Anti-Sweatshop Movement Profiled at Staff Conference

Young Machinists

IAM members taking part in workshops at the Young Machinists Symposium provided concrete suggestions about how the IAM can train and involve the next generation of union leaders.

Among the high points of the 2011 National Staff Conference was an up close and personal presentation from IAM Assistant General Counsel Maria Roeper, who helped organize the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).

Roeper came to the labor movement by way of the “Code of Conduct” campaign to persuade colleges and universities to write labor rights standards into the licensing contracts for college-branded hats, sweatshirts and other material. While the codes aren’t as detailed as a union contract, they set basic labor standards.

“We saw Codes of Conduct as a first step to changing an international race-to-the bottom economy that benefited a few and exploited many,” said Roeper. “Strategically, we thought if we got enough of our campuses to write these codes into licensing agreements, the companies would have to change and improve working conditions. And if we could change the lives of poor workers in the developing world maybe, just maybe we could improve the lives of workers everywhere.

“I’ve seen countless students get introduced to labor rights through international anti-sweatshop work, and then move on to support domestic workers and I feel confident when I say that youth can bring a lot to our labor movement,” said Roeper, who urged delegates to reach out to youth, “not just because they are the future of our union, but reach out to them because I assure you, they have some fresh ideas and new energy.  When we join together, it makes our union stronger.”