rn: Student activism is back


Jan Slakov

Date: Wed, 24 May 2000 22:03:50 -0700
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Student Activism Is Back

Wednesday, May 24, 2000 in the Miami Herald

                 Student Activism Is Back
                 by Peter Dreier and Frances Fox Piven

                 If you're going to a graduation this season, you will see 
more than caps and gowns. You will
                 see placards, too. Student activism is back.

                 Forty years after black and white college students 
organized the lunch-counter sit-ins that
                 helped jump start the civil-rights movement, another 
generation of student activists is
                 mobilizing to challenge widening economic inequalities at 
home and abroad.

                 In the last three months alone, students at Johns Hopkins, 
Tulane, Yale, Purdue,
                 Macalaster, Wesleyan, Harvard, Pomona and the universities 
of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin,
                 Michigan, Oregon, Arizona and Iowa have launched hunger 
strikes and engaged in civil

                 They demand living wages for the university employees who 
serve their food and clean their
                 dorms. And they demand decent pay and working conditions 
for the Third World workers
                 who make their college T-shirts and sweatshirts.

                 The $2.5 billion collegiate licensing industry has 
galvanized much of this activism. Major
                 companies such as Nike, Gear and Champion pay universities 
sizable royalties for the right
                 to use the campus logo on caps, sweatshirts, uniforms and 
other items. The companies
                 typically contract with clothing factories in Mexico, 
Central America and Asia. Many use
                 child labor, pay below-subsistence wages and discriminate 
against women.

                 They often keep workers in line with intimidation and 
violence. Two years ago, campus
                 groups formed United Students Against Sweatshops to 
protest these practices. The group
                 now has chapters at almost 200 colleges. And university 
administrators are responding.

                 Last year more than 200 campuses adopted codes of conduct 
that the apparel companies
                 must follow. The codes require companies to pay their 
workers a living wage (adjusted for
                 local living costs), to disclose the names and address of 
all the factories that produce the
                 goods and to allow colleges to verify compliance.

                 The big remaining problem is verification. Student 
activists insist on finding an effective
                 monitoring system before clothing is granted a ``no 
sweat'' seal of approval. The apparel
                 companies wanted universities to join the Fair Labor 
Association, an industry-sponsored
                 self-policing system.

                 But the students are demanding that their universities 
join the Workers Rights Consortium
                 instead, because this organization relies on human-rights 
groups to monitor the factories.

                 The strategy already has struck a nerve at Nike, the 
largest collegiate licensing firm. After
                 the University of Oregon joined the Workers Rights 
Consortium in response to student
                 pressure, Phil Knight, CEO of the Oregon-based firm, 
withdrew a $30 million gift to renovate
                 his alma mater's athletic stadium.

                 According to The Detroit News, Nike also broke off 
negotiations with the University of
                 Michigan for a gift of $22 million to $26 million after 
that school joined the consortium.

                 But students are acting locally as well as globally. They 
are protesting working conditions
                 on their own campuses. At the University of Illinois and 
the State University of New York at
                 Albany, demonstrators focused on the right of graduate 
students -- who now do much of the
                 teaching at universities -- to unionize.

                 At the University of Michigan, students demonstrated 
against racial biases in hiring and
                 teaching practices. Student protesters at Wesleyan, 
Harvard and Pomona called for their
                 institutions to pay janitors, food-service workers and 
other employees a living wage.

                 Campus activists have earned an A in citizenship. Their 
activism gives them the experience
                 that they can carry with them into future work with unions 
and in community, environmental,
                 human-rights and public-interest movements.

                 At a time when the press and the pundits lament the apathy 
of the American public, these
                 students are acting with hope and optimism on America's 
democratic promise. They are a
                 force for change that this country sorely needs.

                 Peter Dreier is professor of politics and director of the 
public-policy program at Occidental
                 College in Los Angeles. Frances Fox Piven is professor of 
political science at the City
                 University of New York Graduate Center.

                                        ©2000 Knight Ridder/Tribune