Along with many student activists in United States universities in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the University of Buffalo Students Against Sweatshops (UBSAS) ran a campaign to pressure their university to join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). After years of student protests and demonstrations, the University of Buffalo (UB) announced that they would join WRC and the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The group of student activists feared that their university’s decision to also join the corporate-sponsored FLA would compromise the efforts and aims of workers’ rights groups.
In 1999, Students at Bucknell University formed a group called the Bucknell Caucus for Economic Justice (BCEJ). They took on research and conducted interviews to demonstrate the inferior conditions under which staff at Bucknell worked. In their research, the BCEJ consulted with the staff members at Bucknell University and discovered many incidents in which managers and supervisors infringed upon the rights of the staff members, often those in the lowest wage bracket.
In 1934 it had been a successful year for strikes in Milwaukee, which emboldened retail clerks at Sears, Roebuck and Company, and the Boston Store to demand higher wages. At the time most clerks earned below $14 a week, which they called “starvation wages.”
Beginning in the 1970s anti-apartheid campaigns in the United States began to gain momentum as the governmental situation in South Africa grew increasingly worse. Across many fields there was a push to divest from South Africa in order to make the point that the United States did not support the actions of the South African government. The belief was that if the South African government was not receiving the large amounts of financial support that it did from the United States it would be forced to change its behavior.
This campaign was part of a greater movement of international opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. The divestment from South Africa was advocated in the United States in the 1960s, but support for divestiture did not reach full scale until the 1980s. The Stanford student solidarity sit-in campaign of 1977 came early on in the rise of this economic pressure.
Walpole was a maximum-security prison in South Walpole, Massachusetts. The campaign by prisoners under the National Prisoners Reform Association (NPRA) to take control of Walpole Prison, with support from citizen observers, formed part of a larger movement of opposition to cruelties of the prison system. At the time, prison abolition was on the agenda in U.S. society as an idea to consider. A 1971 prisoner takeover at Attica Prison acted as a lightning bolt by showing the horror of the prison yard. The NPRA emerged on a national level in this context.
Walpole was a maximum-security prison in South Walpole, Massachusetts. The Observer Program’s campaign to bring civilian volunteers into Walpole Prison formed part of a larger movement of opposition to cruelties of the prison system. It also coincided with, and helped to support, a campaign by inmates at Walpole under a local chapter of the National Prisoners Reform Association (NPRA) to take control of the prison. Read about the prisoners’ nonviolent campaign in this database: “U.S. prisoners take control of Walpole Prison, 1973”.
Mississippi catfish plant workers win wage increase and better working conditions in Indianola, 1991
Indianola, Mississippi is home to the Delta Pride catfish factory. Although Mississippi is among the poorest states in the US, catfish farming accounts for $350 million a year and is the state's largest agricultural industry. Owned by a cooperative of 400-500 white landowners, massive tracts of land in the Mississippi River Delta are artificially flooded to create ponds conducive to farming and processing catfish. While truck drivers and loaders tend to be African American men, most line workers are African American women, often single heads of households.
Beginning in 1948, the white “apartheid” government of South Africa forced the black majority to live as second-class citizens, condemned to poverty and restricted in their freedoms by a system of legalized oppression. On the other side of the globe, in the 1970s, progressive activists in the United States found themselves absent a cause after the end of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War. The blatant atrocity of apartheid seemed a good target. Activists realized that American corporations were supporting the apartheid regime by operating subsidiaries in South Afric
In 2000, students at the University of California-Berkeley began to consider the use of divestment as a means of showing their dismay with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. On February 6, 2001, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) formed and officially launched their campaign for divestment from corporations that supported the Israeli occupation. The group’s decision to launch a divestment campaign inspired colleges and universities nation wide to launch their own campaigns.
On August 3, 1981, nearly 13,000 of the 17,500 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), a United States trade union, staged a walkout and strike. The union intended the strike to address four main concerns:
On 10 April 1606, King James I of England approved a royal charter establishing the Virginia Company of London. The aim of the company was to found North American colonial settlements with the purpose of providing a profit for its English investors. The next year, an expedition funded by the company established Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.
African American auto workers strike for union democracy and better working conditions (DRUM), 1968-1970
Detroit, Michigan had long served as a world center for auto manufacturing. A number of U.S. automobile manufacturers centered their operations in the city, including Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. For decades, as well, the city was a center of racial conflict in the country. Following World War II, a number of white soldiers had returned to Detroit to find their manufacturing jobs “taken” by women and, more so, African American men. A number of Black workers were forced out of their jobs, though many remained.
Activism against militarism in the toy industry began in the 1920s with groups such as Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the New York-based Women’s Peace Society. These groups aimed to induce the public and leaders of the toy industry to re-conceptualize their ideas of childhood and toys. They believed that childhood is the most malleable time in a child’s life where their conceptions of violence and peacemaking are formed. War toys normalize violence for children.
Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) formed at Georgetown University in 1996
to support workers' rights. In the fall
of 2001, a group of students, headed by the GSC, formed the Living Wage
Coalition (LWC) in order to guarantee University workers an income to meet their
subsistence needs. The students held meetings on how to take action and organized
breakfast events with workers to hear their grievances and concerns. By 2002, the administration agreed to raise
the minimum wage of workers directly employed by the university to $10.25 per
Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had long been respected as an institution with a strong commitment to social justice. While the College had pioneered such practices as co-education and comprehensive financial aid, by 2000 many College staff—including those in the environmental and dining services departments—were paid just above poverty levels for Delaware County, where the College and the majority of its workers reside. In the fall of 2000, a group of students began to talk with staff about the College’s employment practices.
The Wal-Mart distribution center in Elwood, Illinois, is one of the five largest in the country. Wal-Mart’s goods are imported here, shipped to smaller centers, and then sent to individual stores. However, many people who worked in the distribution centers were hired through employment contractors and were kept at “temporary” employee status, depriving them of benefits and higher pay, even if they had worked the same job for years. Conditions inside the warehouses were often unsafe and many workers experienced wage theft and discrimination by employers.
According to the 1900 U.S. Census, at the turn of the century 26% of males and 10% of females between the ages of 10 and 15 were gainfully employed, for a total of approximately 1.75 million child laborers. In states like Alabama, the official percentage of male child labor was close to 60%. Moreover, a contemporary New York Times article reported that due to deliberate employer underestimation, the number of child workers was most likely between 2 and 3 million.
The Jim Crow laws had been in full effect for quite some time before the 1950s era of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The city, like most cities in the South, had laws regarding racial segregation. A major aspect of the city’s laws was the seating policy on the city’s buses. Black residents were restricted to sitting in a designated “colored section” located at the back of the bus while the front of the bus was reserved for white passengers. Over two-thirds of the buses’ passengers were black and consequently, many blacks stood up on the bus while empty seats were available in front of them.
In 1957 A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin initiated a campaign to pressure the U.S. government to intervene for the civil rights of African Americans.
Randolph, 68, was the acknowledged “elder” among civil rights leaders, with a base in the labor movement. Rustin, 57, was a veteran civil rights and peace activist who had coached Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant has been running since 1972 in its home of Vernon, Vermont. Vermont Yankee was born at a time when environmentalists were cracking down on nuclear power. In between the 1970’s and 1990’s, numerous protests took place all across the country against the manufacturing and maintaining of nuclear power facilities. Activists were further ignited by the detrimental accident at Three Mile Island 1979, which marked the worst nuclear meltdown in US history.
Editor's Note: We recognize that the inclusion of this case in a database of nonviolent action may be controversial because of the campaigner violence at certain points during the campaign. However, we have concluded that the campaigner violence was minimal under the circumstances. We also believe that the inclusion of this largely nonviolent campaign will offer strategic lessons on the use of nonviolence in similar struggles. Many prisoners campaigns in this database have been focused around the method of the hunger strike.
Chestertown, situated in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, was one of the few northern parts of the U.S. still segregated in the early 1960s. Most African Americans could not vote. Only three black students were enrolled in the local Washington College. Moreover, the only school in Chestertown that accepted black students from the 1st grade to 12th was the Garnett School.
Like students at many other colleges and universities at the turn of the millennium, students at Macalester College began to react against sweatshop and anti-union corporations that supplied the school store with apparel in 2000. Inspired by student activism at Duke University the previous year and a highly publicized sit-in at the University of Pennsylvania the previous month, Macalester students escalated their campaign on Monday morning, March 6, with a sit-in on the steps of the President’s office.
Johns Hopkins University community demand a living wage for campus and health system employees, 1996-2000
In December 1994, the city of Baltimore passed a city ordinance mandating that employees of companies receiving city contracts be paid a living wage (defined as a wage that keeps a family of four above the federally determined poverty level adjusted yearly for cost of living increases and inflation).