The agreement and the relief of negotiations’ having ended were cause for smiles at Friday’s anniversary celebrations. But although HUCTW was able to reach an agreement, many workers are not as lucky. This contract negotiation took Herculean effort, the wit and will of a dedicated union, and unprecedented duration to reach. If middle class wages, and thereby middle class growth, cannot be achieved at Harvard with anything less than historic effort, then where can they be earned amid the many structural issues confronting those negotiating for middle class wages?
Sheryl Sandberg has gotten flack for her book “Lean In” because her critics charge that she is trying to help the ‘wrong’ group of women — wrong, in that compared to other women, Sandberg’s cadre are relatively better off.
But not only the direst cases are worth fighting for. In the case of labor, neglecting the middling for the sake of the worst off undercuts the potentiality of the American dream.
Two thinkers, both former Harvard Faculty members whom I read as an undergraduate, make particularly good arguments to this effect. One is John Kenneth Galbraith who wrote that a “basic feature of the good society… is the opportunity it affords for upward economic and social movement.” The second is John Rawls, who, in 1971, explained that without “equality of opportunity,” there is no justice.
This is the stuff that is taught in Harvard classrooms but has not always been put into practice by the University’s administration. The University should aim to set the bar for management-staff relations and encourage middle class growth in its workforce; this contract was a start.
There was much to celebrate on May 17. But if HUCTW’s first 25 years indicate the direction of labor in years to come, the union has a long road ahead.
Elyssa Spitzer is a recent graduate of Harvard College.