Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On Bill and Hillary Clinton’s First Date in 1971, They Crossed a Picket Line

We both had wanted to see a Mark Rothko exhibit at the Yale Art Gallery but, because of a labor dispute, some of the university's buildings, including the museum, were closed. As Bill and I walked by, he decided he could get us in if we offered to pick up the litter that had accumulated in the gallery's courtyard. Watching him talk our way in was the first time I saw his persuasiveness in action... Hillary Clinton, 2003 memoir Living History
Zach Schwartz-Weinstein, In These Times with a fascinating analysis of the first couple's first date:
The “labor dispute,” not even named here as a strike, is not only abstracted from the very spaces the future Clintons inhabit in this narrative, it is made incidental to them, an obstacle which has to be sidestepped.....

The relationship between Rodham and Clinton, two instrumental figures in the decoupling of the Democratic Party from the priorities of the mainstream labor movement, thus began with the crossing of a picket line.....

When Rodham and Clinton picked up the garbage strewn about the art gallery courtyard (if, indeed, they ever did so), they were doing exactly what everyone from Vincent Sirabella to the Black Student Alliance at Yale had asked students not to do: they were performing—or at the very least offering to perform—the work that members of Local 35’s Grounds Maintenance division, had refused.
Rodham and Clinton were offering themselves as replacement labor, blunting, if only temporarily, the effects of the strike on the university. The two law students then bartered their litter pickup, which was, in essence, scab labor (or maybe just the promise thereof) into access to a struck building.

The art gallery and other nonessential buildings were closed because the university did not have enough managers to keep them open during the strike. They were closed because the people who usually cleaned and repaired them, whose labor helped make the university’s display of art possible, had been forced to absent themselves by the necessity which fueled the ongoing strike.

Excerpted and adapted from Beneath the University: Service Workers and the University-Hospital City, an unpublished Ph.D. dissertation


  1. I'm pretty sure my mother, with me in tow, brought coffee to the workers on one of the picket lines, probably on Tower Parkway, during that strike.



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