It was a bright happy day of barbeque and Top 40 hits this Tuesday at the Founder’s Day Celebrations, but something was sunny at Barnard. The office and clerical workers represented by the UAW Local 2110 are in a state of limbo. Their temporary contracts have expired and the college administration has once again ended a round of negotiations without promising the workers any standard benefits. On the table is everything from regular controversies, like healthcare and pensions, to absurd side issues like sexual harassment arbitration and maternity leave.
Given these uncertainties, a group of about 15 students from Students Support Barnard Workers dressed in black and joined the Founders’ Day celebrations at Barnard College to give out information on the crisis. Organizers felt Founders’ Day was the perfect venue for raising consciousness because it is day dedicated to the ostensible mission of Barnard-the empowerment of women. They felt that since the administration no longer lives up to this ideal, someone else had to step in and fight for basic women’s rights. Despite this tension, their efforts were decidedly non-confrontational as the union workers told them that this was a day to celebrate students.
Nevertheless, though they were simply passing out signs, holding up banners, and discussing the issue with fellow students, Public safety officers tried to put an end to their innocuous activism. They ran up to those with fliers, claiming “You can’t do that. You have to be outside the gates. No groups are allowed to hand out signs without express consent.” Most of the Barnard student activists were surprised because they had been handing out fliers for years concerning just about anything from clubs to parties without any legal impediments.
After a lengthy questioning about their authority (since the Student Government Association had approved the signs) and numerous calls for “backup,” the guards received orders from their mystical Walkie-Talkies telling them their attempts to stop the students were not actually justified. When asked who had given them that order, they defiantly shouted, “It doesn’t make any difference who told us!” and stormed off in frustration. After that student victory, the day went on peacefully as it was meant to.
Most Barnard students seemed receptive to the worker’s plight, accepting pro-union stickers bearing the motto “Anti-Worker = Anti-Woman” and fliers with general information and a quote from Alice Walker expressing solidarity with the workers. The students’ openness pleased the office workers, who had themselves come out to enjoy the festivities. As students realized there were real faces behind these cuts, their former apathy started to melt away.
Founders’ Day was a way of showing everyone could come together. Towards the end, one of the guards even demanded the students they give him some of their fliers, though the type of interest he was showing in the movement was probably of a different kind.