By ADAM RITSCHER
On Feb. 26, over 60 militant students staged a march at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill demanding that their school’s chancellor come out firmly against hiring contractors that employ sweatshop labor.
The march was organized by a student organization called Students for Economic Justice, and was one of a series of campus anti-sweatshop protests that have taken place across the country the last several weeks.
At Duke University, George Town University, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, students occupied prominent buildings on their campus and refused to move until campus administrators agreed to their demands.
The demands centered mainly on forcing universities to adopt comprehensive policy statements requiring all contractors that the school might hire to produce clothing and apparel to be able to verify, including through inspections, that their plants pay their workers a living wage and meet at least basic standards of workplace safety and working conditions.
Ben Manski of the Alliance for Democracy at UW-Madison said of the protest at that campus: “The time to act is now. We’ve seen nothing but placation on the part of UW administration on this issue. The University of Wisconsin needs to take a stand against sweatshops and that means paying apparel workers a living wage.”
The issue of the increased use of sweatshops is one that has been receiving more and more attention as cases of workers being forced to work long hard hours for slave wages- producing goods that are in turn sold in U.S. and European markets for astronomical prices.
Nike, Guess, Tommy Hillfinger, and Walmart are just a few of the companies that have been exposed as selling goods produced in sweatshops. And the specter of sweatshops is no longer seen as one that is exclusive to Third World countries either.
A number of such outfits have been discovered in the United States in places like New York City and Los Angeles, where newly arrived immigrants often are tricked or forced into what is hard not to call chattel slavery.
The anti-sweatshop movement, and these recent protests in particular, represent a growing concern on college campuses around human rights and working-class issues.
What is causing this was illustrated by Levi Strauss’s announcement at the same time these protests were taking place that the company will lay off 5000 workers. Their jobs will be transferred to countries that have poorly paid workforces and impotent labor movements-which their brutal capitalist governments guarantee.
This concern that students have is an important step for young activists to become involved in the fight for workers’ power and for a society in which people’s needs come before profits.