Vincent J. Sirabelli, the fiery president of the Greater New Haven Labor Council, likes to remember back to 1971, when hundreds of students supported blue-collar workers on strike against Yale University.
The students lay down in front of delivery trucks, rampaged through one campus dining hall, raised $15,000 for the union, joined picket lines and marched in a protest demonstration on graduation day.
Now, six years later, the same 1,400-member blue-collar union is again on strike here. But it's hard to find a pro-union student on campus. "Students don't give two s - s about the workers or New Haven." Sirabelli told The Yale Daily News the other day. "They look down their noses at workers. There is an elitist attitude around here."
"Yale students aren't from working-class backgrounds. They'll embrace someone 2,000 miles away like Cesar Chavez, but when it comes to something in their own back yard they back away," he said in an interview last week.
It's tempting to attribute this to student apathy, to say, as has been said so many times before, that militant student activists of the '60s have been replaced by a docile, grim generation of young people more interested in joining the establishment than in overthrowing it.
But that misses the mark. It misrepresents the students, and the conflicting loyalties at play in the strike, which has left students without food or sanitation services the last 15 days.
"They [students] aren't for the union, they're not for the university," says junior David Berreby. "All they want is breakfast."
The issue for many students is any economic one. They see a direct link between what Yale pays its cooks, janitors, groundskeepers and plumbers and the size of their tuition bills, which already exceed $7,000 a year. "If Yale gives in, who's going to pay it?" asks Lisa Weiss, a sophomore. "That money has to come out of someplace and it will be out of our pockets."
To be sure, students have changed. An opinion poll last year found that 40 per cent of Yale's freshmen felt the student protest movements of the 1960s had hurt the country, and a similar number thought they weren't as smart as either Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford.
Football is again popular on campus. Denims and fatigue jackets, a campus uniform around the country for almost a decade, are beginning to give way to tweed skirts, sweaters and oxford cloth shirts. "Everyone is saying that more expensive clothes are 'in' this year. There's more of a pretty look than I remember before," said one junior.
The Yale Daily News had so much trouble deciding which side of the strike it was on that it took both sides, running two editorials side by side - one pro-union, the other anti-union.
"It really pains me. Here I am a liberal Democrat complaining about a union," said Jonathan Kaufman, who wrote the first anti-strike editorial. "You don't want to cut professors. You don't want to cut classes. So it looks like we'll all be cleaning our own bathrooms for a while."
"A lot of us feel really funny about not supporting the strike," said Weiss in her room at Timothy Dwight College, one of the 12 residential colleges that make up Yale. "I used to organize for the United Farm Workers union. I consider myself a radical and here I am walking across all these picket lines."
The strike has been at an impasse since Sept. 30. when members of Local 35 of the Federation of University Employees, AFL-CIO, walked off their jobs for the fourth time in nine years. And university officials are now planning for it to continue as long as Christmas.
The key issues are wages and job security. The union wants a cost-of-living allowance and an 8 per cent wage increase each of the next three years, plus a guarantee that none of its members will lose his or her job. In the last five years, Yale has reduced its number of full-time blue-collar employees by 37 per cent, replacing many of them with part-time students.
Yale, New Haven's largest employer, estimates the union package would add $4 million a year to its budget - a figure it claims the university, operating at a $6 million deficit this year, can' afford, It also says its blue-collar workers, who now make from $4.51 to $7.51 an hour, are paid, on the average, 20 per cent more than other workers in similar jobs in the New Haven area.
Yale has also refused to submit to binding arbitration or allow a third party fact-finder to enter the dispute. "We feel very strongly we can't allow a third party who hasn't lived with our problems to decide how we're going to allocate our resources," says Director of University Operations Albert Dobie.
Most of the talk one hears now here is of complaints of inconvenience caused by the strike. For 15 days now, students have had to clean their own bathrooms and hallways, empty their own garbage and fend for themselves at mealtimes, causing scores of students to subsist on a diet of peanut butter, hamburgers, pizza and submarine sandwiches.
This grates on students like Rocky Kuhn, who finds his new diet upsetting his ulcer, and Janet Anderson, who says the closing of dining halls has diminished the feeling of community at Yale.
But others, like Anderson's roommate, Lizabeth Johnson, aren't bothered at all. She likes the idea of taking the $5.65 a day that the university refunds to each student and eating where she wants to. "It's been nice. I'm saiving a little money, and our bathroom is cleaner now than it ever was," she said.