Did SLAC actually accomplish something?


Though it hasn’t received much play, it looks like that campus left which everyone loves to hate may have accomplished more than holding a sit-in or talking to the Chancellor.

The article in The Cap Times seemed to miss the boat a bit, but they at least got the gist.

Using a series of pressure tactics, an anti-sweatshop coalition of students from across the country on Nov. 17 succeeded in persuading Russell Athletic, one of the nation’s leading sportswear companies, to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras who had lost their jobs when Russell shuttered its factory shortly after workers unionized.

Remember that UW dropped its apparel contract with Russell back in February for these very reasons. While I don’t doubt student activism played some role in all of this, I’m sure it wasn’t the students that persuaded Russell overall, it was their bottom line. And Russell’s bottom line was only affected because, as the NYT noted, this was a “nationwide campaign against the company.” Dozens of large Universities took actions similar to our administrations.

Most relevant sources seem to be framing this as a landmark event in workers rights, which is why I am so confused that this hasn’t been receiving more coverage around Madison. But, this also presents a certain template proven to work for organizations interested in these kind of issues.

How have we not heard more about this from SLAC and their allies?


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5 Responses to “Did SLAC actually accomplish something?”

  1. Eric Schmidt Says:

    I can’t speak for SLAC, but I can say there’s a tendency among the campus press and the moderate campus elites (ASM, SSFC, etc.) to minimize or obfuscate the achievements of far-left campus groups just because they find their leaders particular unsavory or difficult to deal with on a personal basis. (I’ve been guilty of this, for sure — and for the record, SLAC IS difficult to deal with personally and intellectually.) But yeah, it seems a nationwide campus movement really did help rehire those 1200 Russell workers in Honduras.

    That’s an example of a concentrated victory for workers’ rights, and it demonstrates one thing the campus far-left should be preaching more: In many workers’ rights cases they take up, you don’t NEED anything near a “critical mass” of activists to accomplish something major; you just need a network of smaller clusters of people willing to keep putting pressure on a particular company (and those who fund them). I appreciate anything that deflates the notion that the campus far-left is irrelevant just because they’re outnumbered.

    • Jan Van Tol Says:


      I’m curious as to what you mean by “SLAC IS difficult to deal with personally and intellectually”. To my knowledge, we’ve never directly engaged with you, other than a column or two you’ve written.

      Feel free to drop me an email (jan@usas.org) if you’d like to discuss anything further.

      Jan Van Tol

  2. Jason Smathers Says:

    For the record, our news explainer two weeks ago did break the news of the Russell settlement….But apparently nobody read that. 😦

    • Alec S Says:

      I saw that article Smathers, but weren’t there really only a couple paragraphs on the agreement Russell reached? The article seemed to deal mostly with a much broader issue.

    • Jan Van Tol Says:

      Jason is right that the Herald did break the news of the Russell agreement — on the same day as the NYTimes — but it was somewhat buried within a larger article. It was reported again on Nov 20 within an article about a different SLAC event. The Cardinal also reported it, but not until a week after the fact.

      We certainly are not trying to be quiet about this, since it definitely is a landmark victory for the anti-sweatshop movement and workers’ rights. Chalk it up to whatever you like, but it appears that victories just aren’t considered that newsworthy.

      And also, Jack, you’re absolutely right that it was Russell’s bottom line that ultimately forced the company to settle, but I’m confused why you’re minimizing students’ role in that campaign. The “nationwide campaign” you mention was run entirely by students and the workers themselves. Universities, with perhaps one exception in the nation (and it’s not UW), do not just go around cutting contracts on their own — in nearly every case, they cut as a result of student pressure.

      Jan Van Tol

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