Volume , Number 0
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Congress Privatizes the Net
Microradio Broadcasting Aguascalientes of the â€¦
Pulp Non Fiction: The Ecologist â€¦
Death to the MIA
Bootstraps Literacy And Racist Schooling â€¦
Bombing A La Mode
Interview with Martxedn Espada
Mark k. Anderson
Editorial: What Lies Ahead
Anatomy of a Victory
The Oscar Wilde Fad
"New Global Architecture" Poses Questions â€¦
title("Fraud In Oakland's Garbage Sweatshop")
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Anatomy of a Victory
At a recent meeting with campus custodians, Southampton College Provost, Tim Bishop, told workers that the private management contract, which had outsourced the unit 18 months earlier, would be terminated as of October 1, 1998. Bishop warned custodians, however, that they should not think of this decision in terms of winning or losing; it was simply made in the best interests of the college. But one custodian responded, "it feels like a victory to me." Another explained, "Selling us out was supposed to be in the best interest of the college, too, but it was never in our best interest."
Nor was it in the best interests of the students, faculty, staff, and community members who formed the Coalition for Justice, a group whose main objective was to have the college cancel its private contract with LARO Management Services and rehire the outsourced custodians. As first reported in Z, June 1997, the Coalition began a high pressure publicity campaign to expose the institution's hypocrisy in dealing with custodial workers. At the first major demonstration held on campus since the Vietnam War, a faculty member explained to over 100 people attending; "The College's mission statement and recruitment literature call on us to build a caring and compassionate community. The decision to contract out custodians [was] a cold and calculated one, not caring and compassionate. To build a community we must join together and fight such decisions."
The Coalition succeeded in doing just that. During the group's first semester of demonstrations, letter writing, and public education campaigns, community pressure forced the Administration to grant custodians some of the original benefits they had lost (including tuition remission) by being outsourced. The College felt vulnerable to public opinion because it sought a $5 million partnership with the Town Board of Supervisors to build a joint aquatic facilities project.
In the Fall of 1997, the Coalition began a second wave of demonstrations and publicity which not only addressed the injustice of outsourcing, but also refocused attention on the institutional racism that had impacted custodians for over 30 years. While janitors had been the only campus unit comprised of a majority of people of color, not one minority had ever been promoted to the next level of employment in the Physical Plant Department. This segregational arrangement inspired Coalition member and longtime civil right's activist, Bob Zellner, to comment that, "the College reminds me of a Southern Plantation where African American are relegated to the mop and bucket brigade." After serious pressure from the Coalition and other community groups, the College finally promoted its first African American custodian to a job as a mechanic.
But it was the Coalition's constant presence--demonstrations, sit-ins, flyers--and its willingness and ability to publicize the situation that effectively neutralized LARO's well-documented union busting and wage reduction strategies. While LARO had initially deployed its supervisors to threaten and degrade custodians, Coalition members exposed this behavior to both the College administration and the local press. As Provost Bishop received public admonishment for LARO's tactics, he responded by calling on the company to back off. With their intimidation strategies stymied, LARO had no other way to impact employment conditions and effectively disappeared. Still, custodians worried over the prospect of having to negotiate a new union contract with LARO this Fall.
During the Summer of 1998, the custodians unanimously voted in a new union, Teamsters Local 840, to represent them in their bargaining. As the Coalition prepared to renew the public pressure campaign, administrators decided that they had had enough. Tired of seeing their actions criticized in the press and worried that "bad publicity" might negatively effect plans for a new endowment campaign, college officials decided to raise the white flag. The LARO contract was terminated on September 30 and the college has begun negotiating a new contract with the custodians and Local 840.
At a time when colleges and universities around the country are engaging in such corporate downsizing practices as outsourcing staff and part-timing faculty, this coalition struggle at a small college may hold some examples for others hoping to stem the tide of privatized madness. By working and meeting together as one group and not shying away from difficult issues such as race and class, the Coalition for Justice created a new sense of community where students and faculty not only supported custodians, but realized they had inter-related interests in establishing a fair, just, and compassionate community. As many students wrote in their class papers, the custodians became educators as the responsibility for knowledge production became a shared enterprise characterized by collective struggle, not corporate profit or cultural credentials.
As a sign of this success, the Coalition is now organizing a teach-in and conference on student/labor/community activism and social justice. These projects promise the possibility of expanding the group's scope beyond one particular struggle to a variety of issues that impact both the campus and local community. In particular, the Coalition hopes to address the increased use of poorly paid adjunct faculty, the lack of diversity among faculty and administrators, and the overall changes in regional economics that are creating an increasingly bifurcated and racialized population of rich and poor in the Hamptons.
The custodians are right to recognize their rehiring as a great victory, not just for themselves and for the coalition, but for the larger vision of establishing a real community of caring and compassion. If the Coalition can continue to expand this notion of collective struggle and diverse social justice, the Southampton College Campus may just live up to its mission statement in spite of, not because of, its administration's best efforts.