NEW HAVEN, CONN. – What better way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the national landmark strike and first contract victory by Local 34 clerical and technical workers at Yale than a festive, reflective and forward-looking celebration complete with delicious food, videos, photos and other memorabilia, and the presence of many elected officials including Mayor Toni Harp and both U.S. senators!
The event commemorated an organizing drive and strike that had a profound influence not only on the several thousand largely women workers directly affected, but also on the city of New Haven, the national labor movement and on women workers everywhere.
Held at Anthony’s Ocean View, the celebration attracted several hundred retirees and current workers who are veterans of the historic battle, as well as newer union members. The 1984 victory was an important breakthrough for the mostly women workers who were not part of the traditional labor movement.
John Wilhelm, chief negotiator during the 1984 strike, who went on to become national president of Unite Here, recalled the labor solidarity that helped win the strike. He spoke of support from the then-industrial unions in New Haven which have since been lost to factory shutdowns and relocations to low-wage areas. Members of Local 35, service and maintenance workers at Yale, voted to raise their own dues to finance the Local 34 effort, and almost unanimously honored the Local 34 picket lines despite threats they would be fired.
“Today,” he told the members of Local 34, “it’s your turn to step up to the plate and help other workers without unions organize, just as those unions stood with you 30 years ago,” referring especially to fast food and other low-wage workers, and also to graduate student teachers at Yale.
The Graduate Employees Student Organization (GESO) has been seeking recognition for years but the university administration has refused to recognize their right to a union. Last fall, when graduate student teachers held a massive rally demanding negotiations, Locals 34 and 35 turned out in large numbers. They were mindful of the fact that as they prepare for their own contract negotiations, helping these new workers organize will be an important part of maintaining the standards they have achieved.
The benefit of having a union was highlighted at the celebration in a Local 34 video made for the event featuring several of the union members telling their own stories of being able to buy and hold onto their homes because of their union-scale wages and benefits.
Also on exhibit was a People’s World video featuring photos from the 1984 strike by Joseph Taylor with commentary.
The significance of the Local 34 victory to city and state politics was evident as the nine union members now elected to the Board of Alders were recognized, along with the Board president Jorge Perez and other colleagues. Their presence reflected the major role that the Yale unions have played in initiating and supporting grass roots community-labor coalitions which have not only transformed the political scene in New Haven but have played a significant role in keeping Connecticut a blue state with a pro-labor Governor and Senators in recent elections.
Photo: John Wilhelm, former president Unite Here, calls on Local 34 members to help other workers organize at 30th anniversary celebration. | Local34.org