On the eve of Yale’s tercentennial celebration, students gathered together Thursday on the steps of Woodbridge Hall in remembrance of last year’s controversy over the University’s sweatshop policy.
A year ago Thursday marked the anniversary of the end of the Beinecke Plaza occupation by Students Against Sweatshops after the administration’s refusal to join the Worker’s Rights Consortium. Nearly 20 students representing various organizations that were involved with the Students Against Sweatshops occupation turned out to yesterday’s vigil. Students complained their rights were violated by the police who refused to let them into Woodbridge Hall at the conclusion of the protest.
Last year, students camped on Beinecke Plaza to protest the Yale’s affiliation with the Fair Labor Association, which they said was too closely allied with multinational corporations’ interests, and the University’s refusal to join the WRC, which they claimed would better protect the rights of corporations’ international factory workers.
The vigil began with a moment of silence and afterwards included a litany. Students sat on the steps holding signs that read “Living Wage Now” and “Student voice, not corporate voice.”
During the vigil students wrote letters to Yale President Richard Levin concerning the sweatshop issues. After finishing the letters students began to chant, “Labor rights are human rights” and tried to go into Woodbridge Hall to deliver the letters. They were barred from entering by Yale police officers. Students said they thought their rights were being violated. A few remarked that the Yale administration was afraid of its own students.
Yale Police Department Sgt. Jack Nettleton said students are normally let into the building unless they enter as part of a protest.
Levin came outside to receive the letters.
Stephen Osserman ’02, a member of SAS, said he thought students not being allowed into Woodbridge Hall was an unreasonable stance.
“I just have to say that its ridiculous that students selectively have a right to enter the building,” Osserman said. “I’m much more concerned that they ignore students on a whole range of issues than they won’t let us into their building.”
Yesterday’s protest was also marked by a religious sentiment, not usually present at SAS protests. Hilary Kaplan ’00, who is on campus as a Dwight Hall fellow responsible for coordinating the social justice and religious communities, and Interfaith Alliance for Justice member Johnny Scafidi ’01 led the litany. Then protesters then sang a song titled, “Freedom is Coming,” led by Yale’s Lutheran chaplain, Carl Sharon.
Former Dwight Hall coordinator Shayna Strom ’02 said the religious tone at the rally is reflective of the involvement of more diverse groups the social justice movement.
“I think this was the integration of many different communities,” Strom said. “We’re welcome to the involvement of all communities. The religious communities have a lot to add to these issues.”
The vigil yesterday was in solidarity with a sweatshop movement by students at Harvard University.
Harvard’s Progressive Student Labor Movement began a 50-person sit-in Wednesday in Massachusetts Hall, the office of the Harvard president. Protesters are demanding a living wage for University workers, as well as Harvard’s joining the WRC.
Lauren Stephens-Davidowitz ’02 said the Yale event was in support of the Harvard students’ protest.
A rally today will involve undergraduates, graduate students and union members gathering together to support Yale’s neutrality in GESO and Yale-New Haven Hospital worker organizing.
“SAS here has worked closely on labor issues as well, so in that way we completely support what’s going on tomorrow, and we’re excited to ensure that Yale respects the rights of its workers locally and abroad,” Osserman said.