In March, SOLR is founded because Northwestern is switching food service providers from Sodexo and Aramark to Compass Group. SOLR canvassed, wrote a petition, and met with admin to ensure a smooth transition for workers.
SOLR raises over $2500 to provide transportation for workers during the polar vortex. In February, SOLR writes a petition demanding Compass end unfair treatment for workers, which received over 650 signatures of support from the Northwestern community.
Workers’ contract with Compass Group expires, and the workers’ union, Unite HERE Local 1, begins negotiations for a living wage and health insurance.
SOLR uses leftover funds from our polar vortex fundraising to make care packages for workers. We also begin to lay the groundwork for a living wage campaign.
Northwestern closes campus and abandons workers. Despite promising to pay workers the wages they would’ve received over spring quarter, workers never get paid. We set up our mutual aid fund for workers, which is entirely reliant on community donations. We met workers’ needs based on how much money we’ve raised and how much they need. There is no application; they just give us their phone number and way they want to receive money and we send them money.
Northwestern permanently lays off 230 workers who had been temporarily laid off since March. Workers are told their health insurance coverage will end on September 30. Workers are supported by community donations through this time.
SOLR continues distributing to workers through our mutual aid fund. We hold several tabling events, in which community resources such as clothing, PPE, household supplies, and groceries were redistributed to workers. We release a second petition demanding that the University and Compass support workers through the pandemic, which is ignored. SOLR also leads a protest in collaboration with NU Community Not Cops (NUCNC)
SOLR works with Unite HERE Local 1 to organize student support at a rally on Northwestern’s campus and increase local media coverage.
A third petition is released, demanding that NU and Compass meet workers’ demands for a living wage and guaranteed health insurance. When unionized workers authorize a strike after negotiations stall, SOLR prepares for a possible strike. We plan a student ally meeting with union representatives, use our social media to advocate for workers and increase community support, distribute “I ♡ Campus Workers” buttons, host a dialogue between a Compass employee and students, and prepare picket signs. In October, workers finally won their contract with Compass Group.
What is May Day vs. Labor Day?
May Day or International Workers’ Day is observed in many countries on May 1st, and is rooted the historical fight for workers’ rights. Labor Day is celebrated the first Monday of every September to honor workers and is primarily celebrated in the U.S.
While some cultures celebrate May Day as the first day of summer, it has a different meaning for the labor movement. May 1st was designated in 1889 in Paris by the Second International—a federation of trade unions and socialist parties—as a day for the workers of the world to organize and fight for the 8-hour work day. This decision was greatly inspired by a general strike for the same demand in the US in 1886 when over 300,000 workers across the country went on strike on May 1st. The Second International also called for May Day to honor the “Haymarket Martyrs” [see below].
On the other hand, Labor Day in America may have been rooted in celebration, but it has also been upheld throughout history in order to divert attention away from the mass labor organizing that occurs on May Day. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a national public holiday at the same time federal troops in Chicago were brutally crushing the Pullman Strike in Chicago that had been inspired by May Day. In 1905 the American Federation of Labor disavowed May Day to limit the strike movement, and in 1958 Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to reinvent May Day to reduce its influence by declaring May 1st “Law Day,” to celebrate the importance of law in the creation of the U.S.
How is Northwestern implicated?
The event that guaranteed May Day’s place in history took place three days after the 1886 May Day strikes at Haymarket Square Chicago. On May 4th, a demonstration at Haymarket Square was called to protest a deadly attack by police on a meeting of striking workers that killed 6 of them and wounded many. At the May 4th demonstration, a bomb ended up being launched into the police lines. Eight men were arrested and though the trial produced no evidence against them, seven of them were sentenced to death. This widely known injustice was cited as a primary reason to celebrate May Day.
The company that had sent the police to attack striking workers, which led to the Haymarket Affair, was the McCormick Reaper Works, managed by Cyrus McCormick Jr. Essentially it was the egregious labor practices of one of the school’s most prominent namesakes–McCormick of the McCormick School of Engineering, etc.–that inspired the official declaration of May Day. Northwestern’s history is directly connected to the fight for better working conditions, and our community has an important role to play in supporting workers’ rights!