Tennessee students fight low pay

Tennessee students fight low payThe United Students Against Sweatshops 2015 conference at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville did more than talk. Hundreds of marchers rallied on Feb. 20 in protest at campus buildings associated with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has proposed to cut state employee longevity pay and make other attacks on public workers’ benefits.

Since they agree that “Low pay is not okay,” USAS organizers also demanded living wages. With chants and songs, they took the fight for $15 an hour minimum wage inside the local McDonald’s, the fast food symbol of corporate exploitation. A three-campus effort to support university workers is ongoing.

USAS also considers the struggle to put people ahead of profit an international one. Support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement and Palestine was strong. The conference closed late on Feb. 21, but at 6 a.m. the next morning, road warriors boarded a bus rolling off to Atlanta’s convention center to confront Jansport, a VF apparel brand, at Campus Market Expo 2015 (CAMEX2015).

On Feb. 23, Atlanta’s WRFG.fm Labor Forum radio show interviewed Kalpona Akter, director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, and Mahinur Begum, a survivor of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 mostly young women workers. Two USAS organizers also reported why they took banners and leaflets to CAMEX2015 to demand Jansport sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord. That action kicked off the National “End Deathtraps” Worker Campaign to let universities know it is not OK with students to buy apparel from businesses profiting from unsafe labor conditions.

For a report on a USAS meeting in Louisville, Ky., about the campaign, go to ­tinyurl.com/pt7k55r/.