Waking the sleeping giants. All across the country,
college campuses are yawning and stretching, stirring
after a long dormant period. Students — ever the savvy
consumers — are objecting to their use as unwitting
pawns in the new exploitative global economy. Sit-ins and
teach-ins are in this spring, with students demanding that
universities investigate working conditions before signing
purchase contracts. Public accountability is the
watchword, and the main targets are lucrative contracts
for athletic clothing (with prominently displayed logos
providing free advertising) and college memorabilia.
The latest entry into the fray is the University of
Oregon where, the Eugene Register Guard reports, police
have arrested twelve protesting students, including the
student body vice president and next year’s
president-elect. Meanwhile, United
Students Against Sweatshops, an international
coordinating body that includes more than 100 campuses
among its members, is keeping a tally of schools that have
agreed to contracting codes of conduct. First on the list
was Oberlin, in May 1998. Others including Wisconsin,
Michigan, and California followed, usually in response to
well-organized pressure from their students.
Meanwhile, students at tiny Quaker-run Earlham College
in Richmond, Indiana have become active on two fronts.
They have joined forces with faculty and staff members to
obtain a living
wage for all Earlham employees. (In Richmond, it takes
a full-time income of $9.00/hour to keep a single-income
family above the poverty line.) Earlham’s employees
voice the aspirations of low-income workers in San
Francisco and throughout the rest of the country: "My
concern is to make a living wage so I don’t have to work
two jobs. I also see that we are not respected in
the eyes of management."
In addition, the students have discovered that their
college is linked to the wretched world of privatized
prisons through its food service, which is contracted to Sodexho
Marriott Services. Through a little digging, they
turned up a complex web of connections: SMS — which also
provides meals to a slew of other schools, including UC
Santa Cruz — is controlled by Sodexho
Alliance, the largest shareholder in the
Corporation of America. SMS’s contract with Earlham
is up for renewal. If these students have anything to say
about it, the college will find another purveyor. They’ve
already begun to make their
position known: A recent email says, "On Tues.
April 4th, in solidarity with National Student-Labor Day
of Action, we organized a boycott against Sodexho.
Supported by Student Government, we encouraged students to
pledge to skip all their cafeteria meals, especially
lunch, during which we provided free pizza on our Quad.
There were less than 100 people in the cafeteria during
lunch. We deemed it a success."