It Was 20 Years Ago Today

4 Dec

Twenty years ago, to the day, I participated in a strike.  My very first one. I suspect that as human beings, we have the capacity for one, maybe two, genuinely radicalizing experiences in our lives.  This was mine.  As I wrote in a New York Times op-ed years later (read first page here, second page here):

How did a university founded in revolt against old Boston come to practice such lordly rule? Because it can. Unlike Harvard, which must compete with large private employers, other major universities and cultural institutions, Yale is by far the largest employer in New Haven. In 1965, Yale accounted for one out of every 20 jobs in New Haven. Today, because of a combination of Yale’s growth and New Haven’s decline, Yale employs more than 11,000 workers — one out of every five jobs in the city.

I used to have one of them. In 1990 I arrived at Yale as a graduate student. Some of my colleagues had begun to unionize, but I thought they were silly. We aren’t workers, I said, and I didn’t come to Yale to join a union. Yes, graduate students do a lot of teaching and grading — but that was an honor, not a burden. True, one dean had compared us to rats. Still, I resisted.

A year later, graduate students went on strike. I did, too — reluctantly. But on the picket line, something happened to me. As we marched around the freshman quad, an undergraduate yelled out his dorm window, ”Get back to work.” For the first time in my life, I felt like a maid. And suddenly I realized that this was how other workers at Yale — in the dining halls, the labs, the offices — routinely felt. I kept marching, determined never to forget what it’s like to work at a place like Yale.

This headline from the Yale Daily News on the day after we walked out captures the spirit of the day.  And this look back, from today’s New Haven Register by my friend and former comrade Kathy Newman, provides some lovely testimony from other friends and former comrades.

5 Responses to “It Was 20 Years Ago Today”

  1. Kathy M. Newman December 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Great post, Corey. I had never heard the story about the kid shouting at you in the quad. My only quibble is that I hardly consider myself your “former” comrade! The struggle continues! Thanks for your leadership all those years ago, and still today.

  2. David Kaib December 4, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    I suspect it’s common, for those that have a radicalizing experience, that it came when someone made the implicit explicit like that undergraduate. Thanks for sharing this story.

  3. mindweapon December 27, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I felt like a maid.

    With this phrase, the world sees you in a maid outfit. Yecch!

    Why not a butler or a janitor? Isn’t it interesting that you selected a female manual laborer than a male? What would Dr. Freud say?

    At any rate, I am a very well educated individual who has had to work in retail, I’ve been an appliance repair technician, and in the army, and a help desk cubicle slave. Through the whole ordeal, what I would have given to be a grad student or an adjunct professor! But I could never castrate myself with political correctness enough to make it in that world.

    I have been on the “subordinate” end of life way more than you, Corey. The people who are long term subordinates are there because they are less ambitious. I am friends with a “poor” person and his girlfriend. They are in their 20’s. The guy drinks a lot of beer. I offered to give him a beer making kit for free, and his first batch of ingredients for free. I showed him that he could brew 5 gallons of beer (about 52 12 oz bottles of beer) for 25 dollars, so 50 cents a beer rather than a dollar a beer like he pays at the packy. He said, “No, too lazy.”

    I have seen this sort of thing all my life. I once taught a woman (recent immigrant) from the Carribbean Information Technology skills — enough to get her first job in downtown Boston. She was a smart lady and would have done well, but she had married a man who had been in the US since 1974 and was heavily invested in receiving welfare benefits. This man was reasonably intelligent and very able bodied — he spent all his free time working out at the gym. The closest thing he had to a job was “Democrat Party activist.” He told his wife she couldn’t work because if she did she wouldn’t be able to live fo’ free no mo’.

    She explained this to me quite shame faced. I said, “Well, keep up your skills and teach them to your kids. Set up a local area network, make web pages, that sort of thing.” But I doubt she did.

    Do you see a moral difference between these professional welfare recipients, and people who have to work for a living? Do you really thing these people should have the same “vote” as the poor shlubs who have to work for a living?

    But what’s going to happen is that the EBT cards and the budgets for housing maintenance of Section 8 housing is going to dry up, and then all hell is going to break loose. All thanks to liberals, who treat people of color like their pet herd of voters.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. The Prison House of Labor « Corey Robin - March 11, 2012

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