Strike at Harvard. The fact turns out to be sufficiently singular to be noted. If the management of the most prestigious university on the East Coast does not make new proposals today, members of the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU), which brings together students employed by the university, from the lecturer to the research assistant will hold the picket line on campus on Wednesday. After seven months of negotiations, the Harvard administration is still stingy, despite an “endowment” – in fact, capital – which continues to grow to stand at $ 53 billion. The demands relate to the level of wages as well as to health insurance.
“Last year the cost of living rose 4% in Cambridge. Your proposal for an increase of 2.5% this year, then 3% for each of the next two years means a drop in the real wages of salaried students ”, writes the union in a letter addressed to the university management. Two weeks ago, it was Columbia University in New York which went on strike for the same reasons: purchasing power and social protection. Here too, the financial “valuation” soared during the pandemic and, here too, the university administration behaves like an ordinary capitalist company management, maneuvering first to avoid any unionization of employees, then not giving right to their claims.
Insufficient remuneration and weak social protection
In social news, the names of Harvard and Columbia have been rubbing shoulders in recent weeks with those of “traditional” industrial companies. We must move from the East Coast to the Midwest to continue this column. Since October 14, 10,000 employees of the agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere have been on strike, particularly at the sites in Iowa and Illinois. They have already voted twice against a proposal for a new collective agreement yet negotiated by the majority union, the UAW (United Auto Workers).
At the end of October, they rejected, by 55%, the second version of this agreement which provided for an immediate increase in wages of 10% and then from 3 to 5% in the following years. “ Some workers suggest that the initial wage hike is still too low for a company expected to make $ 6 billion in profit this year, ” highlighted the New York Times. The same causes – insufficient pay and failing social protection – have produced the same effects on several Kellogg’s sites: 1,400 employees are still on strike. The only response they have received from the multinational agribusiness is a lawsuit against the union leading the conflict on the Omaha (Nebraska) site.
An atmosphere of “general strike”
In October, the number of days of strike broke a record, to the point where a hashtag was created for this purpose: “#striketober”, contraction of the English words strike (strike) and october (October). According to the estimates of the union leadership, more than 100,000 employees (from minors in Alabama to nurses in California, including the “little hands” of the film and entertainment industry in Hollywood) have been mobilized in industrial action. , going as far as the launching of a strike.
This movement takes place in a double context: that of an economic recovery after the pandemic which is taking place at the expense of employees and that of a parliamentary paralysis which does not allow social measures (such as the extended coverage of healthcare, in particular dental) to become realities for millions of employees. Combined with the phenomenon of “great resignation” (since the spring, 4 million Americans quit their jobs each month), which causes a shortage of manpower, this gives an atmosphere of “general strike”, according to Robert Reich, former Minister of Labor under Bill Clinton and now close to Bernie Sanders: “ American workers are showing their muscles for the first time in decades, he congratulates himself. Across the country, they refuse to return to mind-numbing, low-paying jobs. ”