The left is on a roll at Northeastern

January 6, 2015

A Northeastern University student and member of the International Socialist Organization and Students for Justice in Palestine reports on the campus left.

STUDENTS AND workers at Northeastern University (NEU) in Boston have won a series of victories in recent years that are increasing the confidence and radicalization of campus activists.

Two years ago, the school's 400 dining hall workers joined UNITEHERE Local 26 in a union organizing campaign helped by a campus coalition known as HOWL: Huskies Organizing With Labor.

Almost immediately after that, student activists were involved in supporting another campaign, this time to unionize the adjunct faculty, with the help of the Service Employees International Union. After a two-year-long campaign, the adjuncts voted to form the NEU Adjunct Faculty Union in May of last year.

In the spring of 2013, a campaign led by the Progressive Students Alliance (PSA) pressured the university to cut ties with Adidas in light of a report from the Workers Rights Consortium--an organization of which Northeastern is a member--about the company's violations of workers' rights in Indonesia.

Not thrilled by this continual success for the campus left, the university administration tried to flex its muscles in March 2014 by suspending the NEU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJPs across the country had been facing discrimination from administrators, but the suspension at Northeastern was unprecedented.

SJP members protest at Northeastern University
SJP members protest at Northeastern University (Maria Amasanti)

A well-organized campaign in defense of SJP brought out the support of national organizations such as the International Socialist Organization and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as campus and local allies such as the PSA, Husky Environmental Action Team, and the Boston School Bus Drivers Union, among others. After a month of constant protest and continued pressure, Northeastern rescinded the suspension, giving another victory to the left.

The same month as the SJP suspension, DivestNU campaigned for a student government referendum, in which 2,600 students--75 percent of the overall vote--supported a resolution for the university to divest from fossil fuels.

In September, environmental groups at Northeastern wanted to continue that success and organized transportation from Boston to New York City for the People's Climate March. On the morning of the protest, however, the school decided not to pay for the buses, leaving disappointed activists unable to attend the historic march.

Each time the administration has cracked down on activism, it has shot itself in the foot. SJP's numbers grew after the suspension--it affectionately calls itself the "Palestine Underground." The adjunct faculty won their union despite NEU hiring notorious union-busting law firm Jackson-Lewis.

The win for the adjuncts drew people to PSA and other political groups, and progressive activists found themselves with growing numbers of comrades. As one student put it, "I feel as if more folks are becoming aware and being reached."

THE RADICALIZING atmosphere at Northeastern has been connected to a growing number of actions throughout Boston. Over the summer, protests in solidarity with Gaza drew out as many as 3,000 people across the city.

Protests against campus sexual violence inspired by the Carry That Weight actions at Columbia University in New York City brought out about 60 people on Northeastern's campus, along with a few mattresses in tow. This was followed by a speak-out, where survivors of sexual assault shared their stories and impressed on us the importance of this work. Passersby joined in the event as well.

Protests for Ferguson October drew out around 400 people in Boston. After the grand jury decisions not to indict Officers Darren Wilson in Ferguson and Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, Northeastern Black Student Union organized a walkout of 40 students followed by a speak-out in the quad.

In November, student activists hosted an event called the Real State of NU in response to university President Joseph Aoun's "State of NU" event. Activists came together to rebut Aoun's address, hosting various student groups to discuss their experiences with the administration.

Some 300 people came to this event, clearly frustrated by the university's tactics. Many came to discuss sexual health on campus and get information about campus resources, which is lacking from official channels. Students took to Twitter to express their frustration, asking Aoun, for instance, why he was focusing on a new building on campus and not on the fact that adjuncts make poverty wages.

Cumulatively, these experiences have helped to shape and radicalize the students at Northeastern. A small but growing number of students are looking for answers, not just to "What caused this?" but rather "Why does this exist?"

Since its suspension, SJP has come back strong. Since Ferguson, students all across Boston and its suburbs are closing highways trying, to #ShutItDown. Every single struggle brings out at least one more person who wasn't there before.

There's a real sense that things are changing on Northeastern's campus. There is an increasing appreciation for interconnectivity of struggle, and solidarity is growing. The opening for the left is as ripe as ever. We have much to look forward to, and we won't let this moment pass.

Further Reading

From the archives