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Protesters say goodbye, pledge to continue battle

By Tate Williams
Arizona Daily Wildcat
May 3, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

DAVID J. CIESLAK Arizona Daily Wildcat Students Against Sweatshops members cheer Friday night in the Administration Building's Regents room after UA President Peter Likins signs a labor rights resolution. A sit-in at the president's office, organized by the student activists, ended after nearly 10 days.

As a 225-hour sit-in ended late Friday at the President's Office, UA student protesters spent their final night together singing songs to celebrate a hard-fought agreement with the university.

But many wary activists acknowledged that their battle is still far from over.

The record-setting sit-in, organized by the University of Arizona's Students Against Sweatshops chapter, involved hours of grueling discussions that resulted in continuous victories and let-downs.

SAS spokesman Avery Kolers said the future holds much more work for activists and UA President Peter Likins.

"Nobody is fooling themselves to think that the job is done," Kolers said.

He added that the student group will continue its ongoing goal to educate the UA campus about labor abuses.

Kolers joined about 35 SAS members and supporters, spending nearly 10 days camped in Likins' office. The group called on Likins to sign a resolution designed to aid workers who manufacture UA apparel in overseas factories.

Among other points, the agreement forces Likins to withdraw the UA from a worker's rights organization - the Fair Labor Association - if the resolution's four main demands are not fulfilled before August 1, 2000.

The FLA does not yet exist, making it difficult to implement demands, Likins said. The group is a forming branch of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"That's going to be a challenge for me," he said. "That's my responsibility now."

The time investment has caused everyone involved, including Likins, to shirk some responsibilities during the 10-day rally.

Like most of the protesters, Kolers has a busy life as a graduate student and a teacher.

Although relieved by the end of the lengthy negotiations, he went home this weekend to a pile of ungraded papers and a neglected project.

"I've gotten almost no work done on my dissertation," Kolers said.

Likins said the demonstration has put a bind on his other responsibilities as well.

"It's going to take me a long while to get caught up," he said.

Likins realized this weekend that he has 245 unread e-mail messages and several bags of mail to read.

He said the most frustrating part of the demonstration was falling behind in other activities.

"I would come home and look at what I'm not getting done, and feel really anxious," Likins said.

Although negotiations took 10 days, the president said he is satisfied with the process.

"I think it was appropriate that the leadership gradually began to enter the dialogue," he said, adding that the original "no negotiation" stance delayed progress.

Kolers has no regrets about the manner of the protest, but said it was a learning process about group dynamics.

"The authority structure ended up working really well," he said, referring to the core group of negotiators chosen to deal directly with Likins.

Kolers was hesitant to call the protest a victory, but said the group made important progress toward their goals.