Taking Back the Academy! History of Activism, History as Activism

By Jim Downs; Jennifer Manion | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

Unionizing for a More Democratic and Responsive University

ANITA SETH

On 19 September 2003, four thousand workers at Yale University ended a two-and-a-half-year campaign for a fair contract, winning back subcontracted jobs, increasing wages, and nearly doubling pensions. The strike included dramatic actions by unlikely participants, beginning with an overnight sit-in by eight retired workers at the Yale Investments Office who demanded (and got) a meeting with Yale's Endowment Manager David Swensen, and ending with thirteen Latino temporary replacement workers, escorted by managers across a largely African American picket line in the center of campus, deciding to join the strike. Strikes are nothing unusual at Yale, but rarely have they been so short and successful. 1 At a time when many workers were forced to accept take-backs, the unions at Yale pulled off a stunning victory while striking for less than a month. The reasons for their success included an aggressive campaign to support organizing rights for other Yale workers, and an ambitious alliance with local activists, church leaders, and politicians, aimed at making the university a better corporate citizen in New Haven.

The campaign at Yale was also able to draw strength from an unusual coalition taking shape within the national labor movement, which aims to reverse declining union strength by dedicating greater resources to organizing new groups of workers and pooling resources to take on large companies or to build union density by geographical area. 2 Informally dubbed the "New Unity Partnership," the coalition came to life the weekend before strike's

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