Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the Decade part 7

So the decade is almost over.  How do you feel?  I feel pretty darn good if I do say so myself.  Life is good and the future is bright, in fact hold on a second...

I had to run to the other room to grab my shades, that's how bright it is in here. But I suppose I should stop boring you with my grand illuminescence (Illuminescence is not a word in Webster's dictionary but definitely is a word in the urban dictionary). So let's get on with the next best of the decade entry, shall we?

Best victory connected to a protest in which I didn't realize how tremendous the victory was until almost a decade later: Sweat Free SUNY Demonstration at University of Albany 2000 and the Workers at the Russell Athletic Factory Winning Their Jobs Back 2009

Back in 2000 I was one of 17 students arrested at a demonstration at the University of Albany.  The purpose of the demo was to demand that the University stop selling clothes, with the school logo, that were made in sweatshops.  We also wanted the University to allow the food and service workers on campus to organize a union.  To accomplish this goal several students entered the Presidents Office and refused to leave.  The rest of us stood outside in support of their efforts.  At the end of the day they were arrested.  Than some mayhem broke out and to make a long story short, a bunch more students were arrested, including me.  The chaos took place in front of several news cameras and it became a national story.

The University was flooded with letters.  Soon afterwards the U Albany administration recongized the union for the campus workers and agreed to adopt a code-of-conduct that would ban University Apparel from being made in sweatshops. They dragged their feet on the second part but eventually followed through and created a "Statement of Principles for Workers Rights"   The Albany District Attorney also dropped all of the charges on the students (myself included) that had been arrested.  It seemed like a pretty decent victory.  The University made the policy changes we demanded, the campus workers were allowed to unionize and none of us had to go to jail.  It sounds pretty succesful doesn't it?  But to be honest I think some of us wondered how much of a difference this really made.  I can say I had my doubts.

Than fast forward to January of this year when Russell Athletic closed a plant in Honduras because many of the workers attempted to join a union.  The closing left 1200 people without jobs.  As a result, sweat free organizers began a national campaign to force Russell Athletic to re-open the plant.  They convinced 90 universities around the country to discontinue their contracts with Russell Athletic.  One of those schools was none other than the University of Albany.  They had to cancel the contract because Russel Athletics' actions now violated University Policy.   This forced Russell Athletic to re-open it's plant in Honduras and re-hire all of the workers, allow them to unionize, and agree not to block seven other Honduran Plants, operated by Russell, from unionizing.  Now that, my friends, is a victory.  

Of course the University of Albany demonstration that I was involved in was not the primary reason for this victory.  But that demo prompted more actions just like it across the country.  It was an important piece in a unified struggle to utilize our privileges as students and consumers to take a stand against the vicious abuses of the apparel industry.  And this holiday season, a whole lot of workers can sleep easier because of the support we've given them.  This victory belongs to the workers more than anyone else.  They've sacrificed so much more than I could possibly imagine, in the name of justice, dignity and respect. (Check out a slideshow of workers attending an assembly meeting right here.) It is an honor to have any role that could assist them.  Their example is one of true rebellion.  Hopefully our humble work has been an example of true support.

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