Students, workers organise after the battle of Seattle

Issue 

By Marina Carman

"The supposed invincibility of the free market and capitalism was dealt a big blow last December in Seattle as thousands of trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-sweatshop activists, students and others effectively shut down the World Trade Organisation for three days. But it's not just Seattle. Corporate globalisation and neo-liberalism is meeting resistance all around the world, from Indonesia and Mexico to right here in our own back yard."

So says part of the call for a conference, "Confronting globalisation: socialist activism into the 21st century". The conference, sponsored by the US socialist organisation Solidarity, will be held from March 10-12 at Ohio State University.

The conference will bring together student and labour activists and those campaigning against racism, police brutality and sexism. There have already been some interesting examples in the US this year of these struggles being linked.

Against sweatshops

Numerous student actions have been held in recent weeks to pressure universities to protect the rights of sweatshop workers.

Students are demanding that universities withdraw from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), the industry-controlled system of monitoring factories for sweatshop abuses. The students are calling on universities to instead join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a monitoring system drawn up by the national student organisation United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), with input from non-governmental organisations and from workers in the Third World.

On February 15, after occupying the outer office of the University of Pennsylvania president for nine days, Penn Students Against Sweatshops forced the university to withdraw from the FLA.

Prior to the sit-in, the group energetically built support on campus and forged alliances in the community. The Philadelphia city council passed a resolution urging schools in the area to withdraw from the FLA and to join the WRC.

The students also received support from around the country. Students at more than 60 college campuses participated in 48-hour solidarity fasts.

On February 14, Oberlin College committed to join the WRC. On February 16, Temple University announced that the school may have been "unwittingly compromised" by joining the FLA. The university has said it will withdraw if the FLA cannot satisfy the university's concerns by March 15.

Indiana University announced on February 18 that the college will join the WRC.

On February 18, following a 60-hour sit-in at the dean's office by Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the University of Michigan agreed to join the WRC.

At the University of Wisconsin on February 20, police arrested as many as 58 students and supporters, ending a four-day sit-in at the chancellor's office.

The university had agreed two days earlier that the university would join the WRC "on a conditional basis". Activists continued their sit-in to secure a solid commitment, and to pressure the university to address other demands.

USAS staff spokesperson Erik Brakken said, "The police raid has had the opposite of the administration's intended effect. Energy and commitment have skyrocketed. Over 150 people showed up to a press conference at the jail."

A "living wage"

A demonstration by 350 Johns Hopkins University students and local labour leaders on February 24 was held to demand that a "living wage" be paid to workers employed by independent contractors involved with the university.

The protest focused on a laundry company which has allegedly committed 100 Labor Board violations, including sexual harassment, racial discrimination, hazardous working conditions and the firing of pro-union workers.

More than 1000 workers at Hopkins are paid poverty wages. Many are employed through a subcontracting agency owned by Hopkins itself.

The Student-Labour Action Coalition has been pressuring the administration for three years to adopt a "living wage policy". A "living wage" is defined as a wage sufficient to keep a family above the federal poverty line.

[Based on information posted on Labor Alerts. To subscribe, visit the web site at <www.summersault.com/~agj/clr>. To contact Solidarity, e-mail <solidarity@igc.org> or visit the web site at <www.solidarity-us.org>.]