UNC students arrested on day 16 of sit-in supporting workers’ rights
Posted by raleighfist on May 9, 2008
By Linda Gomaa
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Gomaa is a member of Student Action with Workers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill chapter of the youth group FIST. She has been an active participant in sit-ins against sweatshops at UNC. The following is Gomaa’s report of the arrest of students, in which she was singled out by police after making a press statement.
Five University of North Carolina students have been arrested after 16 days of peacefully occupying the office of UNC Chancellor James Moeser.
Students from Student Action with Workers and the Carolina Sweatfree Coalition began the sit-in because the chancellor had been refusing, for three years, to meet with us as well as his own labor licensing committee to discuss UNC’s ineffective labor codes. These codes still allow UNC apparel to be made under sweatshop conditions, including poverty wages and no freedom of association.
Because of the action of SAW and other student groups, Chancellor Moeser was forced to listen to the demands of the students and scheduled an emergency licensing committee meeting to discuss the Designated Suppliers Program. The DSP would ensure that labor codes that had been adopted by the university almost 10 years ago would be enforced.
The committee, however, had been advised by the chancellor to discuss options other than the DSP for the past year, so it was no surprise that when the committee met with the chancellor, many members expressed a lack of adequate knowledge about the program to make any informed decisions about its implementation. The committee voted 5 to 7, with two abstentions, against recommending the DSP. Only two students sit on the committee.
After the meeting was adjourned, the chancellor made it clear that he would not take a stand against the horrific conditions under which UNC apparel is manufactured. We refused to take his inaction as a defeat.
Moving from the meeting to the administration building lobby, I made a statement to the press, stressing that students would “not allow business as usual to continue” in the administration building while the chancellor’s inaction allowed the continuation of sweatshop conditions for UNC garment workers. I said that students were asking the chancellor to allow UNC to live up to its title, the “university of the people,” by improving conditions for all people, including UNC housekeepers, teaching assistants and adjunct professors, and the students holding jobs in order to pay for their education.
We then moved from the lobby into the chancellor’s office. Several students sat in the office and linked arms, while others stood near the door. We chanted “UNC sweat-free!” as the chancellor made a quick exit.
Police entered the room and the captain, giving no warning, pointed me out and had his officers arrest me, giving the rest of the students a warning and adequate time to leave the office. Four other students remained and were arrested, with UNC senior and SAW member Salma Mirza carried out by the police. We are charged with “failure to disperse” and Mirza carries an extra charge for “non-compliance” with the police.
Despite there being two police stations close to campus in Chapel Hill, we were transported to a further station in Hillsborough and were kept in handcuffs and zip-ties for two hours. Mirza’s entire arm went numb before the officers finally cut the zip-ties off; and we all now have bruises around our wrists. The five of us are currently out of jail with a promise to appear in court over the summer.
Chancellor Moeser has expressed no remorse over his decision to arrest students rather than even discuss the option of enforcing labor codes which would grant UNC garment workers the right to fight for their basic human rights. He stated publicly that he was “disappointed” with our actions.
SAW has responded by stating that we “cannot begin to express our disappointment in the Chancellor of a university that calls itself the ‘university of the people,’ who would prefer to arrest peaceful student protesters instead of ensuring that there is justice for the workers who make this university run.”
For more information visit http://dsp4unc.wordpress.com/.