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Fighting for living wages at Harvard

Review by Petrino DiLeo | April 26, 2001 | Page 9

DOCUMENTARY: Occupation, directed by Maple Razsa Pacho Velez. For listings, visit

OCCUPATION DOCUMENTS the three-week student occupation and mass demonstrations at Harvard University last April that won more than 2,000 university workers living wages. The struggle grew from 50 students occupying a hall into a movement of workers, students and the community that broke Harvard's will.

It began when dining hall workers brought pizza to the students' living-wage occupation as a sign of solidarity. Workers began holding impromptu teach-ins in the dining halls during their breaks. Then they organized protest, and eventually a strike vote.

Ultimately, the mass pressure of students, workers and community leaders was too much, and Harvard was forced to give all union and non-union employees a living wage.

The film features longtime Harvard employees who describe their harsh working conditions. With a $20 billion endowment, Harvard is the one of the wealthiest public institutions in the world. Yet its service employees were paid low wages and forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day.

The film shows how the occupied hall became the center for daily mass rallies, with students forming a tent city around it. Community members also came out to support the struggle, with local churches even holding services outside the hall.

The film's most poignant moments show workers explaining how--while they admired the students for putting themselves on the line--they knew that if they were going to get a living wage, they would have to fight for it themselves.

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