U. Penn sweatshop group stages sit-in
PHILADELPHIA-Protesters from the United Students Against Sweatshops group fortified themselves for a night in College Hall Monday after a day-long sit-in at University President Judith Rodin's office was not met with a satisfactory response.
Singing "We believe, who believe in justice, cannot rest," the sit-in brought more than 20 activists to the president's reception room at noon and the protesters remained there into the night.
The sit-in came after the university failed to leave the Fair Labor Association, a sweatshop monitoring group that USAS says is ineffective. USAS set a Feb.1 deadline for Penn to leave the FLA, but Rodin has not pulled out of the monitoring organization.
Members of USAS have been demanding for months that Penn join the newly created Worker Rights Consortium and they said yesterday that they would not move from College Hall until Rodin approves the move.
"We're waiting for a response from the university, but we're happy to sit here and wait for the response we want," said Miriam Joffe-Block, a USAS member.
Although Rodin was in her office, she did not speak to the protesters. Chief of Staff Steve Schutt appeared to the group just after they arrived and allowed the students to remain, provided they did not disturb the adjacent offices.
Rodin charged a committee on Friday with examining the university's sweatshop policy. But although the committee will include USAS members, the group says it will prove ineffective.
Representatives from the Jobs With Justice organization based in Washington, D.C., joined the demonstrators as did Georgetown University English Professor and Director of the Program on Justice and Peace Henry Schwarz.
Henry Nicholas of Local 1199, a union representing hospital and healthcare workers, and representatives from St. Joseph's University and Temple University also came to give the demonstrators their support.
Normally adorned with artwork by modern masters, including Henri Matisse, yesterday Rodin's office was decorated by the protesters with signs and posters demanding an end to corporate greed.
"Labor groups, religious groups and human rights groups all pulled out (of the FLA) saying we won't associate ourselves with this, this is a corporate whitewash," said USAS member Laurie Eichenbaum.
Schutt pointed out that the Feb.1 withdrawal deadline was one set by USAS and not formulated by working in tandem with the university. He also expressed Rodin's deep concern with the issue and said that it is a matter being held in the highest consideration.
"There are many universities that are members of the FLA and I think that there are various reasons why they believe the FLA is more effective at this point than the WRC," Schutt said.
Currently, about 130 colleges and universities are part of the FLA while only four are in the WRC.
Schutt made a second appearance at 6 p.m. to tell the demonstrators that the building was shutting down, but added that they were welcome to stay the night.
Although they would be locked in until morning, 13 members of the activist organization decided to forgo their beds for the sleeping bags they brought in preparation for just such a situation.
Joffe-Block said they would not leave until the interests of workers' justice were effectively addressed by the university. She said that should Rodin appear tomorrow, the only cause for disbanding the sit-in would be full compliance with USAS' demands.