Column: Workers rights are human rights

Last Monday, students rallied in front of Rice Hall. These individuals urged GW to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium – an organization aligned to prevent the use of sweatshop labor when making college apparel – and to adopt a workers’ rights code of conduct ensuring a living wage, affordable healthcare and the right to organize unions. At approximately 1 p.m., demonstrators marched across the street to the Marvin Center. Several students resolved to set up tents in the lobby and refuse to leave until the University acceded to their demands. Students had prepared written statements to both university administrators and the University Police Department. Both parties also refused student requests that President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg be called.

Immediately following their entrance into the building, students were told the police were coming. One student read a prepared statement in order to inform the public of what was occurring. Rally participants were chanting as students set up tents. Brandon Neal – National Director of the Youth and College Division of the NAACP – made a statement in support of the students. When told that the noise level was problematic, students ceased the use of megaphones and asked their supporters to stop chanting. They immediately complied.

Once the Metropolitan Police arrived, students were told that they would be under arrest if they did not vacate the premises. Reiterating their position – and once again asking that President Trachtenberg be called – the students were told that there would be no negotiation. Eleven students – nine from GW and two from Georgetown – sat in a circle on the floor of the Great Hall and did not leave. At approximately 1:30 p.m., those students were handcuffed and placed under arrest by MPD. They are currently being charged with unlawful entry and are to appear in court for arraignment April 21. One of the Georgetown students arrested is now barred from entering the GW campus.

The University claims they had no choice but to immediately arrest the students. A 1968 resolution of the Board of Trustees states that if University officials feel that demonstrators must be removed or arrested at any point, the executive chair of the Faculty Senate and the student body president are to be called, if at all possible. Neither individual was notified, despite the fact that the students were simply seated peacefully. The students were not damaging any property. The students were not engaged in any act of violence. The students were not obstructing the movement of any individual, nor blocking any entrance. The students were not harassing, threatening or even engaging in conversation with anyone outside of the circle. The notion that the University administration had no choice but to immediately arrest these students is absolutely absurd. The students were simply carrying out a peaceful demonstration of solidarity with GW workers. The administration acted rashly and inappropriately.

The struggle for workers’ right at GW continues. President Trachtenberg has still refused to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium or to even meet with students to discuss a labor code of conduct. Prior to Monday’s arrests, students had followed every other possible avenue in an attempt to garner administrative support for workers’ rights. They have obtained thousands of petition signatures and several Student Association resolutions. They have held teach-ins, worker panels and other educational forums. They have held numerous demonstrations and have met with administrators. The students felt they had no choice but to escalate their actions in order to demonstrate to the administration that their concerns were serious.

We are not criminals. We are students who believe that workers’ rights are human rights, and we are appalled that the university would take such action. President Trachtenberg has said he is ashamed of us. Other administrators have said they are disappointed in us. They tell us they admire our passion for a cause, and they believe in workers’ rights just as we do. Yet, they refuse to take action or to even meet with us regarding our concerns. Thus, the campaign continues, and we need even more help than ever. We demand the University affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, adopt a labor code of conduct and drop all charges against the 11 students arrested last Monday. Our resolve is now even stronger, and our struggle will continue. Please join us April 7 at 8 p.m. in Marvin Center room 403 to learn more about the issues and how you can help out with the campaign for workers’ rights at GW.

-The writer is a GW tent city resident.

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