You’ve worked for many years
at Swarthmore. How did the Living Wage, in just the last few years,
become an important issue on campus?
The issues have always been there; it is just a matter of staff
being able to express themselves, to come forward and say what they
are thinking and having a unity to do that. There are no models
here for staff to come together on behalf of their own interests.
There’s no union to go to. There is just nothing there.
I think the one huge issue that has confronted people, including
myself, when they become involved in the campaign, is that the issues
are so complicated. It is so complicated. It has many variations
on a theme that keep confusing and muddling the waters constantly.
I think that muddling of the waters drives some students away, but
only a few, because there has been lots of student support. But
that mudding of the water makes this issue sometimes unclear to
people about what’s gong on. And when you have people of authority
also mudding the waters, it is like you are not able to
find yourself anywhere in the stream. You are just kind of washed
along with the current and you don’t know where you are going.
I think that is one of the difficulties of running a campaign is
that it is just so complicated. Then you mix in human emotions and
human foibles, and fear (mix in a good portion of fear), and-- wow.
In the beginning, it was very simple to get a living wage. When
we first started a campaign, the bottom wage on the published salary
schedule was the minimum-wage. That’s what we were starting
with at the bottom rungs of the ladder. We looked at that and said,
“How could anybody live on that wage?” So we did a lot
of investigating to find out to whom we pay five dollars an hour,
six dollars an hour, seven dollars an hour. What are we paying our
workers? So that took a lot of investigation and we found out pretty
much where people are on the scales. We did our research with the
Women’s Alternative Group’s figures, as well as with
what the Economic Policy Institute published. What we found was
it took $9.19/hour for an individual to live just above the poverty
line with no dependents-- and that’s just above the poverty
What do the students learn from
the Living Wage Campaign?
That has always been my primary objective in all this: to open
students' eyes to what is really happening at the place they go
to school; to see hat is really there, not what you see on the surface,
but what is really there. The other important thing is that I hope
they learned that this is their issue too. It doesn’t just
belong to staff, because someday the students are going to be out
in the workplace too. I hope that they can draw on what they saw
here and apply it to wherever they go. I hope that they have some
skills to start with, and they can understand why certain things
in their workplace are happening certain ways. They won’t
be starting from scratch, they’ll already know about how the
system works. It’s that quotation about one’s liberation
being tied to mine.
This also brings up why we included "democracy" in our
organization’s name ("Living
Wage and Democracy Campaign"). What would be really revolutionary
would be if the institution, Swarthmore College, were democratic,
rather than in the CEO or top-down management model. That’s
the one thing that the institution will get in trouble with in terms
of what learn in theory, and what is actually practiced. What is
practiced in business and in these institutions is basically a top-down
hierarchical form. It doesn’t model democracy in any shape
or form. It gives the appearance of democracy because there are
some meetings. Don’t take it from me; just interview anybody
whose been on meetings: they’ll say, “We met a lot,
but I’m not sure what the outcome was.”
One of the things we did in our investigation was to find out how
decisions were made. They’re basically made by the board and
the president. He takes all these things into consideration, but
basically it rests with his decision and the board. Basically, there
is no democracy. To me, that would be the ideal: a democratic workplace,
where people make decisions about their job, without the hierarchy
Do you have any advice for the
students working on Living Wage campaigns elsewhere?
I think the main lesson is that it is not fighting for the figures.
It is fighting for greater fairness and equality in our wage structure,
and truly valuing the contribution of every worker.
The other lesson I’ve learned is that the only way you’re
going to get a living wage is not through any kind of concessions
from the administration, but through the exertion of your own power
or influence. Don’t expect it to be handed down as a gift.
You have to get out there, you’ve got to agitate, you’ve
got to put it on the table, and you’ve got to advocate for
yourself. A lot of what we do in this campaign is educating, and
that takes a long time. It is true democracy, because you are trying
to educate people about what their rights are, about what you can
do, and about what you can do when you go out there. I don’t
know if there’s any venue in any of the educational institutions
that says, “Okay, how are you going to go out and fight for
The university only changes when people demand their rights, and
do so in a way that puts it out there for public attention. When
people come forward for their rights publicly, that’s when
the institution realizes that something’s going on here, and
that they better address it.