Our Union has a remarkable, if relatively short history. HUCTW was self-organized—in other words, it was started by Harvard employees themselves, rather than by a larger outside organization. Those roots remain crucial to the functioning and the philosophy of our Union to this day. The Union is its members, not an external staff of lawyers or labor experts. Union leadership and involvement comes from members (and former members) themselves. Union members negotiate our contracts, and Union members work with management to address issues of policy and to improve the working environment.
For Self-Knowledge and Dignity—Cut Out the Middle Man!
The idea of keeping labor relations ‘close to home’ serves a number of purposes. First, it guarantees a level of organizational self-knowledge. One-on-one organizing is one of the hallmarks of our Union, and it means that we are in touch with each other, and issues and concerns surface quickly and directly. Second, it is trained Union members themselves who address such issues and concerns, through joint problem-solving. This is in contrast with traditional grievance-filing procedures in which workplace problems are delegated by a shop steward to lawyers and other officials who may not know the individuals or the work in question— instead, we do the work ourselves and make sure the people involved come to a real, working solution. In addition to organizational self knowledge, this means that members active in the Union gain sophisticated and valuable skills, skills that enrich their lives, to say nothing of their workplaces. Finally and very importantly, this direct union-management model makes for more dignified and harmonious working lives. Rather than a split population ruled by antagonism and mistrust, individual workplaces can operate smoothly, with Union members and managers working collaboratively to get their jobs done.
‘Kindness and Respect’
The phrase ‘kindness and respect’ has long been a mantra of our organization. It describes both our ideal workplace climate as well our ideal labor relations climate. To be sure, if we did not have profound concerns and problematic issues, we would not need a union at all. But we do. Harvard is a large, old, and storied institution which has many organizational priorities. Making sure the rights and well-being of staff are among those priorities—both locally and University-wide-- is the job of the Union. Doing so with kindness and respect makes our Union more powerful, because it relies on a dynamic but lasting Union-management relationship, rather than on isolated acts of gamesmanship and antagonism. Perhaps as important, operating with kindness and respect makes our Union more inclusive, because members who are not interested in what they may see as ‘angry politics’ feel they can still be actively involved.
A Sense of Humor
Finally, a sense of humor is crucial to our working philosophy at HUCTW. Issues that affect our working lives are profoundly serious. But they need not, in all cases, be addressed in a similar manner. Serious matters can sometimes be powerfully addressed with satire and irony, and unexpected jollity can sometimes convey an important message both more widely and more forcefully than traditional protest (which is not to say there is no role for protests, rallies, informational pickets and other more traditional union tactics; we have used all these and will do so again if it suits our goals).
Who We Are: A Primer
The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers is 4,600+ Harvard employees of diverse ages, backgrounds, talents and opinions. It was voted in on May 17th, 1988 and is now a strong, innovative local union affiliated with AFSCME, a national union representing mostly public employees. Most overtime-eligible (‘non-exempt’) Harvard Staff who are not part of one of the service worker or specialized trade unions are included in our bargaining unit and are eligible to become Union members.