Today at twelve-noon, twelve USC students entered the USC adminstrative offices (in the Bovard Auditorium building) to bring their protest against their school's ties to sweatshops directly to the attention of University President Steven Sample.
For the past two years the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) has sought direct dialogue with the schools administration over the sweatshop issue, but have consistently been stonewalled. With workers suffering because of USC's unwillingness to listen to its students, twelve activists decided they couldn't sit and wait any longer.
Once inside the waiting area of the President's office, the students (who were accompanied by four legal observers and around eight members of the media) were informed by office workers that President Sample was in a meeting and would not meet with them. The USC Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) was also present, standing guard outside the President's door. The students then sat down in the hallway outside the President's office; and when asked by the DPS how long they attended to wait there, the students replied, "we'll stay here as long as it takes." And one student added, "speaking on behalf of SCALE, we refuse to leave."
For the next hour or so, the students remained in the hallway, speaking with the media, waiting for President Sample to finish with his meeting.
The press release prepared by SCALE before the demonstration succinctly articulated the students position:
"Students Occupy President Sample's Office to Protest USC's Ties to Sweatshops!!!
Twelve students are set to take over and occupy President Sample's office today, in the culmination of a three-year campaign to rid the campus bookstore of clothes manufactured under sweatshop conditions bearing the university's name and logo.
Despite years of student-organized protests, demonstrations, debates and talks, USC has failed to join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), the only effective labor monitoring organization that fights sweatshop conditions globally. Ninety-five other universities across the country have already joined the WRC, but USC's adminstration has been reluctant to take meaningful action to ensure clothing bearing USC's name are manufactured sweat-free.
'This is the final straw,' says Alex Tarr, coordinator for SCALE, 'it's time that USC join the WRC. We have hundreds of petition signatures, urging USC to join; we've talked, we've debated, we've waited for the university to take a stand. Enough is enough.' The Student Senate passed a resolution supporting joining the WRC, and even considered fundraising to cover the 00/year cost, but the USC administration has ignored the students voice.
The students' demands are simple:
- Join the WRC;
- Disclose the factory locations where USC apparel is manufactured, and disclose the details of the Nike contract.
Twelve students will enter the administrative offices today at 12:00pm today. A rally at the center of campus will follow. Marvin Vargas, who has been involved in the anti-sweatshop campaign since his freshman year, put it succinctly, 'We want to see USC take a stand against sweatshops, and we aren't coming out till they do.'"
[At the end of the press release the following website was suggested for more information about SCALE: www-scf.usc.edu/~scale]
Indeed! So after the students were in the hallway outside President Sample's office for around an hour, the door finally opened, and out came President Sample along with two other men, all of whom were escorted by four policemen. As he passed, USC President Sample said nothing (not a single word, so far as I could tell) to the USC students, who were crowded in the hall outside his office for the expressed reason of speaking with him.
After President Sample and his entourage had passed, the students remained in the hall for about fifteen minutes until one of then actually tried handle to the Presidents office (the PDS had abandoned its station, immediately outside the office, when the President left). The door opened. Within 30 seconds, the students had all entered the President's office along with three legal observers. Before the media contingent could enter, however, two PDS officers had scurried to the door and prevented the journalists from entering.
For the next hone-and-a-half I waited along with my fellow journalists in the reception area, hoping to get word from the students inside the Presidents office; but none came. So I went outside where the rally in support of the demonstrators was gaining momentum and the SCALE activists there were in contact with students inside Sample's office.
As word came that the administration was in negotiation with the students, the rally swelled to about 200 supporters; who then marched around the back and side of Bovard to where they were immediately outside Sample's office, chanting slogans in support of the students and against sweatshop exploitation.
Slogans written in chalk covered the pavement, and banners hung from trees, surrounded Bovard declaring:
- The Students Are Talking, Why Won't You Listen?
- Stop Sweatshop Labor Join the WRC
- People Over Profits
- What's So Bad About Freedom and Justice! Listen to Us!
- Listen to Student Voices: Make Our Clothes Sweatshop Free!
- Be a Real Contrarian Support Workers Rights
- University of Sweatshop Clothing
- We Don't Listen To Our Students at USC
Then, finally, after hours of tense negotiations, word came that the university was willing to make an important concession rather than face the prospect of growing student pressure that would inevitably come with either a prolonged sit-in or with arrests -- the administration promised to consider and come to a decision by May 9th as to whether it would join the WRC.
Around 6:00pm the student demonstrators emerged victorious and were surrounded by their jubilent supporters.