Walter Johnson is the Winthrop Professor of History and a professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard. (January 2020)


How Harvard Aims to Muzzle Unions

Striking graduate students marching in Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Mass., December 3, 2019

Eight days into the graduate students’ strike, Harvard’s administration made perhaps its most disturbing and potentially far-reaching move: it attempted to make employment conditional on non-participation in strike action. This procedure, by which the employer predicates employment on a worker’s non-participation in union membership or strike action, has a long history. It is called a “yellow dog contract” because only a scared worker (a “yellow dog”) will sign one, and fear is what it aims to induce. Harvard is attacking freedoms so basic that we have forgotten how hard-won they were. The defeat of the yellow dog contract was one of a handful of moments in the twentieth century that marked the arrival of a more fully realized democracy in modern America—alongside women’s suffrage and civil rights and voting rights legislation.