10,000 marchers back Yale strikers

New Haven police arrest 100

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Downtown New Haven came to a standstill Sept. 13 as the nation’s labor movement turned out more than 10,000 union members from the Northeast and as far away as Nevada and Florida in support of striking university and hospital workers at Yale University.

The busloads of needle trades workers, carpenters, laborers, steel workers, transit workers, healthcare workers, hotel workers, and students crossed industry lines and geographical boundaries in the cause of equality and workers’ rights.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and four international union presidents set the example by leading over 100 workers in civil disobedience at the end of a spirited march which filled the city streets for nearly a mile. As the workers sat down in a major intersection,

they held hands and faced outward to the crowd.

“We have no choice but to fight,” said one clerical and technical worker who was arrested. Many of the workers had never taken part in such an action before. The demonstration was one of the largest in New Haven’s history.

Picket signs highlighted the $42,000 monthly pension Yale President Richard Levin will receive as compared to $621 for the average union retiree. A quarter of the unionized workers are expected to retire during the life of the next contract.

The labor rally kicked off a national campaign aimed at the 16-member board of the Yale Corporation. Actions are taking place this week in Boston, San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati and Edmonton, Canada.

On Sept. 17, the Connecticut AFL-CIO marched from their annual convention to join striking workers and retirees holding a daily vigil at President Levin’s office until decent pensions are won.

National attention has also been focused on the university’s discriminatory hiring practices. Only 3 percent of Yale workers are Latino in a city with 20 percent Latino population. Hiring from the community, training and upgrading is a union demand.

Community leaders and elected officials reacted in outrage when the university brought a group of Latino workers, hired by a janitorial contractor in place of the largely African American striking workers, provocatively across a picket line on Sept. 8.

Following a press conference organized by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, Rep. Rosa DeLauro and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus issued a public letter to “strongly condemn Yale’s cynical and disrespectful treatment of Hispanic/Latino workers.”

Within two days, 13 Puerto Rican, Mexican and Guatemalan workers walked off the job and joined the union. They reported bigotry and abuse from Yale managers. “The same way we came in the back door, we want to come in the front door,” said Angelica Aponte at an emotional press conference on the New Haven Green. “We want union jobs at Yale, not scab jobs.”

“These are our new sisters and brothers,” proclaimed Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 35 President Bob Proto, welcoming the workers as heroes.

“I am forever proud of Local 35,” said HERE President John Wilhelm at a special picket line vigil and rally on Sept. 11. “You did not stoop to divide and conquer tactics.” Remembering the 105 members of the two striking unions who were killed in that tragedy, Wilhelm said, “It falls to us to honor them by making sure there is justice in America, justice in New Haven and justice on this campus.”

The striking workers are holding firm despite daily propaganda aimed at scaring them to go back to work. Some clerical and technical workers who stayed on the job attended the Saturday labor rally. “I couldn’t go out this time with emergency family bills, but I do not support the university,” said one worker.

Striking clerical and technical workers have had some success at convincing co-workers who did not originally strike to come onto the picket line and join the strike. Large national contributions to the strike fund have made it possible for the union to provide substantial “picket pay” and other aid to forestall evictions, foreclosures or repossessions.

Strikers have also received support from over 100 professors who called on the university to negotiate or submit to binding arbitration, and who are holding 300 classes at off-campus locations including restaurants, churches, community centers and City Hall.

Students from 21 campuses organized by United Students Against Sweatshops participated in the labor rally and march.

National union presidents arrested include HERE President John Wilhelm, Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern, Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees President Bruce Raynor and Carpenters President Douglas McCarron.

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com