In support of campus workers- Students sit in at Washington U

By Larry Hales

College and university students across the country are beginning to join with campus workers to take up their fight for benefits and better wages. Currently, the focus of this struggle is on Washington University in St. Louis, where students are sitting in to support workers’ demands for a living wage.

Harvard students were among the first to protest. Four years ago they staged large rallies and sit-ins to demand a living wage for the workers on their campus. Students at Georgetown, Stanford, SUNY Purchase and now Washington U., to name a few, have also begun to call for better wages for campus employees.

This includes a living wage for those hired by subcontractors, since deferring jobs to subcontractors continues to be a way for university administrators to try to escape blame and embarrassment.

Four years ago, students and workers at Harvard were victorious in getting the administration to acknowledge that it wasn’t paying the wages needed to live in Boston and to begin addressing this problem. Though many students at Harvard and other top schools don’t come from working-class backgrounds, they have been responding to a further developing sensitivity.

The cost of living ascends while wages descend. The wealthy are seeing their fortunes climb; bosses are getting greater bonuses for slashing wages and benefits. Indicators that point to a recovering economy and job gains only obfuscate the growing gap between rich and poor. The Dow Jones and Nasdaq stock price averages indicate nothing for the poor, just that corporations are becoming more cut-throat. The jobs opening up are overwhelmingly in the low-paying, few-benefits service sector.

It takes nary a degree to understand that college and university campuses mirror what happens outside them. Schools like Harvard have huge endowments—Harvard’s is near $20 billion—but the workers are not being paid living wages. These workers keep the grounds, repair the buildings’ facilities, and supply and serve meals to the students. Some students are waking up to the conditions that workers face and are carrying the fight forward along with the workers.

At Washington U. such a battle is underway. On April 5, some 20 students occupied and began sitting-in in the admissions office of this “top-notch” university. They brought signs, petitions, fliers, sleeping bags and food with them, vowing to stay until the chancellor of the school decided to pay living wages to 500 workers on the campus.

Washington U. has an endowment of more than $4 billion. It pays the majority of its food-service workers, janitorial staff and groundskeepers barely $8 an hour, even though last year a standard of $9.79 plus full benefits was set by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Those hired directly by the university make this standard, but those subcontracted start at $7.50 an hour.

The Student Worker Alliance started calling for a living wage for all employees of the university in 2003. The current sit-in is timed around “April Welcome,” when the university has its open house and hundreds of high school seniors and transfer students from around the country converge on the campus. The students at Washington U. are willing to miss classes and to risk their standings until the demand of living wages for all university employees is met.

Across the country people are taking notice. This mood is being matched by the throngs of young people not able to attend college because of few options and those wary of taking out the loans required to pay rising tuition costs.

This mood carries over to the fight to stop the Medicaid cuts, the fight to beat back the threat to Social Security, and the battle to stop the atrocious bankruptcy bill from being passed.

These battles are not being waged by capitalist politicians but by those affected the most by proposed cuts.
It is all part of a current in opposition to reactionary Bushism, a current strengthened by the timeliness of last October’s Million Worker March.


Post a Comment

<< Home