The Hunger Strike Ends: The Struggle Continues
13 days ago, we started with 12 students hunger striking to draw attention to the need for a living wage at the University of Virginia. Through snow, through rain, through thunder and lightning, through pangs of hunger, through exhaustion, through opposition and discouragement, through hours of meetings and rally speeches, we have made our voices heard. In the past 13 days, 14 UVa students and recent grads joined the original 12, bringing the total to 26 student strikers. Over 75 members of the UVa and Charlottesville communities joined in solidarity fasts, including members of the UVa NAACP chapter, the Black Student Alliance, the Latino Student Alliance, Queer and Allied Activists, and a student at Monticello High School. Students from Georgetown, from UNC, from William and Mary, and from the University of Miami have shown support through fasting, vigils, and statements of solidarity. We can’t even list all the individuals and groups who gave this campaign the momentum it needed to engage the entire UVa community, the Charlottesville community, the UVa administration, and the local, regional, and national news media.
To all those who have supported us, we express our deepest thanks. You have been heard. We have been heard. Today, after 13 days, we announce the end of the hunger strike. But let us be very clear: this is the end of this strike, but it is not the end of the struggle. We are energized, we are organized, and we remain, as we have been for the past 13 days, and the past 14 years, hungry but hopeful for justice and a living wage here at the University of Virginia.
The Living Wage Campaign declares our action an enormous victory. Here’s a short list of what we’ve accomplished: first, the administration was forced to send two emails to some 40,000 people responding explicitly on our campaign. We’ve met with them twice on short notice in the last week. We have brought an unprecedented level of attention on grounds, in the state of Virginia, and indeed in the nation, to the issue of fair wages at UVA. We have educated this campus and the broader community, and shown that UVA students care deeply about the issue of how employees are treated. Every member of the BOV, and top administration figures, got literally thousands of emails supporting us—we know this for a fact. We have also received the support of thousands of people in the form of letters, petitions, donations, and calls. We have focused the attention and support of at least two major unions, the AFL-CIO and SEIU, on labor issues on our campus.
Perhaps as importantly, we have inspired campus-based Living Wage campaigns across the south, especially in other right-to-work states, and we have given them a tremendous base of research and strategy documents to work with. When 30 Harvard students occupied their administration building for a month fighting for a Living Wage, they emerged with exactly what we have won: a commitment from the administration to audit contractors, to examine the university’s labor practices, and to prioritize the lowest-paid employees—and to make all this information public. Harvard’s campaign built on this same exact leverage to win an unprecedented living wage that included contract employees, and this is exactly what we will do. We have utter confidence that this action has laid the groundwork for an indexed living wage, that includes contract employees, in the very near future. We will not rest, indeed we will escalate, until this happens.
The fight for a Living Wage at this University is not over. This is still a place where workers are forced to work 2 and 3 jobs to keep food on the table. A place where the concept of a “caring community” does not extend to those whose labor makes this institution possible. A place where equal work does NOT mean equal pay and contracted employees are consistently underpaid, exploited, and ignored. The University has thoroughly and consistently abdicated responsibility towards its workers. Until this problem is rectified and all workers are paid a living wage, WE WILL NOT STOP.
The resistance of the University administration has only strengthened our resolve and determination. The victories we have achieved are significant ones and have set the stage for tomorrow’s work. We’ve established a nationwide media presence; forced the administration to recognize the low-wage crisis; and built a network of activists and union support across the South and the entire nation. These things have made us stronger than we have ever been before and there has never been an opportunity for change like the one that faces us now. All of us together, working at this University now under national scrutiny, are organized. We are outraged. And our Campaign is ready to escalate.
So to this administration, which has so far failed to provide moral leadership to our University, we have only this to say: get ready, because we are already here. We will hold you accountable for your promises. This spring, we will be organizing teach-ins to train and educate people on this issue. We call on all people of conscience to come and learn more, and to get involved. We never thought this struggle would end quickly and the plan for our next steps is what it has always been: organize, escalate and fight.