Last night, Harvard University Dining Service (HUDS) workers ratified a new contract with the university following a historic strike that lasted 20 days. “I can report, coming out of our contract ratification meeting, that we achieved every goal without exception,” said Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE Local 26, the union represented the workers in the negotiations. The contract, which raises the minimum pay for dining workers, requires Harvard to pay for any increases in health-care co-pays, and provides fair compensation for workers facing seasonal layoffs during the summer, is major victory for HUDS workers and their allies on campus.
The workers had been in contract negotiations with the Harvard Corporation since May of this year, but the parties reached a brick wall in late September as the administration refused to budge on key worker demands, including fair healthcare and a sustainable yearly salary. Following the stalemate in negotiations, the HUDS workers voted 97 percent in favor of reviving the strike on Harvard’s campus for the first time in over 30 years. Over the course of the strike, they built a strong, united front that included students, faculty, clerical and technical staff, and lower-level administrators. The extended, coordinated actions of these groups ultimately forced the administration to put forth a contract that granted the workers’ core demands, with no concessions from the union. This victory offers crucial lessons for student activists organizing in solidarity with campus workers.2
Following the announcement of the strike, which began on September 17 when the workers’ contract expired, more than a dozen student organizations at Harvard Law School released a statement in solidarity with the workers, and a petition started by the undergraduate Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) garnered more than 3,000 student signatures in support of the workers’ demands. Students also held multiple walk-outs and sit-ins led by SLAM, and joint student-worker rallies attracted more than a thousand participants. One of the organizations leading the student effort at the law school, Reclaim Harvard Law, also released a bilingual statement specifically addressing the racial justice component of the workers’ struggle.
Following these actions, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, the Law School Student Government, the Kennedy School Student Government, the Crimson Editorial Board, the Cambridge City Council, the Boston City Council, and The Boston Globe all published official endorsements of the HUDS strike. The National Body of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) also released a fierce statement of support, and the World Federation of Trade Unionists proclaimed solidarity with the HUDS workers at their recent meeting in South Africa.