Reflecting on a Weekend of Worker Justice in Pittsburgh

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Photo Credit: Morgan Currier

Georgetown University students Esmi Huerta and Cassidy Jensen recently travelled to Pittsburgh, where they joined hundreds of students committed to worker justice advocacy for a conference organized by United Students Against Sweatshops. They reflected on the insights they gained at the gathering and how they hope to apply those insights in their future efforts on campus and beyond.

We’d like to thank the Kalmanovitz Initiative and our other sponsors for sending us to Pittsburgh, where the 2016 USAS National Conference was being held. United Students Against Sweatshops is a national organization of student groups that organize around domestic and international labor issues. At the conference we met student organizers from other campuses and learned about their campaigns. In addition to sharing strategies with other students we heard from labor organizers involved in national movement like the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, OurWalmart, and Stop Staples.

Meeting with these winning organizers in this enthusiastic space provided insight into our own campaigns. Upon introduction we had to wrap up our campaigns into ten-second elevator pitches, which provided an interesting format through which to view our work. What exactly is at stake? How are we fighting? How can we do better?

The highlight of the conference was a 400+ person march through the University of Pittsburgh and the surrounding neighborhood. The army of anarchists, union members, grad students, adjunct professors, hospital workers, dining hall workers, and USAS members shut down the streets to advocate for economic justice and respect.

Through each was fighting around issues that were particular to their workplace, the action emphasized the connections between the struggles in all sectors of labor. Whether the oppressor is a company that denies healthcare, a university that increases student debt, or management that dissuades collective bargaining, no one is free until everyone is free.

What we take from these lessons is the necessity to tie together the struggles of our own campus workers. At Georgetown, students and workers are building solidarity together and advocating for better conditions.

We learned that large visible acts of solidarity bring to light issues that are otherwise invisible. They connect people who would otherwise never talk. Cassidy and I realized that we need to be more ambitious in our thinking as well as more strategic about what we’re working towards.

Instead of lamenting bureaucratic obstacles, we as organizers need to recognize the strength of what we do have: Workers and students who are invested in improving their lives and this world.

Thank you to all of our partners who helped us attend this conference: Students of Color Alliance (SOCA), Corp Philanthropy, and the Center for Social Justice (CSJ)!

Esmi Huerta (SFS ’17) and Cassidy Jensen (COL ’18)