Stanford Students Hold Hunger Strike for a Living Wage

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 3:54 PM EDT

If you are a regular reader of Mother Jones you know that we love activism from the college kids. We've done thirteen annual campus activism roundups, the most recent of which can be found here.

Well, we're in for a doozy. Four Stanford students are beginning a hunger strike tonight in an effort to win a living wage for Stanford's workers.

This is well-tread ground. Living wages for kitchen staff, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, and construction workers is often a contentious issue on college campuses, with students and workers fighting for a livable wage and administrators resisting, then frequently adopting more economically just policies in fits and starts.

That's certainly the case at Stanford. In the winter and spring of 2003, workers and students rallied for a living wage and President John L. Hennessy appeared to cave by agreeing to a living wage with certain restrictions. In time it became clear that those restrictions excluded enough Stanford workers to render the policy meaningless, and in May 2003 students fasted for a week until Hennessy agreed to appoint a commission to examine the issue.

In June 2004, the commission recommended striking down five of Hennessy's seven restrictions and said, "If Stanford University operates a "living wage" policy, it should not attach so many conditions to its applicability that it has the effect of excusing many Contracted workers from that policy. A "living wage" policy that appends a string of conditions creates inequities among similar workers and risks giving the unfortunate impression that Stanford's employment policies do not really mean what they are proclaimed to be." Hennessy agreed to consider and possibly adopt the commission's recommendations.

Almost three years later nothing has happened and student activists say they are back at "square one." Thus, another fast. Their demand: "That the living wage be expanded to apply to all campus workers regardless of the dollar value of employee contract; duration of employment; amount of hours worked per week; union membership status; and worksite location." You can learn more about the group holding the hunger strike, and its demands, at this website.

The students can thank Stanford for wireless internet at least, and while they are occupying a public space on Stanford's campus and refusing to imbibe, they will be filing regular dispatches for Mother Jones. Think of it as activism in action. Check the Mother Jones homepage over the next few days for regular updates.

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