Yale's capitalist swine

Posted: Sep 01, 2003 12:00 AM
At this writing, Sen. Joe Lieberman is scheduled to appear at Yale to give a speech supporting the strikers. It will be called, "Why Politicians Running for President Support Your Strike."

Jesse Jackson was already there. Say what you will about the wilting Jesse, he still has the power to bring listless partisans to their feet. What was his theme? You can get an idea from the name of the strikers' tax-deductible organization. It is called "Hungry for Justice," and they have a tame bishop there to handle contributions.

What would you say if you were dispatched to New Haven to side with the strikers? You would not be able to use the language of Tobacco Road. No, something less than that.

The 4,000 strikers, who provide for the maintenance of the university, including clerical aid and library and dining-hall service, are paid an average of $32,000 per year. But that's hardly all, Yale's administration stresses in full-page ads. The employees are getting, or were offered in the contract they rejected over the weekend, raises which, cumulatively, would yield a 44 percent salary increase in five years.

The two striking locals get pension benefits which, by Yale's arithmetic, when combined with Social Security yield about 85 percent of their salary. Note: The pensions kick in after 30 years' work. It is hard to remember when 30 years' work was on the order of a full career. Americans used to start work at 20 and quit at 65, which is 45 years later.

The employees and their families have free health care, to which they contribute no deduction from salary. They have a minimum of seven weeks of paid vacation. Yale will subsidize up to $46,460 worth of college bills for employees' families, and help ($25,000) in getting mortgages in neighborhood housing.

An eye-catching point of contention is Harvard. The strikers say that employees of Harvard get more money. Yale responds: No, it's the same, if you take into account that the cost of living in Cambridge is a little higher than in New Haven, and the education, better.

Now, strikes at Yale are something of an institution. Just as Broadway plays used to open in New Haven, union demands are something of a tradition. Eight out of 10 contracts with the university have resulted in strikes. One of them, in l977, lasted 13 weeks, another, in l984, 10 weeks.

Since universities are all about students who go there to live and learn, the obvious casualties are the students. Some of them will find, according to Yale's postings, that their classes will take place in City Hall. They will eat wherever they can. Professors teaching Latin literature can make do in improvised quarters, not so physicists and engineers who require great blackboards and perhaps computer projections. So those classes are a problem.

Now add this complication. Some professors have announced that they will not teach if in order to do so it is required that they cross a picket line. That does put one in mind of New Deal rhetoric. Thou shalt not cross a picket line. That is a concept derived from the very idea of collective bargaining.

Some sanctions used in the past by striking unions were illegalized by the Taft-Hartley Act (dubbed the "slave-labor act" by the labor movement), which forbade secondary boycotts (if your trucks bring food to Yale, we will strike all your trucks coast to coast). But the old pull of class antagonism is active still, and Jacksonian rhetoric is full-blown.

Jesse Jackson several times stressed that Yale has an endowment of $11 billion, which makes it sound as though, with an endowment that large, why not double employee wages? The educational world learned several days ago that the headmaster of St. Paul's School is paid $524,000 annually, relieving that cleric (he is an Episcopal bishop) of any of the privations of the poverty associated with the Christian ministry. If St. Paul's can swing it, why not Yale?

There is the other point, of course. It is that Yale walks a fiduciary fine line. The $11 billion was donated in the cause of education. The endowment and the students more or less share the burden of maintaining the place. The endowment, and student fees, aren't to be taken as an ATM for the two locals.

What is engrossing is the whole scene. Yale's political prejudices are exuberantly liberal (to unearth a professor in the social sciences who voted Republican would earn a Pulitzer for investigative reporting). But suddenly we have the officials of this liberal university acting like ... hard-hearted, union-busting capitalist exploiters of the working class.

Well, the students can take it as fieldwork, but they are paying about $3,000 per month ($36,000 per year) for their education. Do students ever strike?