Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union: A Rising Force in American Organized Labor
In a year marked by increased labor activism and strikes across various industries, the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union (HUWU) is emerging as a new force in American organized labor. With the union election on the horizon, it is essential to understand the potential implications of a union victory for Harvard’s workforce.
HUWU is a movement aimed at unionizing non-academic student workplaces at Harvard University. The campaign, initiated by members of the Student Labor Action Movement, began last spring with weekly meetings inviting student workers to discuss their workplace concerns.
The union’s history is characterized by swift and intentional action from its organizers. Shortly after workers were asked to sign union cards indicating their desire for unionization, the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers voted to affiliate with HUWU under Local 5118 of the United Auto Workers. Following this, HUWU submitted a request to the University’s Office of Labor and Employee Relations for voluntary recognition of the union, which was unsurprisingly rejected.
Subsequently, HUWU filed with the National Labor Relations Board on May 3, leading to an election scheduled for October 24 and 25. During this election, workers will decide whether or not to certify the union.
The outcome of this election holds significant implications for all student labor on campus. HUWU is expected to represent up to 500 student workers employed at Harvard libraries, cafes, and equity, diversity, and inclusion offices.
However, the union’s ambitions extend beyond its current scope. HUWU actively encourages undergraduate students in other sectors to organize their workplaces by filling out a new workplace organizing form. This inclusive approach ensures that student workers currently ineligible for HUWU will not be left behind.
The ultimate objective is to build collective strength until all workers, regardless of their position, can secure their rights and fair treatment. Undergrad workers at Harvard need to exercise their right to exert control over their labor.
Unions serve as democratic engines of worker power, and HUWU is no exception. By centering the concerns of workers, such as fair compensation, improved scheduling, and hiring practices, the union provides a platform for workers to address issues beyond the workplace. This includes advocacy for immigrant rights, building multiracial coalitions, and more.
HUWU will join existing labor unions on Harvard’s campus, including 32BJ Service Employees International Union custodians and security guards, Unite Here! Local 26 dining hall workers, and HGSU-UAW workers. These unions can collaborate effectively, especially when their contracts expire simultaneously, to negotiate with the University as a united front. This coordination could witness solidarity actions such as teaching fellows striking alongside the students they teach or dining hall workers supporting undergraduate cafe workers.
Moreover, HUWU’s campaign for an undergraduate workers’ union reflects a larger trend within the American labor movement. Workers across the country are witnessing corporations amassing record profits while wages stagnate due to inflation. The specter of widespread layoffs resulting from outsourcing and artificial intelligence, coupled with inadequate healthcare and time off in the era of COVID-19, underscores the existential importance of the right to unionize for workers.
It is crucial to view HUWU’s efforts as part of a broader national and global working-class struggle. The labor movement today recognizes that the wealth generated by workers rightfully belongs to them. This critical juncture demands a choice between continued corporate ownership of the people or the establishment of industrial democracy.
As HUWU aligns with the UAW workers on strike for fair pay and the healthcare workers demanding a higher minimum wage, it exemplifies the solidarity and interconnectedness inherent in the labor movement. It is a testament to the power of workers uniting to challenge the status quo and fight for their rights.
In conclusion, the upcoming union election at Harvard University has significant implications for student labor and the broader labor movement in the United States. HUWU’s emergence as a rising force demonstrates the growing momentum of organized labor in combating corporate greed and advocating for workers’ rights. The outcome of this election will shape the future of student labor at Harvard and contribute to the ongoing struggle for economic justice nationwide.