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Yale Rally Caps off Week of Sweatshop Protests

By Robert K. Silverman, Crimson Staff Writer

Following a week of anti-sweatshop activism across the country, about 200 Yale University students rallied to protest the administration's policy on sweatshop labor monitoring. More than 15 have vowed to continue an ongoing public "sleep-in."

Students gathered yesterday afternoon on Yale's Beinecke Plaza to urge the administration to withdraw from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).

While both organizations are designed to monitor sweatshops, FLA supporters say the WRC is too loosely organized and too narrowly focused to enact change. WRC supporters say the FLA is too closely tied to corporate interests to be objective.

The demands of the anti-sweatshop campaign of Harvard's Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) parallel those of the Yale students involved in yesterday's demonstration.

But University Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr., the administrator responsible for sweatshop policy, said protests and policy changes at other schools will not affect Harvard's policies.

"It's not really influencing our decision," he said.

Poor weather resulted in a smaller turnout than expected, with only half as many students attending yesterday's rally as attended a rally last month.

Demonstrators at yesterday's rally heard testimony from workers and students, shook noisemakers and chanted in front of Yale's main administrative building, Woodbridge Hall.

They also erected a three-sided plyboard monument with one side for workers, one side for students and one side for the administration. The student and worker's side contained quotes, pictures and signed messages, but the administrative side contained a letter of support addressed to the WRC that activists are urging the administration to sign.

More than 15 planned to "sleep-in" on Beinecke Plaza last night to continue the protest and protect the three-sided monument.

"We have the attention of the administration now and so we're going to try to educate faculty and students," said Yale junior Ari Holtzblatt, an organizer of the protest.

Holtzblatt said Yale President Robert C. Levin has refused repeated requests to meet with student activists to discuss sweatshop policy, necessitating public action.

"We would prefer to sit down and have a discussion but we can't," he said. "We've had multiple attempts--he's resisted."

Thomas P. Conroy, deputy director of Yale's office for public affairs, said the university respects students' right to rally.

"It's part of the relativity of university life--free speech and free expression and disagreement among different parts of the community," he said.

But at a meeting held after the rally yesterday Yale administrators rejected demonstrators' request to keep the monument as a permanent structure, demanding that it be taken down each night and rebuilt the next morning and that it be permanently removed at the end of the week.

Holtzblatt said students did not plan to obey this ruling.

In the past, Levin has said he will arrest any students attempting to occupy a university building, but Holtzblatt said he did not expect the sleep-in to result in any arrests.

"We're not interfering with [Yale's] ability to do business," he said. "I don't think he could justify arresting us."

Yale students said they planned the rally to coincide with the founding conference of the WRC, to be held in New York this weekend.

The FLA, organized a year before the WRC, has attracted more than 130 universities and colleges as members, including Harvard, but the WRC has gained almost 20 members in the past month and now has at least 35 member schools.

"It reflects that there is a growing momentum behind the anti-sweatshop movement and the Workers Rights Consortium," said Maria A. Roeper, the WRC's coordinator. "It's obviously a crescendo of involvement."

Three Ivy League schools--Brown, Columbia and Cornell Universities--are members of the WRC.

"It's a pretty wide diversity, from small liberal arts to six of the Big Ten schools--east coast, west coast and southern schools," Roeper said.

Ryan said Harvard has not ruled out joining the WRC.

But he said he was unhappy that Roeper denied his request to attend the founding conference as an observer. She said Harvard must join--and pay a $6,000 entrance fee--first.

"I'm not so receptive when they say sorry, you have to pay your dues at the door. That just seems wrong to me," he said.

Ryan said the refusal was "unfortunate," and described it as a missed opportunity to convince schools like Harvard that are currently considering whether to affiliate with the group.

He said the rejection might impact Harvard's decision on whether to join.

"I don't know what the prospects are for future collaboration," he said.

But Roeper said she was justified in refusing Ryan's request.

She said outside observers, who do not have a stake in the WRC, would interfere in the organizing process.

"The dialogue is not going to be easy and we don't need any distractions," she said. "It's about moving the organization forward, not giving out information. We can do that another time."

Activism erupted on campuses across the country last week as activists urged schools to join the WRC before its founding conference.

Students at Tulane University are occupying an administrative building, students at Purdue University have been holding a hunger strike for more than a week, and students at Syracuse University went on a nude bike ride across campus to protest the wearing of clothing made in sweatshops.

Benjamin L. McKean '02, a member of PSLM, said protests on other schools motivate activists here.

McKean, who is also a Crimson editor, said Harvard students gathered last night to call Yale administrators to express support for the demonstrations.

"It's always terrific when another school steps it up. It encourages us," he said. "Harvard can't resist the national momentum forever."

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