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America's Largest Union Coalition Partners With Collegiate Movement

Steven Covelman |
October 2, 2013 | 11:51 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The AFL-CIO and USAS say their collaboration will make it easier to meet mutual goals. (Creative Commons)
The AFL-CIO and USAS say their collaboration will make it easier to meet mutual goals. (Creative Commons)

In a move that both parties describe as beneficial to their aims, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have agreed to a new national partnership.

According to the AFL-CIO, collaborations will include campaigns for everything from the safety of Bangladeshi garment workers to protecting the freedom of U.S. workers on college campuses to organize.

"The labor movement shares USAS's values and vision for global solidarity and social justice," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "Together, we are stronger and better positioned to meet the mutual goals and objectives of improving the lives of working people. This partnership demonstrates the AFL-CIO's determination to turn commitments on paper into action."

This agreement follows the AFL-CIO's National Convention and the USAS's Summer Retreat, where members of both organizations discussed ways to broaden their movements in local communities. While this is their first formal venture, both groups have worked together in the past. 

"We have been working closely with the AFL-CIO for years now, and it seemed like a natural partnership,” said Sarah Newell, USAS Representative to the Workers Rights Consortium and student at the University of Southern California. "We are fighting the same fight and striving towards the same goals, so it makes sense to team up on a national scale as well as a local one."

Established in 1997, the USAS is the largest youth-led organization devoted to the student labor movement. It has affiliates on over 150 college campuses, including the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) on the University of Southern California's campus.

One of the USAS's main battles is to improve working conditions in factories that make collegiate apparel, including facilities used by Russell Athletic, Nike and Adidas. In April, the USAS helped 2,700 former Indonesian garment workers receive $1.8 million in severance pay from Adidas.       

Currently, the USAS is in the midst of its "End Deathtraps" campaign, a movement designed to pressure universities into demanding that apparel brands take more measures to stop preventable factory fires and collapses. The goal of the campaign is to make these companies sign a legally binding contract with workers in Bangladesh called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

For Julia Wang, International Solidarity Campaign Representative on the Coordinating Committee of the USAS and student at USC, the partnership with the AFL-CIO puts more resources at her organization's fingertips to continue to win fights. 

"The AFL-CIO has an incredible wealth of knowledge and information about running and winning campaigns," Wang said. "This partnership will help us better connect students with labor unions and other groups in their communities, and we anticipate much stronger relationships between student organizers and other labor organizers across the country." 

Additionally, Wang believes that being associated with the AFL-CIO adds legitimacy to the USAS's already established cause. 

"As students we have the power to improve working conditions," Wang said. "We are going to be entering the workforce in a few short years, and hopefully this alliance will help act as a channel through which USASers across the nation can take ownership over their own working conditions and fight to improve them."

Reach Staff Reporter Steven Covelman here.



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