Workers, Students Unite vs. U. of Maryland’s Racist, Sexist Abuse

COLLEGE PARK, MD July 15 — University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) workers and students are fighting serious abuses against campus workers in facilities, grounds and housekeeping services. Workers describe working there as being on a plantation.

Managers harass and demean workers, using racist and ethnic slurs against black, white and Latino workers. They sexually harass and assault many of the Latina housekeepers. The managers treat workers unequally, increase their workloads, pass them over for promotions, deny them professional development opportunities and write them up when they are sick. When workers file complaints, they get extra work or are moved to a different zone.

The Black Faculty and Student Association (BFSA) along with AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) 1072 compiled workers’  experiences into a 56-page report and met with the university president in May.  More than that, BFSA organized workers, students, alumni and community residents to rally. After two months, the president’s office only responded: “Thank you for your concern.  We are looking into it.” But the workers refused to give up.

On July 15th workers, students, and community residents attended the 4th forum to testify, offer support and organize. The power and energy were clear. Latino, black and white workers all spoke in solidarity with one another:

“You — my black, white and Latino brothers and sisters — are my family. The administration makes you invisible, but you keep this place running.

“We look out for one another. Don’t go to management.”

A PL’er emphasized that “fighting racism is the most important thing you can do to stay strong,” and reminded everyone that in the ‘60s, students and workers were able to shut down that very campus.

The evening’s translator made sure everything was clear in both English and Spanish. Male workers and students again and again expressed their outrage about the sexual abuse of their female co-workers. Three workers from American University also attended, saying that they also are experiencing much of the same on their campus.

Several speakers talked about this struggle in the context of broader anti-racist and anti-sexist fights, and some people attacked capitalism as the root cause. Everyone understood that the university is a business, driven by profits. It wants to make as much money as possible off its facilities workers who keep the buildings running, its students who have to pay rising tuition and its faculty and graduate students who bring the research grants and do the classroom labor.

Those known to have spoken out have experienced retaliation: receiving more work, being moved and having co-workers told not to speak to them. But they are not backing down, and they have strong support from a coalition of other campus employees, students and the community. The students are very serious and engaged. A student leader of a women’s organization spoke about actions they have already taken, including leafleting in one administrator’s neighborhood and letting people know their neighbor is covering up for racist and sexist managers.

Future Plans

Campus workers continue to speak out and organize in spite of retaliation. Following their leadership, students and alumni are organizing further actions, including leafleting at Obama’s Town Hall meeting on campus, information pickets outside the University and a rally at the first football home game of the year. In a show of solidarity, students will walk the halls at 5 am when housekeepers are most vulnerable, to show support and to observe any abuses.

The unity among campus workers and the strong support from students is vital in this struggle. Regardless of the University’s response, it will not eliminate the power of the University managers, President Loh, and the Board to exploit and control workers. We must unite, neither on the basis of race nor sex, but under one working class, one party.For that, Progressive Labor Party invites readers to engage in discussions about the need for communism to build a society free of racism and the oppression of women workers.J

Contact if you’d like to discuss these ideas and get involved.

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