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Anti-Sweatshop Students @ Macalester Win Victory!

On Monday morning, March 6, a determined group of about 30 students at Macalester College converged on front steps of the campus administration building, and then proceeded to occupy the front part of the building. This occupation was part of a ongoing campaign by students concerned over Macalester's association with textile companies that use sweatshops.

Their campaign was part of a national surge of student activism demanding an end to the use of sweatshop labor in the manufacture of college apparel-a multi-million-dollar business.

Macalester College, located in St. Paul, Minn., has long been noted as hotbed of student activism. The occupation of March 6 dramatically confirmed this. Students took turns occupying the building, making sure that there was a sizable group present around the clock.

Organizers also went to great lengths to ensure that their protest was a peaceful one, and that no drugs, alcohol, or anything illegal was allowed in the "Liberated Zone," giving the administration no opportunity to break up the protest.

The student protesters made three demands on the administration: (1) that no punishment be dealt to the protesters, (2) that Macalester College withdraw from the Fair Labor Association (the FLA, a phony "watchgroup" set up by the sweatshop operators to monitor themselves), and (3) that the college instead join the Workers Rights Consortium, a sweatshop watchgroup made up of labor organizations.

The college conceded two of the demands from the start-to not punish the protesters and to join the Workers Rights Consortium. It refused to leave the FLA though. In an attempt to diffuse the protest, the administration stated that it would consider doing so, but that it would not come to a decision until this summer.

The students responded admirably to this threat though, organizing a number of community rallies on campus in which various labor unions, community groups, and churches were invited. Notable support was received from the Teamsters Union and the Evangelical Church of America.

At the same time that this was going on, the protesters were doing everything they could to reach out to every student on campus to win their support, and a debate on the whole question raged within the pages of the student newspaper.

In the end, by showing their determination and by mobilizing broad support, Macalester College was forced to cave in and agree to withdraw from the FLA. The occupation has gone on for 11 days.

Youth for Socialist Action salutes the students of Macalester College, as well as the students across the country that have taken on their colleges and universities on this issue. We stand for a movement to end exploitation of workers everywhere, from Haiti to the United States, and are determined to build a movement that raises the bar for workers everywhere!

The above article was written by Adam Ritscher, and appeared in the April, 2000 issue of Socialist Action newspaper.

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