UE Backs Students
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.
FLA: FIXING IMAGES — NOT ABUSES
"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
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
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
The National union sent a message directly to Chancellor Ward,
urging him to drop charges against the students and align UW with the Worker
UE News - 03/00