Sitting in Solidarity

“We’re having a sit-in, yo!”

The statement wasn’t exactly necessary. Judging by the excess of signs with slogans like “Worker Power” and “We Demand a Fair Contract,” it was immediately obvious that some sort of protest was taking place. But in lieu of angry fist-raising, the fifteen or so students gathered on the floor of the University of Chicago’s Bartlett Hall lobby lounged around, singing songs of solidarity to the tune of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and playing board games. In their defense, it wasn’t any old board game: it was “Power Grid,” a German game with the objective of powering the most U.S. power plants. Even in recreation, these students aim to help society.

Said students are members of AWSA, or the Aramark Worker-Student Alliance, a coalition of University of Chicago student groups including Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), the South Side Solidarity Network, Graduate Students United (GSU), and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), a Latino cultural activist organization. AWSA’s goal is to get the Aramark dining hall workers a seven percent wage increase from the management; the latter, however, is offering merely a twenty-five cent flat raise, much to AWSA’s chagrin. “More senior workers get a lower increase [under their plan],” explains AWSA member Luis Brennan. “[And] if it’s a twenty-five cent increase with a five-year contract, it’ll suck more and more as time goes on.”

So, to express their concern, the group gathered at Bartlett Hall at 8am–right as it opened–and aimed to stay there until 5pm, which is when the workers would get off for the day. At 4 o’clock, however, they moved the sit-in into the management office, where they sat outside the manager’s door and loudly sang their solidarity chants–effectively drowning out the conference call the manager was having inside. Displeased, he called the police, who proceeded to disperse the crowd with threats of imminent arrest.

But the members of AWSA aren’t so easily deterred–they’re planning to hold a “large-scale action” on November 21. “Worker power…is linked to students, and it’s all linked to a just university where voices are heard,” as Brennan puts it. So until they see an acceptable offer on the Aramark’s part–or get threatened by further police action–the members of AWSA will keep on singing. (Sean Redmond)

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