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Harvard Layoffs: The Axe Falls But Workers Fight Back

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On Tuesday, June 23, after months of cuts in budgets throughout the organization, Harvard University announced 275 layoffs. Activists in the Harvard No-Layoffs Campaign quickly called a demonstration and 100 people showed up in Harvard Yard two days later to protest these layoffs.

Workers from the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers/AFSCME 3650, SEIU 615 (janitors and security guards), UNITE HERE 26 (dining hall workers), students in the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), faculty members and concerned community members all made up a spirited demonstration that marched around Harvard Yard during their lunch break. Chanting: “They say cutback, we say fightback!” “They say layoff, we say back off!” “1,2,3,4, Harvard is not poor! 5,6,7,8, layoffs are what we hate!”

Testimonials from workers who had been laid off without even so much as an inkling that their jobs were at risk, from their co-workers, and from faculty and students who will be negatively affected by this reduction in staff made for a powerful kick off.

The No-Layoffs Campaign at Harvard is unique in that it was started up by activists before any layoffs were actually announced, so a small network of activists was already in place to respond. However it will take a massive mobilization of Harvard workers and community in the coming months to prevent further layoffs and get those jobs back that have already been eliminated. This is needed not just at Harvard, but throughout society in all industries and areas that have seen layoffs and cutbacks.

Harvard’s Money and the Layoffs
In September, 2008, Harvard made headlines announcing an endowment of $37 billion, making it the richest university in the world and the second richest non-profit, non-government organization in the world. Since then, it is estimated that the endowment has lost 30% of its value. It is worth pointing out that Harvard does not rely solely on its endowment for income, but received over $600 million in gifts in 2008, owns property and collects rent all over the Boston area, plus tuition, federal and private grants, not to mention the retail money Harvard makes from branding.

Harvard has used this drop in the value of its endowment as an excuse to centralize and streamline its administration. This was eventually going to result in layoffs, and in fact these are not the first. Already custodial staff and dining hall staff have had positions eliminated.

These decisions are being made by the reclusive Harvard Corporation, headed by president Drew Gilpin Faust. It is an unelected, secretive board that includes Robert Rubin (former bigwig at CitiGroup) and has cut the flow of funding to Harvard from the endowment. They run the endowment like an investment bank – for profit – yet Harvard is legally a non-profit. If Harvard is not willing to dip into the principle of its endowment in these troubling economic times to save jobs and the greater community of which it is part it should lose its non-profit status and pay taxes like the rest of us on the profits it makes.

The layoffs have been spread throughout the university but have targeted many longer serving workers who, due to union raises, were at the top of their pay scale, some of whom were only a few years from retirement.

Workers at Harvard are being forced to pay the price for the economic recession, a blatant attack on working people by the hedge fund gamblers, like those who have managed the Harvard endowment, who are responsible for this recession.

Each layoff represents rents and bills that may not get paid. Each one represents a parent who agonizes over where their next meal will come from. Each layoff is a slap in the face to workers at Harvard and workers everywhere. When Harvard can lay people off despite their riches, we need to say: if you can’t run this, we will! Take Harvard out of the hands of the corporate elite. Open its doors to the community. Use the endowment for education and not for profit.

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