Monday, March 23, 2009

Boston Organizer Article

Harvard Workers Protest Layoffs

By Tina Rua, member HUCTW, AFSCME 3650 (personal capacity)

Harvard University has the money to keep services and staff at current levels or even expand its operations. The endowment is now at $28.7 billion, the biggest in the world. In addition, Harvard receives income from tuition, fees, rents, government research grants, gifts, etc. Gifts alone amounted to $690.1 million in 2008. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Harvard can ride the current economic crisis without layoffs or cuts in educational programs.

Regardless of its immense wealth, Harvard stepped up its efforts to cut staff in February. Workers at Harvard who are at least 55 years old were offered, after layoffs had been threatened, an Early Retirement package. The Early Retirement packages on offer are not enough to live on without social security. Also, these workers have a very short deadline to either accept or reject the package. Many of these workers worry that if they do not accept the retirement package, they will later be laid off. What a cynical ploy by Harvard!

On March 5, 2009, union members at Harvard University, including members of Socialist Alternative (publisher of the Boston Organizer) joined two rallies in Harvard Square protesting against layoffs at Harvard University. More than 300 workers and students participated in the rallies that day.

The first rally was organized by the “No Layoffs Campaign,” including members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers AFSCME Local 3650 who are fighting proposed layoffs, students from Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) and the pro-union graduate student group L.E.A.P. Over 100 participants gathered in a loud and lively informational picket in front of a Harvard administration building with signs saying “No Layoffs” and demanding no cuts to services in response to Harvard’s threats of cuts and layoffs.

The second rally of the day was organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 615, The second rally of the day was organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 615, which represents the custodial workers and security guards at Harvard. Harvard announced deep cuts in its custodial services, threatening the livelihoods of many workers. Approximately 200 people joined this rally. Some members of other unions, including HUCTW, also attended this rally. These will not be the last rallies in the Boston area against job cuts.

Many workers across Massachusetts face the threat of layoffs in the current recession. Already, over 61,000 jobs have been lost since September 2008; the unemployment rate in Massachusetts in January 2009 was 7.4%, an increase of 1% since December 2008 (Massachusetts, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, 3/5/09). Harvard is the fourth largest employer in the state, with a workforce of over 11,000.

Workers, students, and community members need to fight against all layoffs at Harvard and at other workplaces. People’s livelihoods are more important than reduced profits, including reductions in university endowments. Workers did not start this recession, and we shouldn’t pay for it either.

Layoffs must be strongly opposed by every union and community organization that claims to help working people. Lobbying efforts, charity, and begging the bosses will not stop the attacks. Every job is both a worker’s individual job and a job for the working class as a whole. To let big business get away with massive layoffs is both an immediate attack on our living standards and also an attack on the livelihoods of the next generation of working people.

The March 5 rallies were a good start, but the fight will not end there. Join us in the struggle against layoffs at Harvard. For more information about the No Layoffs Campaign or future actions of the campaign, visit or contact

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