New group concerned about workers’ rights

A new Northwestern student group wants to take the sweatshop out of college sweat suits.

Northwestern Students Against Sweatshops, a satellite group of Peace Project, held its first organizational meeting Wednesday night. About 40 people attended the meeting, which featured appearances by anti-sweatshop protesters from the University of Wisconsin and Northern Illinois University.

NSAS organizers said their immediate goal is to bring NU into the Worker Rights Consortium, a student-worker alliance group that promotes better working conditions for makers of university apparel.

“We want to get the word out about what the WRC is about,” said Desiree Evans, an NSAS organizer. “A lot of attention came with the sit-ins, so this is a national trend. We saw an opportunity to bring attention to the issue.”

Following major student protests, several universities joined the WRC, including Brown University, the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois.

Protests such as a February sit-in at the University of Wisconsin — in which 54 people were arrested — have brought anti-sweatshop agitation into the public consciousness, NSAS organizers said.

Though the group plans to start with small actions, such as a vigil Friday for Purdue University students on an anti-sweatshop hunger strike, NSAS organizers said they are not ruling out major protest actions similar to those at Wisconsin.

“You reach a point where it’s inevitable,” said Evans, a Medill freshman. “That comes once you’ve started with the administration and not gotten anywhere.”

Wisconsin senior Brendan O’Sullivan, a former NU student who participated in the sit-in, told the group that he and several other members of the Alliance for Democracy chained their necks together with bicycle U-locks to prevent efforts to end the sit-in.

O’Sullivan said confrontation with administrators helped students win their goals, saying channels such as student government were ineffective.

“If you’re getting on a committee and something goes wrong, don’t try to fix it,” O’Sullivan said. “Be antagonistic. Get your demands heard.”

Members of the Northern Coalition for Peace and Justice, a human rights organization at Northern Illinois University, also spoke about agitating for the WRC. The coalition convinced the NIU administration to sign on to the WRC after threatening campus protests.

“I agree that agitation can be a success,” said C.J. Grimes, a member of the coalition. “Hard-assing the administration can be a great thing, but it’s got to come at the right time.”

Students at the meeting said they are concerned about labor conditions for makers of university apparel.

“A lot of (colleges’) apparel is made in sweatshops, and I don’t think a college’s apparel should be made in sub-standard conditions,” said McCormick freshman Jonathan Fallon.

NSAS organizers said they plan to raise students’ awareness of workers’ rights concerns. Once students become aware of the situation with university apparel, they will demand a change, said NSAS organizer Peter Micek.

“If we can let people know our stance, we can get the university’s attention,” Micek said.