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(en) US, Class struggle in Claremont*

Date Tue, 16 Mar 2010 11:34:29 +0200


Partnership! Well, labor and capital may be partners in theory, but they are enemies in fact. – JOHN L. LEWIS; President, United Mine Workers of America; 1936 ---- If you contract out, union-bust, or otherwise make it impossible for workers and students to have an organized voice, you don’t shut them up, you just get collective bargaining by riot. ELAINE BERNARD; Director, Harvard Law School Labor & Worklife Program; 2002 ---- Pomona College is the site of active class struggle. The food service workers of Pomona College are now in open conflict with the corporate administration of Pomona College over their attempts to organize an independent union. They fight for dignity, justice and respect. Their employer, Pomona College, seeks only the ability to continue its exploitative practices. The College rejects even their basic demand for an agreement against intimidation. We, as Claremont Solidarity, stand with the workers, and against the interests of capital and the corporate university.

On Monday, March 1, 150 students and workers entered the office of David
Oxtoby, President of Pomona College, to deliver their demands for a fair
unionization process to him. Hundreds of signed petitions were stacked in
Oxtoby’s hands, petitions signed by 90% of the food service workers at
Pomona College, demanding that Pomona College agree to a card check
neutrality agreement with the dining hall workers. If the College were to
accept this card check neutrality agreement, they would pledge to not
engage in any anti-union intimidation of workers and recognize the
workers’ union as soon as a majority have signed union authorization
cards. On Saturday, March 6, workers came forward to speak to students,
addressing a rally of more than 400 students assembled in the rain,
speaking to their situation and efforts at creating a union.

The Pomona dining hall workers are organizing to establish an independent
union in order to collectively fight for a contract and better working
conditions. In the Pomona College dining halls, where workers are denied
year-round employment, where more than 80% report having been injured on
the job, where workers are at-will employee and are routinely fired for
being worked to the point where injuries prevent them working any more,
where decades of employment provides only the opportunity for decades of
poverty-level wages, where legally required breaks have been denied with
uniform consistency for years, where the managers compel workers to
perform unpaid labor off the clock, and above all, where workers have been
robbed of their power, their voice, and their dignity. To the
administration, they are merely part of the faceless human capital that
greases the wheels of the educational institution, regardless of the fact
that they contribute far more to the College than the comfortably
positioned PR office bureaucrat who makes certain that every letter
published by the College uses the approved font, or even the faculty
member who teaches students how to continue reproducing our oppressive
social relations

Pomona College is the second wealthiest liberal arts college in the
country, with an endowment of $1.8 billion. An endowment of $1,160,000 per
student, with a tuition of $50,000, and Pomona College pays its dining
hall workers as little as $10 an hour. With the lack of reliable work that
the College offers, many workers – who tend to be the primary breadwinners
for their families – come out making between $10,000 and $15,000 per year.
Pomona College’s endowment has grown by 240% over the past 10 years. What
does that vast increase in wealth mean for the workers? It means
absolutely nothing; wages have been stagnant for decades, just keeping up
with inflation and lagging behind the cost of living. No matter how much
money Pomona College has, it will pay its employees as little as it can
get away with.

After years of paternalistic negotiations, after bureaucratic do-nothing
committees, after proposals for an ombudsman, after a failed unionization
campaign with an outside union, after years of proper channels and no
improvement, the dining hall workers are certain that the only means to
gain dignity and respect at their work is to organize and create their own
union.

The workers have chosen to create their own independent, worker-controlled
union and to not relinquish control to a self-interested outside union.
They have been failed by the national unions in the past and now they have
made complete autonomy and local control an absolute condition of any
union organizing. It will be difficult for an independent union of a few
dozen workers and scant resources to challenge the billion dollar
corporation that is Pomona College, but with student solidarity it is
possible, and it may be preferable to a few dozen workers challenging a
union that either outright ignores workers who aren’t in thousand-person
bargaining groups, or seeks ‘mutually beneficial partnerships’ with
employers.

The response from the College administration to all of this? President
Oxtoby decalres his support of workers’ right to unionize! Simultaneously
he rejects all of their demands and refuses to negotiate on the issue of
card check neutrality. Oxtoby will allow only for talk of a unionization
process that follows the model of National Labor Relations Board vote, a
process that is the graveyard of democracy and unionization attempts.
Oxtoby demands that the College reserve the right to intimidate its
workers, to retaliate against organizing workers, to delay the
unionization vote for years, and to appeal any unionization vote for yet
more years. These are the points of difference between the process
demanded by the workers and the process offered by the College. Unless the
College was planning on utilizing some of these anti-union tactics allowed
under the NLRB process then there would be no reason in rejecting the card
check process.

Oxtoby has revealed the true anti-worker position of the College in
statements that deny any need for workers to be concerned with the
benevolent, protective employment of the College, even going so far as to
call workers ‘naïve’ in an interview with the college newspaper:

"The assumption, often, with a union is that everything that you have now
you will keep and you will get more — you will have all of the channels of
communication and ways of working with the college which we’ve developed
over the years, I think that’s not correct. I think it’s a little naive.”

The workers know the liberal bullshit of the administration when they see
it, and have responded with a hardening commitment to the fair process
that 90% of them had originally demanded, in direct rejection of the
anti-worker NLRB process that Oxtoby holds to. The orange armbands are
staying on in the kitchens of Pomona College.

Meanwhile, out of the public arena, the College has already forced the
dining hall workers to attend anti-union meetings where they illegally
promised concessions if the workers stop their organizing efforts
(covering up their illegal activities with the blatant lie that they
implemented these concessions months ago, without any of the workers
noticing). The deans, so fond of the liberal college activist who poses no
challenge to their own comfort and security, sat one student organizer
down to threaten him with the loss of his job with the College if he
continued devoting his efforts to the union.

Alongside the administration, numerous supposedly leftist faculty at
Pomona College have belittled the workers’ attempts at forming an
independent union, apparently unable to believe that workers are capable
of organizing themselves without the leadership of decayed professors or
bureaucratic outside unions. To them, we repeat the words one worker spoke
to the faculty: “We’re not asking for your advice, we’re asking for your
support.” At the very least, 90% of the workers have decided that this the
course of action they want to take, and the only justifiable action for us
to take is to respect their decisions and lend them our solidarity, not
our paternalism.

It is no surprise that an elite liberal arts college supposedly committed
to social responsibility responds to the organization of its workers in
the same fashion as any profit-driven corporation, because that is exactly
what the modern college has become through a long process of
corporatization. The only structural difference remaining between college
and corporation is that as ‘non-profits’ colleges need make only enough
revenue to break even, a difference in scale only. The condition of the
workers at Pomona College is a result of this corporatization of the
college; a result of transformation of Pomona College into Pomona College,
Inc.

As students at a corporate college we are now mere consumers of the
education commodity. So workers are mere human capital, rather than
dignified and respected members of our community. They are expected to
have the same relationship with the College community as McDonalds fry
cooks have with their customers. What should be a community of equals who
are valued for their contributions to the collective education of everyone
in our community is instead debased to a rude system of commodities,
consumers, producers and exploitation.

Our friends from Direct Action Claremont have participated in occupations
at the public universities, and we see this struggle at Pomona College as
an extension of that struggle. Both the battle for public education and
the unionization efforts at Pomona College are manifestations of
resistance to the neo-liberal corporate model of higher education that
simultaneously dispossesses students of an education, and workers of
dignified labor.

Claremont Solidarity exists to escalate the class struggle at Pomona
College. The interests of the workers and the interests of the corporate
College are directly opposed to each other; one seeks justice and
fairness, the other seeks profit through exploitation. The College will
not choose through its own enlightenment to act against its economic
interest and allow the workers to organize. It can only be forced to do
such. In order to realize progress, we must create a situation of
conflict, where the power of the administration is challenged by the power
of the workers. And we must make certain at the same time that students
understand this conflict, and choose to cast their lots on the side of the
workers. We cannot wait for this situation of open class conflict to
emerge; time is the College’s most potent weapon, and they intend to delay
justice until it is terminally denied. Pomona College will attempt to
batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to blow over; we pledge
that this storm shall only strengthen until the workers at Pomona College
have justice.

We pledge an escalating campaign of confrontational action, as this is the
only way to force the College to recognize the workers’ demands. Pomona
College cannot run as though everything is normal when the College is
refusing to consider the demands of 90% of its food service workers. There
is an active labor conflict in Claremont, and we will not let the College
forget it. No business as usual!

Claremont Solidarity
Audacity! Audacity! Ever more audacity!
claremontsolidarity.wordpress.com
==========
* An antiauthoritarian anticapitalist initiative
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