What is the Brandeis Leftist Union?
Brandeis Leftist Union, also known as the BLU, was formed in 2019, right before COVID-19 emerged, at Brandeis University by students who had previously been in Brandeis For Bernie, but who, even before the collapse of the Bernie Sanders campaign, were far to the left of the Sanders campaign and had a political vision beyond the election of Bernie Sanders. While we already had strong anti-imperialist, anti-colonial and Marxist leanings, events like the US-backed coup in Bolivia, the collapse of the Sanders campaign by a conspiracy of the Democratic Party apparatus, the public health disaster of COVID-19, virtual study groups during COVID and the revolutionary upsurge surrounding the George Floyd uprisings in 2020 brought our small nucleus together around firm principles of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, revolutionary feminism, and Marxism Leninism. We entered the school year of 2020 with a small nucleus of experienced and theoretically strong student revolutionaries and immediately began organizing virtual on-campus reading groups, as well as drawing students into local organizing with Waltham Food Not Bombs and local protests in Boston, both of which we still do now. We firmly believed, as we do now, that student revolutionaries must not restrict themselves to the campus and should instead act as revolutionary bridges to link campus struggle with generalized revolutionary struggle. During our first year of activity, 2020, due to the limitations of COVID our campus growth was relatively slow, but our core only grew more experienced with theory and protests. In 2021, as COVID restrictions lessened and the possibility of campus action re-emerged, our organization was finally able to begin action and organization on campus in a real way.
Since November 2021, Brandeis University has been rocked by labor struggle, so far defined by a victory by the students and workers. At the beginning of December 2021, Brandeis Leftist Union joined our library workers to rally for and win, a better contract from the University, and our dining workers through a petition and banner drop in challenging the University on their anti-union catering policy.
While library workers won a more favorable contract the University would not change its anti-union catering policy and further attacked workers by refusing to guarantee job security and union benefits with the change of dining vendors, leaving the possibility that with a change of the vendor, workers who had been at Brandeis for over two decades could lose their hard-won union benefits or even their jobs. With this offensive against campus labor and a refusal to entertain the demands of students, manifested in a petition by the Brandeis Leftist Union, it was decided that a joint student-worker action escalate, as the only thing the university, or any capitalist structure understands is force. As Chairman Mao said, “All reactionary things are the same, if you do not strike them, they will not fall!” Since the University would not take notice of our petitions and demands through the official email channels, we elected to deliver our petitions, with all their signatures, to the University officials who were, until then, allowed to hide behind their screens.
In typical cowardice and in testament to the truly useless nature of the leading University officials, neither University President Ron Lebowitz nor the Director of University Services, Jeffery Hershberger, were present in their offices at the time of the protest, the timing of which they were well aware of. Brandeis Leftist Union protest leaders used this absence as a point of agitation against the mixed student-worker crowd, saying, “Ron isn’t here. Because Ron is scared of workers and us students uniting, to make a university that pays its workers well. That actually operates on systems of social justice.” This rally would be followed by a joint action of a student sit-in and student-worker demonstration to end the sit-in with the administration. At this demonstration, rather than singularly focusing on the narrow concerns of wages and conditions, speeches and propaganda stressed this fight not only as a stage of workers' struggle, but as a fight that students have an interest in as we both advance together towards safety, security, and socialism, saying specifically, “When this struggle is won, we will continue to struggle and continue to win. Together we’ll win better housing for students, better wages and conditions for workers, free and accessible mental and physical healthcare for all community members, and eventually throw off the yoke of the capitalist university and seize it to be jointly run by students and workers, to build together not just a social justice university, but a socialist university.”
These demonstrations forced the University to accede to our demands and future weeks would be spent holding the administration to the fire with private meetings ensuring that the administration followed through on their promises.
With the start of the 2022 Fall Semester, the Brandeis Community was shocked to see the unjust firing of Kevintz, the only Black catering worker who was a friendly face to all on campus and an active organizer for workers during the struggle to restore catering rights and ensure a just dining vendor transition. In response to the unjust firing workers planned a labor delegation to demand that Harvest Table reinstate Kevintz. When the delegation could not locate Clayton in our upper campus dining hall and workers needed to return to their work, students went down to our lower campus dining hall to find Clayton and deliver our demands with their signatures. In the incident that followed Clayton would run away from students and use Harvest Table staff to stop the delivery of the petition and then called the campus police on BLU members acting in solidarity with the union. Luckily we were able to avoid campus police, but nonetheless, it was a scary experience for me and even more so for students of color.
While Kevintz's case of unjust firing has been taken up by the union which is currently in arbitration with Harvest Table, labor activism has not ceased, with workers being forced to call more labor delegations with management to receive basic things like vacation time that they have earned, as well as addressing basic acts of disrespect against workers and their union. BLU has been present at all of the delegations and has increasingly drawn more of the student body into active solidarity with workers despite the less-than-opportune timing of the delegations themselves. BLU also sought every institutional avenue to address the attempted use of police force against BLU activists as well as the university’s general lack of support for workers.
It is not merely enough for student revolutionaries to advocate a narrow program of better conditions for students or form themselves as a student solidarity wing to workers’ struggle. Student revolutionaries have an obligation to march alongside workers in their struggle, attempt to agitate along the lines of that struggle the necessity for a higher level of struggle, namely socialist revolution, and use the instances of support for workers to further educate students the correct methods of struggle. We have learned by standing with workers how to correctly fight the university, namely, to attack it directly, mobilizing students and workers through demonstrations and sit-ins, and around a clear and actionable minimum program.
Having attempted to bring about university solidarity with labor through every institutional channel as well as deal with other campus issues has forced us now this semester to strike directly at the university with a popular and unified minimum program that represents the needs of campus labor, nationally oppressed students, environmental and sustainability concerns, and the general needs of the student body around housing and campus healthcare. While we fight for these reforms to campus, we will not lose sight of the socialist horizon that can only be brought about by revolution and will play our part to use these reformist struggles to educate the student body about their solidarity with workers, the correct methods of struggle, their power and the need for socialism to fix these issues on a systemic level.
By Brandeis Leftist Union