As workers and holiday shoppers spilled out of Manhattan’s midtown skyscrapers and stores during rush hour last week, they were confronted with an unusual sight: Several thousand demonstrators, shouting “Down with Nike!” and “Shame on Disney!”, marched from Niketown on 57th Street to the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, where a rally was held decrying horrible working conditions in the sweatshops that manufacture goods for these and other companies like Wal-Mart, Liz Claiborne and the Gap.
The New York rally was part of the third annual nationwide International Human Rights Day campaign, with demonstrations scheduled in more than a dozen cities, from Boston to Albuquerque and Baltimore to tiny Kodiak, Alaska.
Sponsored by the National Labor Committee, the New York Public Interest Research Group and the People of Faith Network, the New York march was truly a gorgeous mosaic: Asians, African-Americans, whites and Latinos were all well represented. Although there was a healthy contingent of older activists and sixties veterans, the demonstration was predominantly young, with a huge turnout from high schools and colleges–the result of years of outreach to schools by the sponsors. Twenty grammar schools and high schools were represented, as were six of the SUNY campuses, City College, Brooklyn College, Columbia, NYU, Princeton and Yale. The United Students Against Sweatshops, a fast-growing activist presence at high schools and college campuses across the country, was at the rally in force.
Organized labor was also present. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney told the students in the crowd, “You are leading the way…you are our inspiration.” People from UNITE, Jobs with Justice, the Laborers union and the United Food and Commercial Workers were at the rally as well. The antisweatshop movement in New York has been growing steadily; each year this demo has doubled in size.
The spirit of Seattle was definitely alive in these demonstrations. The campaign against sweatshops is part of a growing international movement against corporate domination, as embodied in the World Trade Organization, and for fundamental labor and human rights everywhere. Like the multinational corporations they’re combating, the students and workers at these rallies fully understand the global nature of the struggle. They were fighting with equal vigor against labor abuses from Borough Park, Brooklyn, to Bangladesh, from Saipan to San Juan, Puerto Rico.