NEWARK – This was nothing new for Larry Hamm (pictured, below).
The longtime activist was right at home Monday addressing a few hundred striking Rutgers University employees and sympathetic students on the school’s Newark campus.
“You’re fighting for workers throughout the state of New Jersey, ” Hamm told the crowd. He said if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be supporting the workers.
Earlier, strikers and supporters marched around the campus, a noisy procession punctuated by homemade drums – a trash can and a tree branch – and repeated chants like this one:
“Rutgers is for education. We are not a corporation.”
Such protests were held on all ends of the state.
In addition to Newark, the university has a campus in Camden and the main campus in New Brunswick
Officially, three unions are on strike, all of which represent various members of the faculty.
The unions say there are many issues.
They include paying adjunct or part-time professors the same as full-timers, a salary increase, better job security, more affordable health insurance and “equity” for the Newark and Camden campuses.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of things, speakers complained about what they said was a general inequity in how the university operates, meaning that revenue does not filter down to average instructors and other employees.
Some strikers shrugged – a bit disgustedly – when the millions of dollars paid to football coach Greg Schiano and his staff was noted.
Jonathan Holloway, the university president, was ridiculed as an out-of-touch leader who likes to quote MLK without really knowing what the quotes mean.
As you can see, fierce rhetoric at such events is common and this one was right in line.
Kevin Keogan, an adjunct professor of sociology, said current pay levels for part-timers is “just a way to exploit us.” Keogan was banging on one of those homemade drums.
A few minutes later, the main rally took place. It was held – appropriately – in front of a college center named for Paul Robeson, a former Rutgers athlete, actor and civil rights leader.
Speaker Soili Smith, a graduate assistant, said strikers all over New Jersey were showing the world they know how to fight for workers.
How long these rallies will go on is anybody’s guess. Strikers and their supporters vowed to press on as long as necessary.
On Sunday, Phil Murphy asked both sides to come to his office and negotiate a settlement.
Proving that local politics never goes away, another speaker was Bob Russo, a councilman in Montclair.
Russo took the mostly young crowd back more than 50 years when he said he spent 15 days in jail after being arrested for his participation in a Newark teachers’ strike in 1970.
Perhaps galvanized by the enthusiasm of the crowd, Russo also said he planned to run for mayor of Montclair next year. It was an odd place to announce a mayoral run, but as we said, it was a large crowd.