Monday, October 6, 2003

Miami recalls strike of 1970

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - Now in its second week, the walkout by union food service, custodial and maintenance workers is Miami University's first such labor strike. But it is far less intense than a strike that hit this college town in 1970.

That student strike, over the Vietnam War and concerns over racial equality in enrollment, came during a time of protest across the country. That protest strike saw tear gas, a firebombing, mass disruptions and a shut-down campus.

"There has never been a prior strike of this nature at the university," former university president Phillip Shriver said, referring to the current strike by roughly 860 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 209. "Our strike was much different, a protest against the war and a demand for more minority students."

On April 15, 1970, students occupied Rowan Hall, the headquarters of ROTC at the time. After several hours of negotiation, Ohio State Highway Patrol officers used tear gas to disperse students, arresting about 180 people thereand around the campus.

Tensions ran high the next day, with National Guard troops stationed just to the west of town and then-Gov. James Rhodes visiting.

However, when rain forced a noon rally indoors, it was Shriver who calmed the crowd, talking to the roughly 4,500 gathered there.

But protests continued, with students donning armbands and trying to disrupt food deliveries. Students also held a "flush-in," running showers and sinks and flushing toilets at two synchronized times.

Things began to quiet on the campus, but with the May 4 shootings of four students at Kent State, protests erupted again. Shriver canceled class the following day. A firebomb exploded outside of Rowan Hall the next day and several other fires followed.

"We had our own tent city back then," Shriver said, referring to labor activists now camped out in front of Miami's administration building.

"It was at the edge of campus, filled with students from other universities that had already shut down due to unrest. Most of the fires were a product of these non-Miami students."

The campus was closed until May 18, but Shriver continued to make himself available to students. He stood in front of Lewis Place, the president's home. One evening, he talked to a crowd of students gathered in Uptown Oxford at midnight.

The protests subsided by the time the university reopened, and students finished out the rest of the academic term, with many believing the campus was held together by Shriver.

"By talking to the crowds ... (Shriver) once more had cooled off a potentially explosive situation," one university report on the protestssays. "By his presence and willingness to listen."



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