The Role of Students is to Amplify the HUDS Struggle

The first fifteen days of the HUDS strike have seen incredible and overwhelming student solidarity with the striking workers. Student organizations have published numerous statements in support of the HUDS struggle. They have held a series of mealtime conversations and an outdoor dine-in at Harvard Yard, during which workers and students shared a meal and discussed the strike. They have also raised money to provide food to the striking workers, and directly reinforced the workers’ picket lines with their bodies. At the time of publication, nearly 3,000 Harvard students have pledged their support for HUDS through the Student Labor Action Movement petition. Just last week, the Law School Student Council voted in favor of a resolution endorsing the HUDS strike and calling on the administration to meet the workers’ demands as soon as possible. This recent resolution follows in the wake of a similar resolution passed last week by the Undergraduate Council. At this point there is no significant, organized student opposition to the workers’ demands.

At the same time, the Administration is actively discouraging student support for the workers. Not only have students at Harvard Law School received an email from high-level administrators suggesting that support for the HUDS strike would be “divisive” and goes against the objective of building “community,” but the Administration has now stooped to asking graduate student employees who are already exempt from overtime pay to voluntarily cross the HUDS picket line and perform the jobs HUDS workers are fighting to keep.

This is a direct appeal to all students tempted by the Administration’s invitation. If you care about HUDS workers, and you agree that they deserve a fair contract that allows them to keep working at this institution with dignity and financial security, respect the strike: Do not cross the picket line!

 The labor movement in the United States has won vital gains for working class people in this country, but collective bargaining is only successful if workers have the ability to go on strike and stop the employer institution from carrying out business as usual by withholding their labor. The only way that HUDS workers stand a chance in their struggle against the corporate elites that run this university is if their strike puts pressure on the Administration. By voluntarily doing HUDS workers’ jobs, students would be minimizing that pressure, and neutralizing the only effective weapon that the workers on this campus have in their struggle for dignity and economic justice.

In an email to students, Harvard Campus Services indicated that volunteers who break the picket line are “lending HUDS a hand.” This characterization of strike-breaking as some form of support for the workers is not only cynically misleading, it also ignores the requests that the workers themselves have made of students: Reinforce the picket lines, raise your voices in support of the strike, and put pressure on the administration in any way that you can.

The recent email comes as no surprise. After all, this is not the first time that Harvard has actively turned students and workers against each other. One former president of the university, A. Lawrence Lowell, owned a steel mill in the city of Lawrence, 30 miles north of Boston. When the majority immigrant workforce at his steel mill went on strike to protest intolerable working conditions, Lowell offered Harvard students an exemption from mid-year exams if they would agree to join the Massachusetts State Militia in harassing the striking workers and violently breaking their strike. Two workers were killed during the clashes. Unlike the students who took up Lowell’s offer, today’s strike-breakers aren’t even offered an exemption on their exams—they’re being asked to betray the workers’ struggle for free!

The Administration is doing everything in its power to make sure the HUDS strike is unsuccessful, and their strategy is to “minimize disruption” on campus. As students in solidarity with the striking workers, our job is to maximize disruption, to amplify the disruptive effects of the HUDS strike, and to show that this community cannot function without the dedication and hard work of the HUDS employees. The Administration will never accept the basic demands of the HUDS workers unless we make it unmistakably clear that those dedicated individuals are an absolutely essential part of our community, and that we will continue to have their backs until their demands are met.

While it may be frustrating and mildly inconvenient for the dining halls to shut down or run less efficiently, that burden is infinitesimal compared to what is at stake for the workers. If the Administration successfully neutralizes the disruptiveness of the HUDS strike, workers will be forced to accept a contract that jeopardizes their ability to provide for their families for the next five years. As students, we cannot allow this to happen. Business as usual cannot continue while the workers are exploited and bullied by the Administration. It is imperative that we, as students, strengthen the HUDS strike by joining the workers’ picket lines. If we want the dining halls running smoothly again, we should do everything we can to make sure the HUDS workers’ demands are met as soon as possible.

So yes, lend HUDS a hand. Have the backs of the wonderful, hardworking people who take care of us every single day. Join the strike. Lift up the HUDS struggle until it becomes so powerful that this university grinds to a halt. We attend the wealthiest university in the country—an institution that can afford to grant HUDS’s demands at any moment. It is the Administration and, ultimately, the Harvard Corporation who decides how long this strike goes on.

HUDS workers deserve justice, and they deserve it now. Harvard is refusing to give it to them. It’s our job to shut it down.

Collin P. Poirot is a second-year student at Harvard Law School.

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