In February of 1999, members of the Progressive Activist Network (PAN) at Penn joined with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) chapters at other Ivy League universities in an anti-sweatshop campaign by sending a joint letter to their university presidents. The letter requested a response by March 8, 1999, from University President Judith Rodin and seven other Ivy League university presidents, (excluding Dartmouth’s,) to four demands regarding the possible use of sweatshops in school-insignia apparel production.
In response to other universities’ anti-sweatshop protests, students at the University of Michigan formed SOLE, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality. Their goal was for the University of Michigan to require companies that made clothing for the school to disclose where their factories were located. Once this information was available, outside independent organizations could make sure that the factories were not sweatshops.
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.
In the mid 1950’s, segregation was widespread and legally enforced throughout the American south. Birmingham, Alabama was a hotspot of black activism in opposition to segregationist policies. Between December 26, 1956 and November 1958, Birmingham blacks, led by Fred Shuttlesworth and other black ministers, initiated a campaign against the legal segregation of Birmingham buses.
Jacksonville, Florida, in 1960 was a city with a population of about 372,600, located in the northeast corner of the state. Of that population, nearly 100,000, or 27%, were African Americans—one of the highest urban concentrations of African Americans in the South. However, despite this high population, a legal mandate segregated the lunch-counters of various downtown department stores. Mayor Haydon Burns endorsed the segregation, telling storeowners not to integrate, despite the fact that they were not all adverse to integration.
By the beginning of the 1960s the Civil Rights Movement had taken hold of the United States, where black Americans had been treated unjustly since they first arrived in the nation. During the Civil Rights Movement, black communities all throughout the US South rose up in protest against the segregationist policies that kept them in systematically separate and insufficient living arrangements, a world away from the “separate but equal” treatment promised them by the 14 amendment and its interpretation in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.
Starting in February of 1960, students began sit-ins in various stores in Nashville, Tennessee, with the goal of desegregation at lunch counters. Students from Fisk University, Baptist Theological Seminary, and Tennessee State University, mainly led by Diane Nash and John Lewis, began the campaign that became a successful component of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and was influential in later campaigns.
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States gained momentum in the 1960’s with campaigns and demonstrations taking place throughout the country. Following the success of the 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, and the strong leadership of that struggle by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), ministers and other activists in Danville, Virginia, decided to start their own campaign. They formed the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA).
Due to “a small group of rowdy teenagers,” the managers of the restaurant Dewey’s on 17th Street in Center City, Philadelphia decided to begin to refuse service to those patrons that were exhibiting “improper behavior.” This decision was expanded by some employees to mean “homosexuals and persons wearing non-conformist clothing," which, on April 25th, 1965, resulted in the refusal of service to over 150 people. Two teenage boys and one teenage girl proceeded to refuse to leave the premises when they were denied service.
During a period of five months in the spring of 1960, students and adults in Charlotte, North Carolina, participated in the sit-in movement to protest segregation. It was an attempt to end racial segregation in the public facilities in the city of Charlotte. The city government was the opposition.
St. Paul’s College is a historically African American college in Lawrenceville, a town in rural Virginia. Although Lawrenceville was a predominantly African American town, segregation laws persisted. In 1960 only 750 of the 17,000 African Americans in the town paid their poll tax and registered to vote. The town lacked a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a black lawyer, or a black bondsman.
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.
In 1960 and 1961, the Washington, D.C., area experienced an increase in diplomatic representatives from Africa, causing tension and emphasizing the issue of segregation in the area. Visiting African diplomats were exposed to segregation in many restaurants, facilities, and other public accommodations, particularly along Route 40 - a primary means of travel between the embassies in Washington D.C. and the United Nations headquarters in New York - where nearly all of the restaurants and facilities were only open to white customers.
African American residents of Chester, PA, demonstrate to end de facto segregation in public schools, 1963-1966
In November 1963, African American parents in the small city of Chester, PA organized and demanded better conditions at their local elementary school, Franklin School. They picketed the school and blocked its doors, successfully shutting it down for several days. The protesters also staged sit-ins in the City Hall, municipal building, and the Board of Education's offices. After several weeks of protest, the campaign grew to encompass desegregation efforts of 10 of Chester's public elementary and middle schools.
University of Washington Student Worker Coalition strikes against cutting higher education budgets, 2010
The University of Washington Student Worker Coalition (SWC) is a group created to advocate for the rights of students who work on campus and employees of the campus. The SWC has protested against worker abuses, unfair labor practices, and most recently, against budget cuts affecting employees of the University, student workers, and the student body as a whole.
In the 1950s, St. Louis, Missouri was a thriving city. However, African-Americans residents were forced to take low-skill jobs, sit in segregated theaters, and were refused service at downtown restaurants, cafeterias, and lunch counters. In 1947, The St. Louis chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a national group that aimed to practice the tactics of nonviolence against the oppressive forces of segregation, was formed.
Since 1996, a small number of State University of New York (SUNY) students had been urging the university administration to reject contracts with companies that had unfair labor policies. However, by 1999, students had made very little progress and campus stores still sold questionable sweatshop products.
In 2000, students around the country protested sweatshop-manufactured college apparel. Students at Syracuse University (SU) protested using a variety of different tactics, including a naked bicycle ride through campus. In their yearlong campaign, Syracuse students wished to convince SU’s Chancellor, Kenneth A. Shaw, to join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). Their ultimate goal, along with students nationwide, was better wages and better working conditions for workers who manufactured college apparel.
In 1948, the newly elected National Party introduced systematized and legalized segregation in South Africa. The apartheid regime sought white minority rule and the suppression of other racial groups in order to maintain a cheap labor supply. Government officials segregated public institutions and removed the oppressed black Africans from their land onto racially divided reservations. This system sparked internal protests, often met with violence. International groups of people were outraged at apartheid and asked companies to withdraw their holdings from the South African government.
In 2001, the state of Pennsylvania started a process that eventually led to a full state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia. Governor Tom Ridge, followed by Governor Mark Schweiker, sought this takeover due to the dismal track record of the public schools in Philadelphia. With the takeover came the privatization of many of Philadelphia's lowest achieving schools. Edison Schools, Inc., a for-profit school management firm, eventually received a contract to run 20 schools in Philadelphia.
Madison Wisconsin was one of the first communities in the United States to recognize apartheid in South Africa as a serious and international issue that could potentially be addressed in part through American activism and solidarity. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was a focal point for this activism, due to the dedication and engagement of its students and professors.
In 1997, student activists formed an organization called United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). Entirely student run, the organization strives to "win victories that set precedents in the struggle for self-determination of working people everywhere, particularly campus workers and garment workers who make collegiate licensed apparel." In an effort to pursue these goals, USAS created another organization in 2000: the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC).
The students’ anti-sweatshop movement began to generate support in the mid 90s, but was most impactful by the end of the decade. Universities and colleges nationwide began investigating where their college merchandise was made and inquiring about the manufacturers’ labor laws. The main target for many universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was Nike because of their partnership with the athletic teams. UNC signed a 7.1 million dollar contract with Nike during the summer of 1997, thus committing to Nike products for the duration of their con
The University of Oregon is a large state university with a student body population of approximately 23,000 students, located in Eugene, Oregon. The school has a strong athletic legacy and Phil Knight, the founder of Nike Inc., is an alumnus and significant benefactor of the school.
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.