Why I’m Fasting

Eight members of UNITE HERE Local 33, the new union representing some graduate student teachers at Yale, announced Tuesday that they have launched a hunger strike to try to convince the university to negotiate a first contract. One of the eight, union Chair Aaron Greenberg (who’s also a Wooster Square alder), offers his reasons in the following article. Click here and here for background on both sides of the dispute.

There comes a moment in the life of a struggle when the participants realize they must take a risk. They must risk ridicule, incomprehension, and anger. They must risk, at some level, themselves: to achieve their goals, they have to abandon their ordinary routines, to violate expectations about what is normal, to call the question so that it must finally be resolved.

A movement that seeks not just to make a point, but to win a true change, always comes up against this requirement. Then you either abandon your ideals or you put yourself on the line. This is the moment Martin Luther King, Jr. described when he wrote that he was “not afraid of the word ‘tension.’” King explained that his campaign sought “to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

This is what we did yesterday in Local 33 when we began our fast. We have explored every formal means of resolving our dispute with the university. We asked Yale to agree voluntarily to fair conditions for an election. They refused. We filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board; Yale not only opposed them, but opposed our very right to file petitions. When the Board granted us elections, Yale tried to have them canceled. When we won, Yale generated more legal disputes. The university now wants to stall us to death, to have us wait until a Trump administration undoes our progress along with that of millions of other working people. We will not wait.

While we have gone down every avenue, the university has maintained one position. It’s the position President Richard Levin took in the 1990s when he said that he would rather shut Yale down than negotiate with us. After NYU recognized its union, an administrator at that institution marveled in 2003 that Yale’s leaders, in contrast, “seem willing to burn down their campus over this issue.”

So let’s not have any mistakes about what Yale means when they say they “respect the process” of the law. The university seeks to use the Trump presidency to disenfranchise us. It’s the dynamic Dr. King described when he wrote, “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’” We know our movement is not the Civil Rights Movement, but the tactics of the powerful do not change.

Still, we recognize this move. We recognize it from being told again and again that things will improve soon if we just wait a little longer. Every graduate student has been told that the job market is finally picking up, just hang on. We’ve all heard Yale say that the administration is finally going to take action to diversify the campus—just give them a couple more years. After each new sexual-harassment scandal, we learn that Yale has known about the situation for years but didn’t want to act too rashly. When they cut our pay in 2015, it was called the aftereffect of the 2008 crash—just wait for the endowment to recover fully.

We’ve waited and waited and waited. We’ve waited while our ambitions go up in smoke, while our friends are humiliated and pushed out of the university, while our bank accounts are drained, our debts accumulate, our grievances are ignored. We’ve watched our whole generation of scholars lose faith, retreat, or work themselves into the ground. We have all lost colleagues to depression, harassment, discrimination, and economic hardship.

It’s enough. We’re taking it onto our own hands. For every further day that Yale wants us to wait, administrators are going to have to watch as members of their own community refuse food.

We understand that we will be questioned for this. We understand that we’ll face incomprehension, mockery, and anger. That’s fine. It’s part of any process of change—there are always those who believe in the goal but not enough to support the measures necessary to win it.

What we also understand is that universities—Yale, and the rest of academia—cannot go on this way. The election of Donald Trump has brought a long, slow crisis of the university to a head, and Yale must now make an active decision about whether it wants to live in Trump’s world or ours.

We know it isn’t in the character of the institution to make the right choice on its own. But we also know that a moment like this is when new things happen, when hope emerges out of crisis. We’re proud to be the ones taking the risk this process requires. We hope you’ll come talk to us as we fast and hear why each of us, individually, has decided to go down this path.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: JohnTulin on April 26, 2017  8:23am

Gandhi, Bobby Sands….and this guy?  Gimmie a break.  And to compare your ‘struggle’ to that of MLK’s, in any way, is comical.  Time to leave the bubble, Mr. Greenburg, and go experience a real struggle.

posted by: jim1 on April 26, 2017  8:49am

This will make Yale sit up and take notice!!!!!!!!!!!! They could care less.  LESS MEALS THEY HAVE TO PAY FOR. And if you get to thin they will replace you, with a fat person===

posted by: DemoTape on April 26, 2017  8:52am

Sorry, this just is tone-deaf and opportunistic. While I generally sympathize with their argument, acts such as this are very off-putting and dramatic. I hope they have the good sense to realize there are better ways to get their point across.

posted by: Philippe Egalité on April 26, 2017  9:15am

If I’m not mistaken, Greenberg is an alder in Wooster Square.

JohnTulin - did you even read the piece? There is an explicit recognition that the stakes here are not that African-Americans faced during the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, what you are really suggesting is that people should just acquiesce to the relentless corporatization of our lives and the commoditization of our existences if we are not part of the wealthy elite oligarchy. No thank you. As a long-time veteran of the corporate world, I can tell you now that that is not the way forward for anyone.

I’m not particularly invested in this strategy, but the issues being expressed here are real. That you would dismiss Yale’s exploitation of labor, dismissal and/or outright ignoring of sexual harassment by faculty and staff, and refusal to abide by a lawful election in suggesting that these are not ‘real struggles’ suggests that you could stand to leave *your* bubble.

posted by: OneCityManyDreams on April 26, 2017  10:48am

Kudos to these brave people.  They have my support.  They are up against a Giant with money and privilege. They are the brave finding a voice in silence.  Yale is an ancient form of benevolence layered around the cloak of education and tax policy.  Long live the men behind the gates of faint heart and timid minds. They will fail.  They will never understand the definition of courage. Yale has none.

posted by: William Kurtz on April 26, 2017  10:54am

“They must risk ridicule, incomprehension, and anger. They must risk, at some level, themselves: to achieve their goals, they have to abandon their ordinary routines, to violate expectations about what is normal, to call the question so that it must finally be resolved.”


Perhaps Mr. Tulin could tackle the ‘real struggle’ of at least spelling Mr. Greenberg’s name correctly.

posted by: DRAD on April 26, 2017  11:16am

Perhaps the students in the many departments that ‘Local 33’ disenfranchised should also fast until the unions allow them the right to have their voices heard.  When will the many graduate students who have been ignored by ‘Local 33’ be given their right to vote on union membership?

“In a statement, Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley said the election results ‘demonstrate the extent of graduate student division on the question of unionization. . .The union lost one of its own hand-picked departments, and failed to clearly win two others, with opposition spread across the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities,’ Cooley said. ‘The slim margins of victory and very low vote counts in many departments only underscore the concerns many have voiced that a small number of students could be in the position to decide such an important question for everyone.’

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 26, 2017  11:31am

If you don’t like the water, don’t swim in the pool.

posted by: Renewhavener on April 26, 2017  11:56am

“We will not wait.”

This is the quintessence of the issue, as expressed in prior comments, this manifest “need” for instant gratification from an incipient and overly privileged group: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/local_33_grad/

It is bad enough that you recognize almost no value in the golden ticket you were handed upon acceptance to Yale.  Confoundingly, you continue to wail, stamp your feet and hold your breath all because you want the goose that lays the golden egg now.  In your martyrdom you have achieved the physical incarnation of Veruca Salt!

Call it mockery if it fuels you Mr. Greenberg.  For those with a perspective, born out over time, you and your antics amount to nothing more than an ongoing and absolute disgrace to all those who have come before you and to those who have truly suffered.

posted by: Westville voter on April 26, 2017  12:24pm

Don’t these people have dissertations to write? If they find their generously funded graduate school existence too oppressive, they should finish their degrees and get on with their lives.

posted by: Wooster Squared on April 26, 2017  12:26pm

If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that Aaron Greenberg was a mole hired by the CT Republicans to make the unions look out of touch.

posted by: robn on April 26, 2017  12:35pm

Fast away. UNITE is doing to Yale grad students what it did to the New Haven citizenry; using strategic partitioning of voting blocks to try and get control for the purpose of self enrichment.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on April 26, 2017  3:20pm


Looks like my last post didn’t make the cut.

it seems privilege has a new face! Compared to the Palestinian prisoners, these dieters truly know how to get things DONE! YALE is looking more and more like a zoo of feral entitles bubble dwellers and this university system NEEDS to do something! 

A great read on this subject:

posted by: Statestreeter on April 26, 2017  3:21pm

I always find it insulting when a bunch of spoiled liberal elites attempt to connect any of their so called struggles, even subtlety, to that of black America or any truly oppressed people.  “[W]hile our bank accounts are drained”?  Are you guys serious?  What about all the other students at Yale who aren’t on the universities payroll?  Uber and other forms of student type employment doesn’t pay as good as you have it. You want to equate Yales position to the election of a fool like Trump even when you state that this was the universities position since the early 90s.

You see in your pathetic attempt to compare your so called struggle to that of any real struggle shows how out of touch you are and your ever present but subtle racism.

You have an option. It’s called going on strike. Remember you’ll graduate and go on to bigger and better things and sit around the cocktail table and amuse your friends with your stories of grief. Meanwhile everyone who is black today will be black forever and the truly oppressed only get diluted by your ignorance.

Go on strike and really show them how much your worth. Or maybe it will show how much your not.  But please stop pretending your some type of victim. You can leave when ever you want. You’re not at Long Kesh.  Think about that when your tipping the dominos guy when no one is looking. Pathetic.

posted by: jbc3 on April 26, 2017  4:25pm

“They must risk, at some level, themselves: to achieve their goals, they have to abandon their ordinary routines, to violate expectations about what is normal, to call the question so that it must finally be resolved.”

If you want to risk yourself, why don’t you just quit your PhD program? I do believe there needs to be better compensation and access to services for PhD students, but this fast is just more obfuscating and theatrics to distract from the real issue that a select number of students want to claim they represent the views of the others.

For those outside the Yale community, please be aware that the vote used to legitimize this union was gerrymandered by department to purposefully disenfranchise certain students. You should be embarrassed and ridiculed, Greenberg. Not because you are “risking yourself”  for your fellow students, but because you’re not.

posted by: TheMadcap on April 26, 2017  8:23pm

My god you people are bitter

posted by: robn on April 27, 2017  5:59am


My God, you UNITE people are tonedeaf.

posted by: 1644 on April 27, 2017  10:11am

These folks have stated that they will not risk their health, so that pretty much leaves ridicule and a healthy weight loss as the results this fast ( photographs show many of these past their expiration date students with encroaching middle-aged spreads.). I do wonder how much closer Greenberg would be to graduation if he had applied himself to his thesis rather than unionizing and local politics.

posted by: teresamatrix on April 27, 2017  10:50am

I’m a level-headed Yale graduate student and I would not want these people to bargain on my behalf. There are some real reasons to be suspicious that UNITE has the best interest of graduate students in mind. See http://www.gasocommunity.com

posted by: TheMadcap on April 27, 2017  10:52am

First off, im not UNITE, I’m UFCW, secondly, I’m not tone deaf, i know this tone exactly. It’s the tone that happens whenever we threaten a strike, “oh, you low skill plebs should be happy you have a job at all” “paid vacation? I dont get a paid vacation”  “ill gladly break your strikeline and smile at the scabs now in the store because how dare you inconvenience my shopping” “Get a real job”

posted by: robn on April 27, 2017  3:55pm


The UFCW contract I just looked at gives four weeks paid vacation.

posted by: TheMadcap on April 27, 2017  4:32pm

In my shop it takes 12 years to get 4 years, but we do get paid vacation, more than many higher end professionals get, and every time we renew contract I hear people complain, “oh what are you guys complaining about, you idiots get 4 weeks vacation, i dont get that”
So yeah, I’m tired if bitter people complaining about others trying to improve their workplace

posted by: Bwopen on April 28, 2017  12:14pm

I am not sure exactly what he is blaming trump for. Yale has been around over 300 years. Trump has been around 100 days. And he’s blaming trump for not being able to negotiate his union contract with Yale?Liberals have run American universities for decades,  indoctrinating their students with their liberal progressive agenda. Universities have never been blamed by liberal politicians for their exorbitant tuition hikes. But the Libs are all too happy to attack the banks that give the students the loans to pay for The outrageous tuitions. Yale should just “cancel”  this hunger strike, like they cancel speeches at Berkeley. Anyway, I think it’s silly, but go for it dude!

posted by: Bwopen on April 28, 2017  1:02pm

I am sure there are thousands and thousands of less privileged college students who are TRULY struggling to work and pay their way through college, scrapping and clawing their way for that degree so they may land a decent paying job and provide a good life for them and their families (if they choose that path).
Your plight does not seem so dire… Buckle down, stop acting the the World, or Yale, owes you anything, get your friggin’ degree, then move on with your career, where I’m sure you will continue to complain about how unfair life is for you. Ahhh, the entitlement generation.. Don’t you have a Thesis or something to be working on? You shouldn’t have so much time to relax with your friends outside.

posted by: HailHailXoltar on April 28, 2017  5:05pm

The hilarious thing about this so-called “hunger strike” by this so called “brave” bunch of people? It isn’t really a hunger strike! They can eat whenever they want to!


posted by: budman on April 30, 2017  11:18am

And here is further proof that this board of aldermen have their own self serving interests at play, rather than that of the people of this city.  Sad.