Since its founding in 1859, Cooper Union had operated as a tuition-free art, architecture, and engineering school. However, after years of financial troubles, the College announced on 24 April 2012 that it would begin charging graduate students tuition beginning in the fall of 2014. Large numbers of students, faculty, and alumni strongly opposed this announcement; many blamed the shortfall on poor management of the endowment, expensive building construction, and over-reliance on poorly performing hedge fund investments.
In the fall of 2009, the University of California Board of Regents met at UCLA to discuss and vote for a tuition hike necessary for them to deal with shrinking budget and spending cuts across the board. The Universities’ budget deficits were associated with those troubling the state of California. The proposed increase in tuition of 32% would force annual tuition costs above $10,000 for the first time in history.
In June of 1973, workers at the Brookside coal mine in Harlan County, Kentucky voted 113-55 to replace their membership in the Southern Labor Union (SLU) and join the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union. The SLU was largely seen as serving the interests of the mine owners rather than the workers.
The owners of the mine, Eastover Coal Company, a subsidiary of Duke Power Company, refused to sign the new contracts, which would have established a UMWA local in Brookside.
Unemployed Detroit auto workers conduct Hunger March to protest Ford Motor Company's policies, United States, 1932
During the Great Depression, Detroit, Michigan, and its auto-industry suffered an exceptional amount. After the stock market crash of 1929, around 80 percent of the industry was no longer producing and by 1932 large numbers of Detroit's citizens were dying of starvation. The Ford Motor Company, one of the richest employers, had laid off two-thirds of its employees. The Unemployed Councils, United Auto Workers, and communist union-organizing groups decided to organize a march against the Ford Motor Company and its employment policies.
In the early twentieth century, Kansas was the third largest coal producing state in the United States, with more than 8,000 unionized miners concentrated in the two southwestern counties of Crawford and Cherokee. In January 1920, the Kansas legislature had established a board of compulsory arbitration, known as the Kansas Industrial Court, which banned strikes against unfair labor practices and working conditions.
In 2006, University of Virginia students launched an intensive campaign to raise minimum wages at their institution. Discontented with the minimum $9.37 an hour, these students urged the school’s administration to provide fairer wages, wages that they determined to start at $10.27 an hour.
Formed in 1995, the WTO serves as an organization that facilitates trade amongst 123 nations. The first major protest against the WTO occurred in 1999 in Seattle, Washington. United States citizens were protesting the WTO’s ministerial conference because they claimed that the WTO was breaking down nation states’ sovereignty. Specifically they were concerned with workers’ rights and the concept of the “race to the bottom”, in which countries companies compete to pay their employees the lowest wages, resulting in massive employee exploitation.
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.
In the wake of economic depression in 1893, George Pullman, Illinois businessman and inventor of the sleeping railway car, sought to cut costs in his company town outside of Chicago. Mr. Pullman fired approximately one third of his workers, and reduced remaining wages by over 25 percent. He refused to decrease housing and food prices in the town.
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.
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.
A union presence among the 17,000 wool and silk factory workers in and around Passaic, NJ in late 1925 and early 1926 was almost nonexistent. The United Textile Workers (UTW), an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), had tried to organize the workers in the past but had had no success. The management of the mills used the fact that the workers were largely immigrants from many different countries to their advantage and suppressed union support.
On February 12, 1968, sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, began a labor strike to protest unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and the city’s refusal to recognize their sanitation workers union.
Before the grape strike in 1965, the average annual income
of a California farmworker was less than $1,400. In addition, variations in
weather or market patterns could lessen this amount. Working conditions were
also poor, as many workers did not have access to a sufficient amount of food
or sanitary facilities.
Around the turn of the 20th century, employment agencies, or, as they were known to many workers, “job sharks” had a monopoly on casual laborer in the American West. Industries such as mining and agriculture would contract labor out to an agency, which would “buy out” job applicants and take a sizable cut of what would otherwise have been workers’ wages.
When the San Francisco Bay based Lucky Sewing Co. filed for bankruptcy in May of 1992, they laid off twelve Chinese immigrant women whom they owed $15,000 in back wages. The company’s attorney claimed that they had few assets and there was no money to pay the seamstresses. Lucky Sewing Co. and other garment contractors imposed terrible conditions on workers who were often paid less than the $4.25 minimum wage.
The 13 English colonies in North America were established and grew during the 17th and 18th centuries. During most of this time, the colonists lived under what historians have termed “salutary neglect,” meaning that the English government mostly left them alone and the colonies prospered under these conditions.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) formed the Local 399 shortly after World War II. The Local 399 was a labor union for janitors which had reached its peak in the 1970s, but was struggling in the 1980s. During this time, the Local 399 fought for higher wages for its members, which motivated cleaning contractors to invest in nonunion options. The cleaning industry was extremely competitive at the time and as a result of this emphasis on nonunion cleaners, membership in the Local 399 had fallen from approximately 5,000 members to only 1,800.
In 1984, South Africa was ruled by an increasingly brutal and repressive regime under Prime Minister Pieter Botha, a strong supporter of apartheid, a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government under which the rights of the majority black inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by whites was maintained. In response to increased anti-apartheid protest in 1984, the Botha regime repressed political dissent with increasing brutality. In November of that year, Ronald Reagan had been reelected as President of the United States.
At the turn of the century, student groups on college campuses across the country began campaigns to push university administrations to hold their apparel suppliers accountable to fair labor practices. Many students had realized that many of the licenses that their schools had with large clothing companies included those that relied on sweatshop labor for production.
The student-led Yale Divestment Campaign that began in 1985 sought to pressure the Yale administration into withdrawing its shares in companies that operated in apartheid South Africa. Although in 1978 the administration had incorporated the Sullivan Principles (an ethical purchasing guideline) into its purchasing policies, application of these principles was slow.
Native Americans have long had to fight with the American government for recognition of their rights to land and to resources. Fishing rights were, however, one of the few rights Native Americans of Washington State thought they had secured. In 1853, Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest were stripped of most of their land and resources and forced onto reservations.
The mass demonstrations of 1963 in Durham were the culmination of a local black freedom movement that had slowly gained momentum over the preceding years. Durham had been the site of a thwarted sit-in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor in 1957, limited desegregation of schools, and the long-standing lunch-counter sit-ins in 1960 (see “Durham students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”). Throughout the next few years, civil rights activists continued to attack segregation in theaters, schools, motels, and restaurants as well as demand increased employment opportunities for blacks.
Cambridge, a small city in Eastern Shore Maryland, was racially divided in 1960 between African Americans and European Americans. Unemployment rates for African Americans were quadruple those of white people and segregation was pervasive in public and private spaces alike.
The San Francisco general strike grew out of a coast-wide maritime strike in which ports up and down the west coast of the United States were closed by striking workers. While there were complaints about wages and working conditions, the strikers (headed by the International Longshoremen’s Association) were committed to workplace democracy, calling for worker control of unions and hiring and a coast-wide industrial organization inclusive of unskilled workers, skilled workers, and workers of all races and nationalities.