[Marxism] Hunger strike on behalf of campus workers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 22 07:40:15 MST 2005


Going Hungry at Georgetown

A showdown appears to be looming in a weeklong standoff at Georgetown 
University over wages for janitors and other contracted workers.

About 25 members of a student group known as the Georgetown Living Wage 
Coalition raised the stakes a week ago in the lengthy dispute with 
university administrators by beginning a hunger strike. The students acted 
after a university committee let pass a March 14 deadline the coalition had 
imposed for Georgetown to commit to paying a “living wage” to campus workers.

The coalition had proposed that Georgetown approve a plan to raise the wage 
it pays janitors and other contract workers to $14.93 an hour (from the 
current $11.33) by July. But on March 14, Spiros Dimolitsas, a senior vice 
president at the university, proposed instead that Georgetown raise the 
wage to $13 an hour by this July and increase it each year through 2008, to 
an eventual total of $14 an hour. Students rejected the university’s 
proposal; based on the cost of living in Washington, the students wrote in 
a response to Dimolitsas’s proposal, “$14 an hour is not a living wage now 
and it will not be a living wage in 2008.”

That evening, 25 members of the group vowed that they would “not consume 
food again until this university has accepted all of our demands by 
adopting a Living Wage policy based firmly on costs of living in DC.” When 
not in class or working, the protesting students and their supporters 
gather in several tents set up on a campus square, and they have received 
significant attention from the news media.

Liam Stack, a junior who is a spokesman for the student group, says that 
one of the students gave up his hunger strike after he was hospitalized 
because of a loss of vision. “He doesn’t have health insurance, so he 
couldn’t afford to continue,” says Stack, who adds that the protester was 
replaced by another student.

A spokeswoman for Georgetown, Julie Green Bataille, said the university is 
“committed to providing a fair and competitive compensation system for all 
workers,” including those, like janitors, who work on contracts. But she 
said raising the wage abruptly as the students wish would result in “wage 
compression” that could force layoffs of the “very contract workers” the 
students are trying to help.

Bataille said a university committee that is due to meet today is likely to 
recommend that administrators adopt the plan to raise the wage to $14 by 
2008. Bataille said Georgetown officials could adopt the wage increase by 
as soon as the middle of next week.

Leaders of the protest say the university’s adoption of its plan will not 
end the hunger strike.

But Georgetown may turn up the heat on Tuesday, Bataille suggested. She 
noted that the university had sent the students e-mails on Monday 
explaining the health risks of a water-only diet, and urging them at least 
to drink juice.

The e-mail message from James Welch, a student health administrator, asked 
them to visit Welsh Monday afternoon to assure him that they were ingesting 
more than water. “If I do not hear from you,” Welch wrote, “I will assume 
that you are participating in the hunger strike and ingesting only water, 
and I will make recommendations to the vice president of student affairs to 
address my concerns about your dangerous activities.”

Bataille said that the university officials have the authority, in those 
rare instances when they believe students may be putting themselves in 
danger, “to put them on leave as students and encourage them to seek 
medical attention.” She said she did not believe that action would be 
necessary, because “most of the students are telling us that they’re taking 

— Doug Lederman

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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