21/02) about 400 Harvard University janitors and their supporters from the community packed the First Unitarian Church for a noisy, celebratory rally in support of a living wage. Afterwards, 250 people spilled out of the church into the cold drizzle for a vibrant, upbeat march around Harvard Square.
Harvard Janitors and Community Members Rally for a Living Wage on Martin Luther King Day

By Matthew Williams

01/21/02; Cambridge, MA--At 2:00 on Martin Luther King Day about 400 Harvard University janitors and their supporters from the community packed the First Unitarian Church for a noisy, celebratory rally in support of a living wage. After a number of speakers in both English and Spanish, 250 people spilled out of the church into the cold drizzle for a vibrant, upbeat march around Harvard Square, taking to the streets for half an hour.

The rally and march were organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254, which represents Harvard Universityís janitors. The union is preparing to start negotiations with Harvard on Tuesday, January 22, with hopes of getting a living wage, family health insurance and other such basic demands--something the University administration, despite its great wealth, has stubbornly refused to grant.

Many student groups sent representatives to support the janitors. Among them was Fred Smith, president of the Black Studentsí Association, who said, "Different people are gathering around the country today to celebrate different Dr. Kings. Some are celebrating a fictionalized Dr. King who opposed affirmative action, some a more liberal one who was still accommodating. But those of us who are gathered here today are celebrating the real Dr. King who rocked the boat and fought for economic justice." When King was assassinated in 1968, he was speaking at a rally of sanitation workers in Memphis who were struggling to unionize.

Rocio Saenz, a Deputy Trustee of SEIU Local 254, said, "We are here today to honor Martin Luther Kingís legacy and struggle on behalf of working people. In his last days, he marched alongside Memphis sanitation workers on strike for a living wage and decent working conditions. Dr. King had a dream of a society where all people are treated with dignity and respect. And it is in this spirit that tomorrow we will begin our negotiations with Harvard for decent working conditions. Workers at Harvard, one of the wealthiest institutions in the world, should not be living in poverty. No worker should have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table."

At the front of the church were banners reading in English and Spanish, "Fighting for Justice, Fighting for Our Future". Speakers were frequently interrupted by cheers, noisemakers and chants of "Si, se puede" (Spanish for "We can do it."). The church was filled with janitors, Harvard students and professors, members of other Harvard unions, and people from the surrounding communities.

Roona Ray and Ana Falicov, two students from the Harvard Living Wage Campaign (HLWC), said, "We are angry that the richest university in the world can not even pay respect to its workers. For the last three years the Harvard Corporation has rejected our demands for a living wage as the moral foundation for our community. Even now after a three-week sit-in and months of study by a committee, Harvard President Larry Summers has conspicuously ignored the poverty wages that pervade the campus. We must stand for racial and economic justice together, students and workers."

Ray and Falicov were speaking of the HLWC and Progressive Student Labor Movementís (PSLM) years-long campaign for a living wage for all workers on campus, culminating in a three-week sit-in in Massachusetts Hall, Harvardís main administration building, last spring. Students, professors, members of all Harvardís unions, and other community members repeatedly rallied in their support. Harvardís administration, however, refused to even speak with HLWC and PSLM members. Lawyers from the AFL-CIO (the national federation of labor unions) finally negotiated an end to the sit-in. The administration agreed to set up a committee to study the conditions of Harvard workers; although weighted towards the administration, for the first time its members included actual representatives of Harvardís workers. The committee recently recommended a raise and other measures to improve the lot of Harvardís workers, with a significant minority of the committee advocating a living wage and other far-reaching measures.

State Representative Jarrett Barrios said, "In the early 1990s, we saw the salaries of the non-unionized service workers at Harvard drop because of subcontracting. The University did this knowing that the workers who used to be University employees would make less money."

State Representative Alice Wolfe pointed out, "Harvard can afford a living wage. Their endowment has reached $19 billion--what you are asking for would cost a measly $2-3 million," which comes out to one half of 1% of the yearly interest from Harvardís endowment.

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration (and one of the few genuine liberals in the cabinet), pointed out that the problems Harvardís workers faced were very widespread. "In Massachusetts, as in the rest of this country, the gap between the have-mores and have-lesses is widening. Median income--the typical income of a working family--is less at the end of the booming 1990s than it was at the start of the 90s."

Other speakers pointed out how deep the problem runs. Civil rights activist, community organizer and Boston City Councilor, Chuck Turner said, "This University was established in the 1600s at the beginning of this country. The model then was clearly one of white male supremacy. Those who were valued were men, were white, and were men of property. The values that say certain classes of people have the right to oppress and control other classes of people have not changed. Otherwise, why would the workers who make Harvard work be paid wages that donít let them survive? Most are workers of color. Race and class have always been joined in this country."

Reyna Hernandez of Harvard RAZA, the Latino student organization, said, "The major problem here is not just wages--it is social justice. 47% of Harvardís service workers are Hispanic, 30% are African-American. Only 40 of Harvardís subcontracted workers make a living wage; the other 408 make less and most of them are people of color."

Harvard Professor Pedro Noguera said, "This is not a question of finance or of legal rights. This is a question of morality."

Reich said, "King stood for a principle that was easy to understand but difficult for some to follow, that we are all Godís children. As Godís children we are united in a community. We are not just participants in an economy, but members of a society. [. . .] The living wage movement is not only about a paycheck, but also about humanity, dignity and respect. Communities like Harvard are not just communities of professors and students, but of its workers as well. All of us in our communities deserve to be honored and respected, to be treated as equals, as Godís children."

Turner said, "This is part of a struggle to change the values of this country, where the worth of all people is respected. We need this change of values if we are going to call ourselves a democracy. The boards of Harvard, the corporations and the banks do not represent the majority--we, the workers, represent the majority."

Reich told the following story: "I was speaking with a conservative economist who said, ĎThe problem with a living wage at Harvard is that once we start, thereís no end to it. Itís a precedent for all sorts of things. Itís a slippery slope and thereís no telling where it will lead.í I said, ĎExactly.í"

After the speakers finished, people marched through Harvard Square, lead by a group of drummers. Such chants as "Si, se puede" and "Larry Summers! Wake up call! You canít hide in Mass. Hall!" rang out. Colorful placards filled the air and the mood up-beat and vibrant despite the cold rain. The police blocked off several streets, shutting off parts of Harvard Square to traffic for half an hour as the union members and their supporters wound their way through. As Professor Noguera said in his speech in the church, "I hope Summers is listening and gets the message that if he wants a peaceful spring, he should settle this now."
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That's Nice
28 Feb 2002
A "living wage" sounds nice, but it's just another form of wage-slavery promoted by the crooks at Harvard.

Martin Luther King and many other REAL activists have been advocating a citizens dividend - REAL emancipation - for decades.

This "living wage" stuff is obsolete co-option of legitimate, radical and required reform of "our" dysfunctional political-economic system.

"You can make money, or you can make sense. But you can't do both."

R. Buckminster Fuller
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