A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ TŘrkše_ The.Supplement
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Barricada* #20 Boston Striking Janitors: Sold Out By Union Leadership

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 18 May 2003 12:47:25 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Analysis of the Boston Janitors strike in late 2002. Originally printed
in Barricada #20 From September 30th to October 24th (2002) the
streets of Boston were filled with the noise of drums banging,
whistles blowing, and voices crying, "Huelga, Huelga". Janitors
across the city were on strike for more full time work, health care, sick
days, and a living wage. Through their strike they achieved media
attention and community praise. Hundreds of religious, student,
community, and political groups signed on and demanded respect for
the janitors. In the end however, the union caved to the contractors
and left the janitors with little to show from their struggle.

The Janitor's Situation: Under their old contract most of the janitors
were only allowed to work part-time. This meant that they could not
receive any health insurance, which was given only to full time
workers. As most of us know, life without health insurance is nearly
impossible. Visiting a doctor in Boston without insurance costs
around $79, and filling out a prescription for a simple drug, such as an
antibiotic, would cost a janitor an entire days wage. Many janitors
with young children or older relatives therefore spent much of their
paycheck on basic medical needs. Janitors were also denied sick
days. Consequently, janitors were forced to decide between their
health and that nights meal.

According to the National Low-Income Housing Commission, a wage
of more than $15 per hour is needed in order to afford a two-bedroom
apartment in the city of Boston. Under the Master Agreement most
janitors made around $9.80. So while the building owners drove off to
their plush homes in the suburbs or Beacon Hill, janitors struggled
every month to pay the rent.

The Strike Looms: The Master Agreement came up for renegotiation
this September, but the push for a strike started months before that.
SEIU (Service Employees International Union) organizers began
making daily trips to work sites around the city, urging janitors to
strike. Often they were stopped by police or harassed in other ways.
Building owners who saw what happened in Los Angeles and Denver,
where Justice for Janitors campaigns had already occurred, dug in
their heels and prepared for the worst.

On April 13th thousands of janitors kicked off the campaign by
marching the Freedom Trail in Boston. The Freedom Trail is a tourist
attraction that takes you to various Revolutionary War sites around
the city. The march was intended to boost moral and let the city know
that the janitors were tired of being overlooked. On June 14th the
negotiations began with SEUI and 30 cleaning contracting companies
sitting down at the table.

The contractors were led by UNNICO, a cleaning company that
contracts the most janitors in Boston. During the entire negotiation
process UNNICO would be the most unwilling to give in to any
demands. On August 31st janitors packed into the historic Old West
church and voted on whether or not to strike. They overwhelmingly
voted yes.

At this point things began to become anti-democratic. Janitors were
often confused about when the strike date was going to be, and the
union kept things secret. They would speak to us and say things like,
"Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a week" over time changing when the
strike date was.

While the buzz of a possible strike loomed on the evening news,
activists across the city began to step up their tactics. Symbolic
actions at the Prudential Center, one of the buildings under the
contract, led to arrests. Others blocked traffic at major intersections
carrying banners proclaiming, "Health Care is not a privilege".

The strike date was finally set for September 30th and a large march
was planned to support many of the picket lines. The march began at
Northeastern University and stopped traffic on Huntington Avenue, a
large thoroughfare into downtown. At each of the picket lines the
crowd was noisy and excited. Janitors shook bottles full of rocks,
students banged on drums, and children carried placards. The event
was extremely festive and optimistic, no one could doubt that the
janitors were filled with a sense of empowerment and ready to face
the challenges that lay ahead.

The Strike: Around 2,000 of the 10,000 janitors under the contract
walked out on strike on September 30th. Picket lines began to spring
up around the city and other unions such as the Teamsters and UPS
vowed not to cross the lines. However, the picket lines were often not
seen. This is because the buildings were scattered across the city
and often a shift of janitors may only include one or two people. This
gave the picket lines limited visibility. To counteract this, marches
and solidarity rallies were often held at buildings in order to draw
attention. Hardly a day went by in Downtown Boston when you did
not see a line of purple shirted janitors march by. These marches and
rallies were of great importance because they drew needed media
and public attention to the janitors cause. Boston NEFAC and other
anarchists were often present at these marches and waved black and
red flags in a show of support. Another tactic used by activists and
organizers was calling on building owners and trustees to issue
statement in support of the janitors demands. This was the tactic that
many university students used in their efforts.

Student Support: One group that stands out for it's work with the
campaign, is Boston Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). SLAP is a
coalition of labor activists from local universities. This includes
students from Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Emerson,
Northeastern University, and more. SLAP played a pivotal role in
gaining campus support for the janitors, and also for orchestrating
city campaigns. Some of their actions throughout the strike included
early morning banner drops, marches, a tent city, countless flyers
and press releases, and various acts of civil disobedience.

Northeastern University was an important worksite for the strike
because it had the most janitors under the Master Agreement. The
organizing at Northeastern was led by a student group, The
Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), which is a non-hierarchal, social
justice group. The Progressive Student Alliance began putting
pressure on the Northeastern president, Richard Freeland, to issue a
strong statement in support of the janitors. As soon as classes began
this fall started petitions and letters were passed around campus for
students to sign. Over 1,000 students signed onto the campaign. PSA
members, coinciding with an SEIU rally on campus, delivered the
letters and petitions to Freeland's office, but Freeland never
responded. A few days later President Freeland was scheduled to
give his, "State of the University", address. This is where all of the
Northeastern donors and trustees listen to Freeland explain how
great everything is on campus.

During his speech two students walked in front of him silently with a
banner proclaiming, "Justice for Janitors". The two were quickly
escorted out of the building. The impact of this action was immediate.
The president of the Student Government claimed that the petition
was void because he did not approve it, and late wrote a scathing
anti-PSA editorial to the school newspaper. This did little to deter
PSA from acting , rather it motivated them to step up their tactics.
President Freeland continued to ignore the students letters, and so,
along with SLAP, PSA hosted a tent city in front of Freeland's office
and waited for him to arrive. At around 7:30 am Freeland showed up
and was met by about 15 students asking him why he didn't support
the janitors. He gave the answer, "I believe in the collective
bargaining process." This answer did not satisfy PSA, so their next
action was a screening of the film "Occupation" on the building
containing Freeland's office. "Occupation" is a film that details that
was carried out by Harvard students 2 years prior. Their sit-in was for
a living wage for Harvard's janitors. The message was clear, "If
necessary, we will occupy this building!". PSA continued to support
the janitors until the end of the strike.

The Strike Winds Down: On Saturday October 19th, a major rally and
march took place at Copley Square. The rally featured Billy Bragg
and had around 800 people in attendance. The rally then left Copley
and marched around the touristy shopping section of Boston. Midway
through the march participants gathered around the Prudential
center, a huge shopping mall that was a previous target. Around 100
marchers stormed through the food court entrance and began a very
noisy parade through the mall. The police quickly blockaded the door
and prevented others from entering. The rest of the march placed
their banners against the glass and banged hard at the windows
chanting, "We'll be back, We'll be back". The march then headed back
for the street and met up with the 100 that had marched through the
mall. Eventually the march ended back at Copley and activists

The next week was spent planning for the "day of chaos" or "day of
conscience". This day was scheduled for October 24th and was
supposed to be a day filled with civil disobedience. The plan was for
separate, autonomous acts of all sorts to happen throughout the day
and bewilder police. Student, community, religious, and anarchist
groups began planning various actions. The media began to hype up
the day as a free for all of disorder and violence. The Boston Herald
continually warned people working in downtown Boston to be
prepared for anything, that the janitor supporting hoodlums were on
their way, and we were.

The afternoon before the "day of chaos" the news came on the
television. The union had reached a deal, the janitors had won. The
terms were to be announced later that evening and supports and
janitors around the city celebrated. The struggle was finally over,
janitors could go back to work. Many assumed that fear over the "day
of chaos" had caused the contractors to cave. Then we waited
anxiously to hear the terms of the agreement.

The Terms: Unfortunately, and expectedly, the terms left much to be
desired. The terms of the new contract were:

-Janitors pay would be increased to $13.10 over four years. The raise
would be $.25 every 6 months
-1,000 janitors would receive healthcare beginning in 2005. This
would only be given to janitors in the largest buildings
-Janitors would receive two paid sick days a year
-Janitors could now no longer be assigned to an arbitrary location.
Before they could be moved without warning at any time
-Immigrant janitors can clear up problems with the INS without losing
seniority or their pay rate.
-The five year contract will expire the same time as the 30,000 janitors
in New York does

This agreement of course lacks the one essential thing the janitors
had fought so hard for: healthcare. Not even all of the janitors who
went on strike qualified for healthcare, and even those who did will
not receive it for another three years. Basically the janitors are in the
same situation they were in when they went on strike. The raise will
be minimal and widespread so it will take time, and janitors who went
on strike will find it doubly hard to make up for their lost income. All of
this before the large civil disobedience action that was planned to
bring the city to its knees.

Also the pressure had been building from other directions. Building
owners were threatening to fire UNICCO, the State had already fired
contractors, other businesses that shared an office with UNICCO
were threatening to withhold rent and nearly every political figure in
Boston had claimed support for the janitors. The union then had the
nerve to proclaim "Victory! Victory!" as if much was actually won. The
union has said that this agreement is a stepping stone and that more
will be won in three years, but for every janitor still struggling three
years is an eternity.

When the "victory" was announced janitors once again filled the Old
West Church and those who felt abandoned by the union booed and
screamed "Strike!" Janitors will vote on this agreement November 7,
but with most back to work and the media and community fervor over,
it is likely that they will accept it. This is just another example of a
bureaucratic union bowing down to the bosses. With all the support
and the day of action ready, the union could have waited or held out
for a better health care package. Instead they claimed victory, while
the janitors pray that they don't get sick.

Sofia Perovskaya Collective
NEFAC Boston )

* [Ed. Notes: Barricada is the Journal of an anarchist collective
member of the NEFAC - Nort Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists]

****** The A-Infos News Service ******
News about and of interest to anarchists
COMMANDS: lists@ainfos.ca
REPLIES: a-infos-d@ainfos.ca
HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
WWW: http://www.ainfos.ca/
INFO: http://www.ainfos.ca/org

-To receive a-infos in one language only mail lists@ainfos.ca the message:
unsubscribe a-infos
subscribe a-infos-X
where X = en, ca, de, fr, etc. (i.e. the language code)

A-Infos Information Center