Broken window theory: Corey Menafee and the history of university service labor

Zach Schwartz-Weinstein:

In November, 1969, a 30-year old black dining hall waitress at Yale University named Colia Williams threw a glass of water at a white student dining hall manager who’d harassed her continuously over the few short weeks that she’d worked in the university’s dining halls. Williams was promptly fired for her insubordination. As a new hire, she had not yet completed the 90-day probationary period that would qualify her for membership in Local 35 of the Federation of University Employees, Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union and thus secure her access to the union’s then-flimsy grievance procedure. Williams’ act happened to occur during a semester in which several members of Yale Students for a Democratic society had taken jobs in the dining halls, inspired by a broader current of “industrializing” – taking working-class jobs in order to organize mass workplace resistance – across the New Left. Yale SDS in particular was part of the somewhat notorious Progressive Labor faction, which continued to claim the organization’s name following the split at the 1969 national convention (which led to the creation of the Weather Underground.) The presence of these student radicals in the dining halls made workplace struggles that students might otherwise have ignored objects of widespread concern and political urgency. Following Williams’ firing, a hundred students, members of Yale Students for a Democratic Society as well as the Black Student Alliance at Yale, marched into the university’s human resources office in the basement of Wright Hall to demand the university reinstate her. The students occupied the office and took several administrators hostage for a few hours. With the conclusion of the occupation, 47 students were immediately suspended, though all were eventually reinstated. (One alumnus, who’d taken a job as a university custodial worker, was eventually fired for his role in the occupation.) The occupation was successful – Williams won her job back – or rather, Yale administrators discovered, they claimed, that they had never actually fired her. But, a month after returning to work, Williams had quit. Subjected to continued harassment from white supervisors due to her newfound notoriety, Williams explained that working at Yale was “agony.”