Student groups and representatives from human rights campaigns held a discussion Thursday to protest unfair labor conditions and practices by major corporate companies.
Members of the Experimental Media Organization (EMO), the Graduate Student Employees Union, the Ain’t I a Woman? campaign and Students Organizing Against Reynolds spoke about practices by companies like Dominoes, Reynolds’ Aluminum, and Wal-Mart.
Panelists encouraged students to boycott products by these companies and to attend a rally against Wal-Mart this Saturday at the Vestal Wal-Mart.
“We organized this event to make clear to students why they have a vested interest in labor rights both as students and human beings in general,” said Julia Soares, a junior majoring in psychology. “Students are about to join the work force and it is a work force that has consistently devalued workers.”
Soares, a member of EMO, said the boycott was in response to Wal-Mart’s decision to continue selling Reynolds’ products, which panelists said employed sweatshop conditions.
“Over the summer there had been a letter sent to Wal-Mart about removing Reynolds products from their shelves,” Soares said. “We figured enough time has passed, they’ve officially ignored the letter, there needs to be retaliation for ignoring the request to remove Reynolds products from their shelves.”
Kai Wen Yang, an event organizer and a graduate student studying sociology, said the rally should not be the sole focus of the discussion.
“It’s not just one event that will happen on one day and then disappear, nobody will follow up,” Yang said. “We want to use that as a beginning and as a platform to reach students, undergraduate students, faculty, adjunct faculty.”
Several immigrant workers also attended the event to speak about the unfair work conditions they endured.
“It’s a kind of inspiration seeing immigrant workers standing up for their rights,” Yang said. “Their struggles for workers’ rights inspired me to struggle for workers’ rights too. I think that students nowadays are facing as the immigrant workers here today, the issues that they face in the factories are also the issues that they face upon graduation or before graduation. For example, mandatory overtime and unemployment.”
Samantha Fox, a graduate student studying sociology, was in the audience. She said working conditions could also be a problem for students.
“I’m an adjunct, but I was a TA and as a TA, it’s a situation where you don’t know if you’re gonna work 50 hours in a week or 10, and usually it’s not 10,” Fox said. “I came because this is an event that is supporting labor issues in the community as well as linking those issues with labor issues we as grad students face and that undergrads are going to face when they enter the labor market.”
Panelists said the solution for the widespread mistreatment of workers has to be realistic.
“I realize that especially for undergrads, it’s difficult to boycott these large corporations, they kind of permeate our society,” Yang said. “The buses go there, I realize that this could create some problems for students. I think students just being aware and letting their voices be heard, and showing support at rallies like the one that’s going to be on Saturday is just as important if not more important than boycotting.”
Correction: Dec. 7, 2012
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the speaker of a quote about actions that students can take. The quote should have been attributed to Kai Wen Yang, not Samantha Fox.