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UE Backs Students
Fighting Sweatshop
Conditions World-Wide


University of Wisconsin students protesting the use of sweatshop labor in the production of university-licensed clothing had UE-backing during their demonstration — and when the university administration had them forcibly evicted and dragged off to jail.

Nationally, collegiate licensed clothing is a $2.3 billion a year industry. Students have taken the lead in insisting that products sold by universities not be produced by sweatshop labor.

Sharp disagreement has arisen over how universities should monitor and enforce the codes of conduct manufacturers are supposed to follow. Students around the country are expressing their opposition to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a flawed, corporate-controlled factory monitoring system, and instead are calling for participation in the Worker Rights Consortium.

Last month, students at the University of Pennsylvania convinced the administration — after a nine-day occupation of College Hall — that U Penn should become the first university to publicly withdraw from the FLA. E-mails to the university president from labor and student groups, and the announcement that students at more than 60 universities had begun a 48-hour fast for worker rights, made the difference.


"The Fair Labor Association was never designed to correct sweatshop abuses," said Emily Quesada, a Penn freshman. "It was created as a way for the industry to correct its image."

At the University of Wisconsin, three students resigned from a joint student-administrative advisory board when the university refused to accept the committee’s recommendation that it withdraw from the Fair Labor Association and affiliate with the Workers Rights Consortium.

A sit-in began in a UW building Feb. 16. Under orders from Chancellor Ward, students engaged in the peaceful protest were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct.

"It was a shock to me that Ward would take this action," commented Tom Dunne, UE Local 1172. The worker from Everbrite in Milwaukee addressed a campus rally on Feb. 20, along with students, union and political leaders. "These students were peacefully assembled, and it seems to me that it would have been to Ward’s advantage to downplay the whole situation. He had made some concessions, and was in fact making progress, although he had not made the full commitment to the WRC. Ultimately it was a power trip on his part. To go so overboard by sending police in with riot gear and gas masks was outrageous. They basically sent one cop in for every protester."


Dunne adds, "What I’m most impressed with, as far as the students are concerned, is their resolve to improve conditions for workers they’ve never met, in places many of them will never go. Their willingness to engage in direct action and civil disobedience on behalf of sweatshop workers is an inspiration. Their level of organization is just incredible."

The student protests, and the university’s response, was noticed in Pittsburgh. In a letter published in the Madison Capital Times on Feb. 23, UE’s national officers declared: "We applaud the commitment of the University of Wisconsin-Madison students to ensure that workers throughout the world have the right to receive a living wage and the freedom to organize and bargain collectively with their employer through unions chosen and led by the workers themselves. We also condemn the university’s unwarranted and provocative action in arresting students who were engaged in a peaceful protest."

The National union sent a message directly to Chancellor Ward, urging him to drop charges against the students and align UW with the Worker Rights Consortium.

UE News - 03/00

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