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On the picket line

February 15, 2002 | Page 11

Harvard University

United Airlines

MECHANICS AT United Airlines were in the midst of deciding whether to strike February 20 as Socialist Worker went to press.

Results of a membership vote on a contract offer recommended by the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), appointed by George W. Bush, were due to be counted February 12.

After pleading poverty in negotiations, United reversed itself last month and accepted the PEB recommendation for a contract that would raise mechanics' wages by as much as 37 percent.

But it's an open secret that, however the mechanics' vote goes, management plans to demand a new round of concessions from all workers. So the choice facing mechanics--who haven't had a raise since 1994--is whether to fight now or later.

A vote to reject the contract would set the stage for a strike--putting the International Association of Machinists (IAM) on a collision course with George W. Bush, who has vowed to use his presidential powers to block any strike by airline workers.

Mechanics say that IAM officials have been tentative about taking a stand on the PEB proposal--but that rank and filers are fed up. "Two weeks ago, I was really worried people were going to accept the proposal," said Jennifer Biddle, a shop steward and member of the strike committee in IAM Local 1781 at United's San Francisco maintenance facility.

"People were saying the company might go bankrupt, and we could lose our jobs."

"But since then, people have spontaneously put out their own flyers in the absence of the union doing it, explaining why everyone should vote against the PEB proposal. They're all over the maintenance facility. I've not seen one flyer saying to vote for the PEB proposal. I think a lot of people feel that we were robbed once, and we're not going to be robbed twice."

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By Kevin Chojczak

SAN FRANCISCO--More than 100 people gathered in front of the Union Square Macy's on February 2 to oppose the firing of Alia Atawneh.

On September 27, Alia, a Palestinian American woman, was working as a clerk at a Macy's in the nearby city of San Jose when a customer denounced "her people" and said she "had no right to work in the U.S." because of the September 11 attacks. When Alia asked what evidence the customer had that "her people" were responsible, he called the manager. A week later, Alia was fired.

The powerful display of solidarity by antiwar, union and community activists drowned out the droning Macy's shopping music. "I'm impressed with the people who are stopping by from the street to hear about Alia's case," Sarah, a community activist from the newly formed group called If Americans Knew, told Socialist Worker.

"The perpetual war Bush is waging is to perpetuate the war at home as millions are being cut from education, health care, and social services," said Steve Zeltzer of the Labor Video Project. "The attack on immigrants is part and parcel of this."

"It has been 'open season' on Arab immigrants and people of Middle Eastern background," said Osama Qasem, president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Alia and her husband were the last speakers of the day. "Without this support we would not be able to express and stand up for our rights."

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By Lee Wengraf

SOME 60 immigrant workers are striking for union recognition against the Flex-O-Tex laundry service in New York City. The strikers hope a union contract with UNITE will win them health care benefits and a pension.

Some employees who have worked at Flex-O-Tex for decades make little more than the minimum wage and receive no benefits at all. "The working conditions are terrible," Alberto Arroyo, UNITE's Amalgamated Service & Allied Industries division secretary- treasurer, told Socialist Worker.

Workers held several rallies at the plant, and a contingent joined other UNITE locals at the 1,000-strong protest outside a Gap store in midtown Manhattan on January 31, during the week of protests against the World Economic Forum meeting of corporate fat cats.

"The union would give us what we need," a veteran worker of two decades told Socialist Worker at the Gap protest. "And we need to be out here to build solidarity with other workers."

Flex-O-Tex responded to the strike by using scabs--and says it is running at full capacity. But the company is facing troubles of its own--it defaulted on a loan from the city and could close its doors in the next two weeks.

The strikers at Flex-O-Tex deserve decent wages and benefits. They need support from other workers--especially in the city's almost all-union laundry industry--to win this battle.

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Harvard University

By Jessica Rothenberg

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--After three years of pressure, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers finally gave in to activists' demands and agreed to substantial raises for Harvard's janitors, gardeners, security guards and other low-wage workers.

Hundreds of Harvard workers currently make less than $10.25 an hour, and some are paid as little as $8.50 an hour. Summers agreed to raise base wages to between $10.83 and $11.30 an hour.

While the new pay rates still fail to establish a "living wage" of $15 an hour in order to support a family in Boston, they set a precedent for campuses around the country.

Last spring, the Living Wage Campaign occupied the first floor of Massachusetts Hall--which houses the University President's office--for three weeks. About 400 faculty members signed letters of support, and students also worked closely with Service Employees International Union Local 254--a great example of student-labor solidarity.

This victory should motivate activists on other campuses to launch similar campaigns and set a precedent for future successes.

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