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14 Community Leaders Arrested in Support of Janitors' Strike as 500 Rally (english)
11 Oct 2002
As the citywide janitors’ strike continues, 14 community leaders were arrested in an act of civil disobedience. 350 janitors and 150 local college students rallied at 100 State Street at 5:00, then marched to Post Office Square, where the community leaders committed civil disobedience. 10,000 of Boston’s janitors are striking for more full time jobs, higher pay, and health insurance.
14 Community Leaders Arrested in Support of Janitors’ Strike, as 500 Janitors and Students Rally in the Financial District

by Matthew Williams

Boston, MA; Thursday, 10/10/02--As the citywide janitors’ strike continues to escalate, 14 community leaders were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in support of the janitors’ strike. 350 janitors, joined by 150 local college students, rallied at 100 State Street at 5:00, and then marched through the Financial District to Post Office Square, where the community leaders committed civil disobedience. 10,000 of Boston’s janitors are striking for more full time jobs, higher pay, and health insurance. The majority of the city’s cleaning contractors continue to refuse to bargain with the janitors.

Most janitors work only part time, making as little as $39 a day, but would like to work full time. As it now stands, many have to work multiple jobs--adding up to well over 40 hours a week--to support their families. Additionally, only 25% of janitors have healthcare coverage. Most janitors are immigrants from Latin America, seeking a better life here in the US. Nevarios, a Latina immigrant and a striking janitor, said, “The strike, I think, will change life in Boston because this is the only state where they pay so little money. In other states, New York for example, they pay people $70 a day. The part time people, who work three and a half hours a day, they pay them as little as $9.95. This is not good. I don’t know why they don’t pay full time and part time people the same.”

The two largest cleaning contractors in Boston, UNICCO and Janitronics, are refusing to bargain with the janitors and most of the city’s other contractors are following suit. Many cleaning companies appear to be using scabs (non-unionized replacement workers). The janitors have nonetheless made some gains. Other unions are honoring janitors’ picket lines, resulting in delays in package deliveries and repairs. As a result of a campaign of civil disobedience and the strike, most major Boston businesses have come out in support of the strike. Six small cleaning contractors recently broke ranks and signed an interim agreement with SEIU (Service Employees International Union) local 615, which represents the janitors. In response to a threat to extend the strike to the State House and three other government buildings, Governor Jane Swift (not usually known as a progressive) broke the state government’s contract with UNICCO and has put it up for bid, with conditions favoring companies that will treat their employees more fairly.

The day’s rallies started with a 5:00 rally of 150 college students at Boylston St. T-stop, organized by Boston SLAP (Student Labor Action Project). Students and professors spoke out in support of the strike. Joe Previtera, a Boston College student and a member of SLAP, said, “As a student I support the strike because I feel like we are in a great position to encourage university officials to pay the janitors working on our campuses a fair, livable wage. With 4,000 of the 10,000 janitors under this master contract working on our campuses we have good leverage. It’s also about just a basic sense that no one deserves to be exploited. There’s no way they should be paid wages where they cannot afford rent in the city where they’re working.”

In addition to the rally, area students have taken many other actions in support of the janitors. The first act of civil disobedience, a die-in at the Prudential Center on September 13 (before the strike had started), involved Harvard students. MIT students unsuccessfully attempted to occupy their president’s office to get him to support the strike. 200 students and professors from Northeastern University Law School walked out of classes today to pressure their administration. After a letter from students at Emerson College, the school’s president Jackie Liebergott, issued a statement in support of the strike.

The janitors’ rally began at 100 State Street at 6:00, with the students joining them at about 6:30, after marching by UNICCO’s headquarters and Suffolk University to pressure both. The plaza was filled people wearing purple SEIU shirts, reading “Standing Up for the American Dream.” Spanish-language strike bulletins were circulated, and most of the speeches were made in Spanish. Chants of “Si, se puede!” (“We can do it!”) reverberated, as people beat drums and blew whistles.

Meanwhile, the community leaders planning to get arrested were signing in with organizers. The leaders included community organizers, labor leaders, public officials, and professors. Juliet Schor, a well-known author and professor of sociology at Boston College, explained why she was committing civil disobedience: “I think it’s an important tactic for the strike. One of the things we’ve seen in similar strikes in recent years is that they’re moving beyond the traditional labor activism to more community involvement. Civil disobedience and other pressures from the community have been very important in the victories of these strikes.”

As it grew dark, the rally took to the streets and wended its way through the Financial District. The police redirected traffic, letting the marchers have the streets. Spanish chants, drums and whistles filled the air, as they passed by Boston’s major office buildings and ritzy hotels. Other groups of janitors joined the march as it proceeded. From near the front of the march, I couldn’t see the end.

Schor said, “What’s happening is that after many years of the degradation of the conditions of low wage workers in this country--such as declining wages, erosion of benefits, shifting to part time, putting more and more risks on workers, and making them work longer hours for less pay--we have begun to see workers coming together to fight back and demand better working conditions and wages. It’s a response to a structural trend, which globalization has been an important part of.”

At Post Office Square the marchers stopped and gathered in a circle in the middle of the road. In the center of the circle, the 14 community leaders sat down in the street. The police made no attempt to get the crowd off the street. They simply cleared a path through them and gently arrested the 14 notables, taking them away and putting them into paddy wagons. Everyone else was allowed to remain the road. A legal observer said that the police were generally being very accommodating to the janitors. She speculated that it was because of political pressure from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Swift. Many of the police also appeared to sympathize with the strike. After the paddy wagons pulled away, the march continued on to Government Center.

****

For more information on SEIU's Justice for Janitor's campaign see http://www.seiu.org/building/janitors/. To get in touch with Boston SLAP, see their website at http://www.bostonslap.org. Non-students who wish to get involved should contact Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, at http://www.massjwj.net.
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