Student Labor Solidarity Achieving Results, Undergrad Version

The contemporary labor movement is diverse. We include factory and construction workers, as well as service sector, low-wage, and immigrant workers. We include professionals like doctors, nurses, lawyers, and dentists (many of whom are in unions affiliated with our own AFT). We include academic workers like professors, researchers, support staff, post-docs, and grad student workers (most of whom are affiliated with AFT as well). Today, we are even more cognizant of the students, especially undergraduates, who are part of a new generation of labor activists.

For about 15 years, student-labor activists have created a movement to stand up for worker justice, leading the way in the fight against sweatshops, supporting blue-collar and technical workers on campuses, and educating a generation who has grown up largely without strong union identification. One of the pioneers of the student-labor movement got its start at UW-Madison, much like our own TAA (the nation’s first grad student worker union in 1969). SLAC, or the Student Labor Action Coalition, was the first chapter of USAS, United Students Against Sweatshops, a nationwide student-labor solidarity coalition.

The student-labor and anti-sweatshop movement have achieved major victories over the years, especially in the way of ending relationships between the universities these students attend and apparel licensees that sell campus clothing with university logos. This has greatly affected the sweatshop industry globally.

SLAC has won major victories at UW-Madison that range from ending contracts with egregious sweatshop licensee violators to getting the UW to join a nationwide university consortium against sweatshops to simply having a shared governance committee on-campus that oversees UW licenses for apparel.

This week, SLAC and its broader movement won a huge victory. As the New York Times reported licensee Russell Athletic reversed course and re-opened a factory it had shut down after workers there unionized to stand up for their rights and interests. This happened because universities like the UW either cut their contracts with Russell or threatened to do so if the company did not clean up its act. These universities only acted because of the organizing and action of groups like SLAC and other USAS chapters. Because SLAC got the Russell contract with UW cut previously, this allows Russell to re-apply for a contract with our university. They can only do so by continuing its newfound commitment to recognizing the necessities of worker justice in their factories worldwide.

The success of SLAC and the student-labor movement should hearten other labor activists, union members, and all of academic labor. Our struggles and our collective action can and does have an impact. We are always happy to call SLAC an ally of ours on the UW campus and we congratulate them on their latest major victory.