Tuesday, April 19, 2005

SolidarityClip: Wash U students on strike

Hey, hey, it's a sit-in and on-again off-again hunger strike.

I've spent a lot of time on the campus of Washington University (it and its surrounding areas tend to be focal points for anti-war activities, there's an active student libertarian club and one of the quadrennial dog and pony shows the two major parties try to pass off as "presidential debates" is held there), and I confess: I've often thought of leftist students at Wash U as, for lack of a better word, dilettantes. Wash U is a private school with tuition that would make Midas blanch. If it was Back East it would be considered Ivy League. And while it's beyond dispute a Republican institution, it plays host to a large contingent of rich kids who like to dress up as sixties refugees and bitch about the capitalism that makes their choice of college possible. One time, I saw a freshpersonish female pull up for a protest in a very new, very nice Mercedes and -- I shit you not -- pull an "Eat The Rich" sign out of the back seat to carry in the march.

But dilettantes no more: These kids have been sitting in for more than two weeks now, and some of them were on hunger strike for a week before relenting pursuant to (false and immediately reneged-upon) promises from the university administration. They're putting their figurative money where their mouths are, and presumably trying to put some of Mommy and Daddy's very real money there as well.

At issue are pay and benefits for contract workers at Washington University. The kids think they should make more money and get more benefits. The administration lamely offered a half-million dollar a year package; the students' proposal would cost in the neighborhood of $2.4 million per year. Just to put this in perspective, Wash U's fundraising for its capital fund alone seems to have raked in about $1.5 billion. With a student body (including undergrads, graduate students and part-timers) of 13,472 students, the expense of the student proposal could be covered with an annual tuition hike of less than $180. The tuition increase from this year to next is already set at nearly eight times that -- an increase of $1,400, to $31,100 per year.

It's pretty obvious that anyone who can afford to go to Wash U isn't going to blink at another $180 per year in tuition, so Chancellor Wright's quibbling is really nothing more than an exercise in pissing the customer off ... but at the same time, it's allowing some students to do a gut check and find out that yes, they really do have the fortitude to take on The Man. Cool. I hope they win -- and I may just have to try and get some Wobbly literature into the hands of the workers they're fighting for.

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