"Welcome to Hypocrisy University!" reads a banner hanging over
Tent City, an encampment of 76 tents sprawled across Harvard's main
campus, where students protested for 21 days to demand a living
wage for more than 1,000 university workers.
On April 18, members and supporters of Harvard's Progressive
Student Labor Movement stormed Massachusetts Hall, which houses
the office of the university's president and several other top administrators.
More than 30 students occupied the building, defying the entreaties
of university officials. The sit-in ended on May 8 with a pledge
by Harvard to further study the living wage, and set up a committee
with union, student and faculty participation. The university also
offered to reopen negotiations with campus unions and to impose
a moratorium on outsourcing until December.
Harvard is the largest employer and landowner in Cambridge, with
an endowment now
valued at more than $19 billion--more than the gross domestic product
of Jordan. Yet university officials say that Harvard cannot afford
to pay workers a "living wage," which campaigners say should be at
least $10.25 an hour plus benefits. "Harvard paid one manager of its
endowment as much as $16 million last year," says junior Benjamin
L. McKean, who participated in the sit-in. "A living wage for all
of Harvard's employees would cost less than half of that. Can that
one guy get by on half of that?"
Harvard students leave the
at Massachusetts Hall.
Indeed, the university has engaged in classic attacks on workers'
wages and benefits, increasingly outsourcing and using temporary
workers, while also pushing for concessionary contracts from the
unions representing Harvard workers. Many take on additional jobs
to make ends meet, commute long hours to work, and find themselves
having to choose between paying the rent, feeding their children
or paying the doctor's bills.
"I'm glad someone is exposing Harvard for what they really are,"
says one member of Harvard's Security, Parking, and Museum Guard
Union, who was afraid to give his name for fear of reprisal from
his supervisors. "A lot of people here are getting the raw end of
the deal. They're working evenings, weekends, holidays. That's very
tough." Members of his union haven't received a raise in seven years,
while subcontracting has severely cut membership.
McKean and other members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement
have spent the past three years working for a living wage at Harvard.
By early 2001, activists had exhausted every available channel in
the university's bureaucracy. "We tried very hard to initiate dialogue
with the university on these issues," McKean says, but "they were
closing the door. It was clear that we needed to escalate our efforts."
McKean believes that the sit-in took the administration by surprise.
"I don't think they thought we'd last the weekend," he says. "They
didn't realize the strength that this movement has. The campaign
will continue. It's not the victory, but it's a big one."