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C A  M P U S
Capitalizing on Tragedy
Kira Galt • GESO: We know what real suffering is 
October 2001

On October 5, 2001, thousands of Yale workers, graduate and undergraduate students, hospital workers, retirees, political and religious leaders joined in a candle-light vigil entitled “Hope Not Fear.” Under the guise of mourning for the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks, unions made the clever move to gather together people with motivations for their own causes right when Yale was at the height of its Tercentennial Celebration. GESO, Locals 34 and 35, and United Students at Yale were all there to promote “community spirit” while marching to the Yale Bowl where Tercentennial festivities were held.

Participants gave explanations that varied and often contradicted each other about the purpose of the rally. Some said that it was about September 11 and not political at all, while others emphasized the political aspects of the rally and reiterated the marchers’ demands. But a quick look at the distributed flyers provided a clear image of the organizers’ attitude toward Yale and politics. “300 Years of Accomplishment – 300 Years of Exploitation. Half a Century of Union Fightback!” read a flyer issued by the “September 11 Coalition for Peace & Justice.”

Does Yale have 300 years of exploitation on its conscience?  A comparison of Yale’s salary rates to those of other universities reveals that unionized Yale dining hall workers were the highest paid in the country as of 1995 (as confirmed by Cornyn & Fasano, consultants hired by Yale to review the school’s salary policies). Today, a dining hall cook’s helper makes $14.67 an hour, which seems quite generous for a position requiring little formal education. The lowest hourly pay rate at Yale is $11.07.

The tradition of union “fightback” against Yale included the labor strike of 1971, when local unions demanded that fewer students on financial aid be admitted to Yale, because they were taking away union jobs as part of their work study. As late as 1995, unions protested the institution of flex dollars, which resulted in the withdrawal of Bangkok Gardens from the flex dollar program altogether. Further, because union wages are so high, Yale students are forced to pay for meals they do not consume to finance the higher wages.  Students who complain that Yale’s “two plans, one price” meal plan options are too limited should recognize that unions are a central part of the reason that the university does not honor student demands.

At every such rally, it becomes harder to believe that participants really have Yale’s overall good in mind, as GESO members claim.  GESO has sullied the university’s name at Tercentennial events designed to bring students together. In the spring, when George Bush came to speak at a panel discussion in Wolsey Hall, all unions marched down the street while GESO cheered them on. This month, organizers did not even shy away from mixing the tragedy of September 11 with monetary demands. To quote from that same flyer of the Coalition for Peace & Justice: “The [Bush] Administration has just appropriated $349 Billion to wage war – money plundered from our schools, our health care, our Social Security, our families and our communities.”  The sum approved to fight terrorism, which does not even come close to the number mentioned in the flyer, comes out of emergency funds.  Moreover, it is the government’s primary mission to protect Americans from threats from abroad.  Redistributive programs like welfare and health care are secondary functions of the government in times of war (if necessary at all).  As if the organizers’ anti-war stance had not already been made clear enough, the flyer also proclaimed: “United we can end economic terrorism, with peace and justice at home and overseas,” inappropriately comparing the murderous acts of criminals to the economic “exploitation” allegedly occurring at Yale.  Even if the unions’ complaints against Yale happened to be justified, it is disingenuous and irresponsible to claim moral equivalence between the two.

Everyone prefers hope to fear. But when those chanting “Hope Not Fear” demand that spectators buy a package-deal that includes the content of Mayor DeStefano’s speech, Martin Luther King’s words, Marxist rhetoric, and anti-Americanism, we have an obligation to object.  The marchers’ eclectic approach allowed them to accuse anyone opposing their agenda of being insensitive to the plight of the members of the community and victims of an emotionally charged event. In the aftermath of the events that continue to shake America and at a time when others light their candles for true victims, October 5 was a low point in the history of Yale’s labor unions.

Kira Galt is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.


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