By Laura Schwartz, convenor students against sweatshops
Between 8 and 14 February I happily accepted an invitation from United Students Against Sweatshops to attend their winter conference in San Francisco as a representative of Students Against Sweatshops and No Sweat.
415 delegates attended the four day conference, representing groups from the 200 US colleges affiliated to USAS. Workshops and seminars focused on USAS’ four main campaign areas – sweat-free college merchandise; a living wage for campus workers; “Killer Coke”; and international solidarity. The conference also discussed how students could take solidarity action on off-campus issues, such as the prison industrial complexes which exploit the free labour provided by over populated prisons, and the “Hotel Rising” campaign by hotel workers for the right to unionise.
The politics of the conference centred on the struggle for workers rights and solidarity with workers’ world-wide. Compared to the activist milieu in the UK, USAS members appeared to have a particularly developed understanding of how “solidarity, not charity” was the key to changing the world. In a discussion about the super-exploitation of meatpacking workers, one delegate asked why he, a vegetarian, should support their fight to gain union recognition. “I too am a vegetarian,” replied the speaker, “but my first commitment as an activist is to workers”, which resulted in a resounding cheer from all the students present.
USAS has a “motto” from Lilla Watson: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Although SAS is smaller than USAS, and we haven’t existed for much longer than a year, my experience in San Francisco gave me the confidence to realise that we too can build a real “movement” based around the principle of Lilla Watson’s words.