Sweatshop Movement, Living Wage Campaign Forge Different Paths to Success

It was in the cold of January, as most of Harvard hunkered down for exams, when a small group of students affiliated with the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) began holding meetings Tuesday nights at the Phillips Brooks House. From this core group of students, the Living Wage Campaign was born.

This year PSLM also spawned another activist group, Students Against Sweatshops, that aimed to force the University to mandate minimum labor standards in the factories where its apparel is manufactured.

But like many siblings, SAS and the campaign have taken different routes in their evolution. The two groups' styles in negotiating with the University are studies in stark contrasts.

SAS is currently in negotiations with the administration. The University agreed to SAS's demand of "full disclosure" of factories that produce Harvard apparel. Together, Harvard and the student activists are haggling over the details of independent monitoring.

The Living Wage Campaign, though, is unwilling to negotiate. While the University attempted to placate the campaign by forming an interfaculty task force to analyze its employment practices, the campaign continues to hold visible protests and publicly build support for unconditional surrender--a $10 per hour minimum wage for all workers.


The split between the two movements was first clear at the March 9 Rally for Justice outside of University Hall, in which SAS and the Living Wage Campaign, along with the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, united in their call for Faculty support.

SAS received notice that the University would respond to its demand for disclosure during the rally. PSLM leaders are now working with the University to establish a suitable monitoring system. While Harvard has proposed using the Fair Labor Association for monitoring and Price Waterhouse Coopers as an accounting firm, PSLM is holding out for a truly independent monitoring system.

"I think this re-opens the possibility for us to work more closely with Harvard," said Daniel M. Hennefeld '99, a PSLM organizer, on the day of the Rally for Justice.

Compared to the SAS's demands, the campaign's wide-sweeping mandate is unprecedented.

The campaign's goals were explicitly stated in a February 17 letter addressed to President Neil L. Rudenstine and Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67 and delivered to Rudenstine during his monthly office hours in February.

"In this spirit, we ask that you meet...[and] discuss a timeline and strategy for the implementation of a single outcome: that all employees of Harvard University, in all of its faculties and schools, including subcontracted workers, earn a minimum of $10 per hour," the letter reads.

The letter only received an explanatory reply from Director of Labor and Employee Relations Kim A. Roberts '78, so the Campaign organized a rally for February 26. The rally began outside of the Science Center and culminated with a march through the Yard to Mass. Hall.

The multiple living wage rallies have been both loud and quietly passionate. At the first, Christopher J. Vaeth, a campaign organizer and second-year divinity school student, spoke about the moral imperative of the campaign.

He recounted a conversation he had with two employees shoveling snow outside of Memorial Hall late at night as he was headed home after planning the protest. They encouraged him that justice was on his side.

"We can bring pressure to bear on the administration until they grant us that meeting," Vaeth said at the rally. "We've the moral high ground."

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