And last week, we learned it had all been lies. For the past year and a half, Yale President Richard Levin has refused to allow Yale to join the Worker Rights Consortium. The WRC is a proven, worker-supported organization that works to end sweatshop abuses in apparel factories by empowering workers to decide on what conditions are acceptable.
First formed about a year and a half ago, with its founding conference last April, it has found support from unions, international non-governmental organizations, students across North America, garment factory workers and 76 colleges and universities.
But Yale has refused to join.
In the past year — since Students Against Sweatshops occupied Beinecke Plaza for 16 cold, rainy days — Levin has given a variety of reasons that he won’t let Yale join the WRC.
It’s too new, he said. Now, though, it’s a year and a half old.
There aren’t enough member schools already, he said, suggesting that Yale is afraid to lead. But now there are 76 members.
The WRC has no proven track record, he said. In January the WRC successfully challenged Nike and its subcontractor at Mexico’s Kukdong factory. Meanwhile, the Fair Labor Association has yet to inspect a single factory.
The WRC has no infrastructure, he said. The Consortium now has an executive director and three full-time staff members. It is currently running a budget surplus.
The WRC hasn’t yet established protocols for investigations, he said. The WRC just created them.
United Students Against Sweatshops, a national organization that supports the WRC but does not control it, is too confrontational, he said. The WRC has shown itself willing to work both with corporations and in partnership with the FLA.
We can’t just rely on what a demonstrated majority of the student body wants, he said. After strongly winning a Yale College Council referendum last year, SAS got the support of the New Haven Board of Aldermen, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, locals 34 and 35, and the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 217, representing workers throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island.
All of the president’s criticisms of the WRC have been answered. The WRC has shown itself to be an efficient, effective organization.
Last Tuesday, at his public forum, Levin finally told the truth.
Those objections he raised to the WRC were all a sham. He didn’t care about how old the organization was. He didn’t care about many other schools were members. He didn’t care about its record, its staffing, its inspection protocols or its supporters.
He’s not going to let Yale join the WRC no matter what.
The fact is — and after years of hemming and hawing, excuse-finding and outright lying — Levin finally came clean about this. He is unwilling to support an organization that works independently of the huge, multi-national apparel corporations that rely on sweatshops to squeeze out even more profit. It’s “too confrontational,” he said on Tuesday night.
Levin — like Nike CEO Phil Knight, who is so scared that the WRC will be effective that he stopped supporting his alma mater when it joined the consortium — simply disagrees with the model of the WRC. Any organization that works outside of the industry, that supports employees making their own decisions about the conditions under which they work, that empowers workers, rather than corporate auditors, must be bad.
Maybe if Levin had said all this a year ago, said that regardless of what SAS said to him, he would not join the WRC, things could have been different. But Lord Levin has made up his mind, his personal fiefdom will never join the effective organization, and no petitions and rational arguments from the peasants are going to change it.
So why should we peasants bother engaging in rational discourse with him, if to him it’s just a tactic for delay? A year ago he should have admitted that his problems with the WRC weren’t specific and couldn’t be fixed. A year ago he should have admitted that his refusal to allow Yale to join the WRC was based not on rectifiable problems with the organization but with its entire philosophy.
But at least now we know the truth. Too bad it came a year late.
Jacob Remes is a junior in Saybrook College. He will spend the summer researching a Canadian mine workers union in Nova Scotia. He likes salmon.