Eleven victories in 2011: Celebrate an incredible year for the student movement!

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You already know that 2011 has been an incredible year. But we think you’ll be blown away by this list of 11 incredible victories that USAS activists won alongside workers this year. Each of these 11 victories builds the power of workers’ unions and students. Next year, as we celebrate USAS’s 15th anniversary, we need to keep building students’ and workers’ power to defeat the challenges that corporations and the 1% pose to our democracy, our jobs and our education. Make it happen by contributing to USAS on the right-hand side of this page. Then share this page on Facebook. Happy holidays!

1.

Food service workers won unions on 11 campuses as students kicked out Sodexo for union-busting.

The “Big 3″ outsourcing giants control the business of feeding students: Sodexo, Aramark and Compass. In 2011, Big 3 workers on at least 11 campuses won struggles to form unions, the crucial first step towards ending sweatshop conditions in our dining halls (see: list of campuses where workers won unions). Some joined UNITE HERE and others joined SEIU. Meanwhile, students organized 6 major sit-ins in Spring 2011 protesting Sodexo’s union-busting (especially in the Dominican Republic), part of the wave of 13 occupations that led to 76 arrests of USAS activists. This month, the University of Washington ended its 25-year relationship with Sodexo in response to protests of its union-busting in the D.R., the fifth college to sever ties with Sodexo amidst protest this year. We proved students can terminate colleges’ multi-million dollar contracts with the outsourcing giants to bolster workers’ struggle for justice, a key step towards reversing the race-to-the-bottom created by lowest-bidder corporate outsourcing of campus jobs.

2.

Honduran workers sewing college apparel won a ground-breaking Collective Bargaining Agreement.

This May, the workers of Fruit of the Loom’s Jerzees Nuevo Día and their union, SitraJerzees, won an unheard-of 26.5% wage increase and safer machinery in their first-ever collective bargaining agreement after 9 months of negotiations. Fruit of the Loom, Honduras’ largest private employer, opened Jerzees Nuevo Día in 2009 after USAS and SitraJerzees ran the largest collegiate boycott of a single company ever to reverse Fruit’s shuttering a 1,200-worker factory in retaliation for union organizing. During the Rein-In Russell campaign, over 100 colleges and the retailer Sport Authority severed ties with Fruit’s Russell Athletic brand. The campaign achieved a first-of-its-kind national union neutrality agreement between Fruit and SitraJerzees. Today, garment workers are continuing the struggle to organize in all of Fruit’s factories across Honduras.

3.

Rutgers USAS won NJ’s lowest tuition hike in 2 decades.

After Rutgers USAS built a coalition that organized a 600-student walkout and a 2-day sit-in that grabbed NY Times headlines, New Jersey’s state university approved the lowest tuition hikes in two decades (1.6 percent for in-state students). Rutgers’ board rejected the proposed tuition hike from university president Richard McCormick, who resigned shortly afterwards. This is a crucial victory as the right to affordable, quality higher education is under attack for all students and especially undocumented students across the nation.

4.

Universities commit to stop investing in HEI’s sweatshop hotels as hotel workers ramp up the fight for fairness.

HEI Hotels workers across the country are fighting for fair treatment at work. Because HEI depends on investments from university endowments, since early 2009 students have campaigned to end their school’s investment in “sweatshop hotels”. In a huge step forward this year, Brown University’s USAS affiliate (Brown SLA) won its multi-year campaign when Brown committed to stop investing in HEI. Then UPenn’s USAS affiliate (UPenn SLAP), had a major victory when UPenn responded to students’ campaign by announcing it has no current plans to invest in HEI. Most recently Yale committed to make no further investment, and Cornell and Harvard have responded to student campaigns, too. As we continue the nation-wide student non-reinvestment campaign, the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE has placed four HEI-owned hotels under boycott. Plus, HEI has now settled or been held liable on 32 wage and hour complaints for a total of $99,999 at the Embassy Suites Irvine.

5.

College bookstores doubled their orders for the only union-made, living wage college apparel.

This year was a crucial test for Alta Gracia, the Dominican Republic factory where long-time union activists are sewing college apparel, and students rose to the challenge. We urged our college bookstores to support this important project. Orders for Alta Gracia doubled this year, with over 400 college bookstores now carrying products sewn by Sitralpro union members — the same workers who spent a decade together with USAS fighting Nike’s sweatshop abuses at the BJ&B factory in Villa Altagracia.

6.

We beat attacks on Ohio workers’ union rights and won a pro-worker majority in Wisconsin.

In 2011, we fought back against bold attacks by corporate-funded politicians on workers’ basic right to collective bargaining. When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker launched his attack on public employees’ right to bargain, USAS’s oldest affiliate mobilized thousands of University of Wisconsin-Madison undergrads and joined forces with campus workers’ unions to begin the occupation of the state capitol that inspired labor activists worldwide. While Walker’s bill is still in effect, Wisconsites kicked out enough anti-worker state legislators in this year’s elections so that now a majority of the legislature opposes Walker’s bill!

Meanwhile, to defeat Ohio’s Senate Bill 5 (a.k.a. Issue 2), Ohio State USAS found time between organizing a sit-in and fighting a backdoor deal with the Dallas Cowboys to join the statewide effort that collected 1.3 million signatures to repeal SB5 and overwhelmingly won the referendum to kill the bill in November.

7.

Rite Aid warehouse workers won a five-year struggle to stop sweatshop conditions after students took the campaign nation-wide.

After USAS members voted to create a Rapid Response system in 2009, the first test of this system was our campaign in solidarity with Rite Aid warehouse workers in Lancaster, CA, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. USAS-coordinated days of action expanded the West Coast union’s impact directly to the doorstep of Rite Aid stores nation-wide. Finally, this May, the workers finally won a strong union contract that gives workers control over the often dangerous pace of work. Workers also beat back dramatic healthcare cutbacks the company had demanded.

8.

More universities affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium as our colleges’ labor rights monitor completes its 10th year.

It’s been a decade since USAS activists did the unthinkable and forced our universities to create an anti-sweatshop monitor that students dreamed up. Today, the Worker Rights Consortium is the premiere labor rights monitoring organization, boasting over 180 affiliated colleges and universities. The WRC remains unique in its absolute independence from corporate funding, in stark contrast to a certain corporate-controlled monitor (hint: see #9).

This year, not only did U.S. universities including Emory and Xavier newly affiliate with the WRC, but the movement went international in a huge way. In the United Kingdom, where students’ unions control most university apparel purchasing, the National Union of Students voted to affiliate NUS Services, the purchasing consortium for 84 U.K. universities, with the WRC! But in 2012 students will be campaigning to finally affiliate some of the most stubborn major sports schools, including UTSAS at the University of Texas, Austin — the nation’s largest licensor of college apparel.

9.

Santa Clara dropped the corporate-controlled “Fair” Labor Association.

Just as USAS activists compel more colleges to join the legitimate WRC, we’re also beating back the corporations’ sham “Fair” Labor Association, notorious for whitewashing the sweatshop abuses of companies that pay their bills and sit on their board, like Nike and Adidas. Finally, just days ago Santa Clara’s USAS affiliate won its “Don’t Pay the FLA” campaign. Students and Cornell, Penn State and Rutgers USAS affiliates have been escalating campaigns around the same demand for over a year, so the heat is on!

In another important blow to corporate whitewashing, greenwashing and “fairwashing”, United Students for Fair Trade rocked the “ethical consumption” world when they joined USAS in publicly condemning Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair), including its widely-criticized “fair trade” apparel program.

10.

First-ever collegiate boycott in solidarity with tobacco farmworkers hit RJ Reynolds where it hurts.

Last week, Rutgers USAS made a major first step in stopping sweatshop conditions in tobacco fields: the Barnes & Noble-operated campus bookstore agreed to immediately stop selling RJ Reynolds products, including American Spirits and Camel cigarettes. This momentum will propel forward students’ solidarity efforts on other campuses. Last summer, USAS and MEChA activists organized a delegation to the tobacco fields of North Carolina to meet with farmworkers and learn about RJ Reynolds refusing to negotiate with farmworkers’ union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. We were outraged by the working conditions and living conditions, and inspired by farmworkers’ struggle for union rights in spite of their historical exclusion from national labor law. In 2004, some 8,000 FLOC-affiliated farmworkers won the first-ever union contract for guest farmworkers against the Mt. Olive Pickle company after campus boycott campaigns by USAS activists at UNC, Duke, Florida State and Michigan State.

11.

We built powerful new student coalitions to Occupy Wall Street and make banks pay.

With the energy and experience of the spring semester’s 13 on-campus occupations plus occupying Wisconsin state capitol under our belt, USAS snapped into action when the Occupy Wall Street movement sprang up. USAS activists at schools including Northeastern University, University of Washington and New York University were among the first to organize massive student walk-outs to join the Occupy movements in their cities. Many USASers have been arrested defending Occupy encampments. But we know these actions alone won’t make Wall Street banks pay up: We also organized four “Fight Back!” Organizer Boot Camps across the country. There, we trained students from 64 colleges in organizing and campaigning basics, including students from Occupy movements, undocumented students’ groups, and many others. (If you haven’t seen the video yet, check it out now for some inspiration!)