97 Hours of Struggle


Ben Manski


This
was the beginning of the end—200 of us pounding on the walls, on the floors,
on the doors, chanting “No More Bullshit,” and “We Say No to Sweatshop
Labor.” The 97-hour occupation of the Bascom Hall administration building
had come to an end.


It began on Monday evening,
February 8, at 5:00 PM at the center of the UW-Madison campus. Some 250
students and workers rallied in front of Bascom Hall. Speakers castigated the
Administration for failing to act in the spirit of the campus and the broader
community. Our position was clear: The University of Wisconsin must guarantee
that the public be provided with full disclosure of the working conditions
existent at all work sites involved in the production of UW-licensed apparel,
and that a living wage be paid to all those employed at those production
sites.


But the administrators in
Bascom Hall had not listened to us. For years we had leafleted, testified,
editorialized, cajoled, and passed resolutions to limited success. So, as the
rally ended, the organizers announced that it was time to occupy the
Administration’s central building—Bascom Hall. The doors were thrown open
and we marched in.


Once inside, the occupiers
gathered in the main rotunda and a group of initiators explained the context
in which the decision had been made to occupy Bascom Hall. Following this
update, the assembled group heard a proposal from the initiators that a
coordinating committee of four people be elected, and that this committee lead
discussions of the larger group; the initiators also proposed that decisions
throughout the occupation be made by a majority vote of two-thirds. After some
discussion, a coordinating committee of five people was elected, and the
voting process was affirmed.


We immediately reaffirmed
the demands for full public disclosure and for implementation of a living wage
guarantee. Then we debated the question of a women’s rights guarantee as a
condition for signing the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) Code of Conduct.
Eventually, it became clear that most of those present supported adopting the
women’s rights plank on the basis that these guarantees (maternal leave,
protection from harassment, etc.) were too important to ignore. An
overwhelming majority voted in favor of adopting the women’s rights demand.


With the first steps taken,
people met in small groups to discuss tactics and support work, and a security
schedule was established. Some people settled down with their class work,
others broke out musical instruments and songbooks and began to celebrate. The
campus police, for the first time in memory, were conspicuous in their
absence. Only a few uniformed cops stuck around to keep an eye on us, and at
one point that night Captain Burke stopped by to inform us that they would not
contest our presence.


Some 30 people participated
in the occupation that first night. On Tuesday night we were 40, on Wednesday
we had 60, on Thursday we were 120, and by the time victory was achieved, some
200 of us were holding the administration building hostage. Throughout the
week a team of support people worked 18 hours a day to relay messages, provide
us with supplies, contact the media for us, and generally do what could be
done to further the efficacy of the occupation. Mobilization teams were sent
out to distribute leaflets, phone contact lists, and make announcements in
front of classes. Bright green We Support the Sit-In signs appeared in offices
and store windows across campus and around the city.


Support statements poured
in. Students at UW Stevens Point began wearing armbands in solidarity with the
sit-in. Student, labor, and democracy organizers at Georgetown, Duke, and a
dozen other schools sent messages of support. Small businesses, co-ops, and
local unions in the Madison area kept us fed and supplied with coffee. WORT
89.9 FM kept the community up-to-date with regular reports. Members of the
faculty, speaking at official university events marking the UW’s
sesquicentennial year, castigated the Administration for its heartlessness;
other professors wrote editorials in support of the occupation.


On February 9, the
occupation group decided to call a support rally for the following day at
noon. Less than 24 hours later, 300 people were rallying outside of Bascom
Hall, thus demonstrating the level of attention and immediacy with which the
community regarded our action. On February 11, a crowd of 200 people rallied,
and then marched around to the back of the building, entered the basement, and
chanted and shouted their way through the building to the Chancellor’s
offices, where they then proceeded to raise a ruckus until an aide made an
announcement that David Ward had agreed to meet with us.


What emerged was a day-
by-day back and forth exchange of letters articulating each side’s position.
The Chancellor would issue a written statement, we would respond with our
statement criticizing his position, and then he would respond. By Wednesday we
were fed up with the letter writing and demanded that he sit down and talk
with us. On Friday, with news circulating that a dozen or so people were
preparing to begin a hunger strike, the Chancellor agreed to meet with us and
we reached the agreement that ended the occupation.


Many
of us recognized that the action we had taken to occupy Bascom Hall was an act
of education in its own right. We also saw that the occupation provided
further opportunities to study. One work group got together and constructed a
giant plaster sewing machine emblazoned with the university’s red “W.”
This sewing machine was placed on the lap of a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln
on top of Bascom Hall. The image of Abe sewing a Wisconsin windbreaker
appeared on the front pages of newspapers the next day.


Another group of people
organized three on-the-spot teach-ins; these involved lectures and discussion
on the topics of the rise of corporate power in the United States, labor
history circa 1900-1930, and the status of the garment industry in the modern
global economy. Additionally, a series of non-violence trainings were held
throughout the week.


We were victorious not only
in bringing the Chancellor and, therefore, the entire university around to our
position; in the end he agreed to require the CLC Code of Conduct to implement
full public disclosure, living wages, and women rights guarantees. We were
victorious also in substantially shifting the balance of power on campus; the
students, campus workers, and the community had finally won an issue of major
debate at the UW-Madison. Perhaps most importantly, we were victorious in
teaching ourselves and the wider community a lesson about radicalism, about
solidarity, and about direct action.


The overall balance of the
victory lay with the organizing so many of us had been engaged in for so many
years. We had added more links to the chain. What follows is a brief overview
of eight of those links.


UW-Madison Alliance
for Demo- cracy180/MDE; http://www.Sit. wisc.edu/~democrac.



The UW-Madison Alliance for
Democracy 180/MDE was formed in the spring of 1996 partly in response to the
signing of a contract between the Reebok sweatshop corporation and the
University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. In the years that followed, the
Alliance organized numerous protests against UW’s involvement in sweatshop
labor. The Alliance for Democracy also served as a core group throughout the
protest. Because of the nature of the counter-corporate, pro-democracy direct
action organizing that the Alliance had done over the years, Alliance members
were among the more experienced, connected, and committed people involved in
the action. The Alliance was also the group that initiated and sketched out
the occupation.


Because of the character of
the UW-Madison Alliance for Democracy as an actual “alliance” of people
from many different communities of interests, many people took part in the
occupation that might not otherwise have acted on the sweatshop issue as being
one which was directly relevant to them.


Madison
Anti-Sweatshop Coalition (MASC); http://www.Asm. Wisc.edu/masc.



 The Madison
Anti-Sweatshop Coalition was formed over the summer of 1998 to broaden the
anti-sweatshop fight beyond campus, and as a means to include communities
which had recently begun to take on the sweatshop issue in a major way. Over
the course of the months leading up to the Bascom Hall occupation, MASC served
as the main local organizational force in fighting sweatshops.


MASC provided the
occupation with a core group of people who grasped the intricacies of the
sweatshop issue both at the local level and more generally. The Madison
Anti-Sweatshop Coalition served to bring a much broader and more diverse
cross-section of organizations and communities into the anti-sweatshop fight.


Because of their
affiliation with the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), MASC members
ensured that the Bascom Hall occupation stayed in communication with
anti-sweatshop activists on other campuses. We were in touch with students at
Georgetown and Duke on a regular basis both during the occupation, and in the
weeks leading up to it.


Associated Students
of Madison (ASM); http://www.Asm.wisc. Edu/.



The Associated Students of
Madison is the campus student association, representing the 37,000+ students
of UW-Madison. ASM is a rank and file organization in the sense that every
student is a member, and that all ASM campaigns and most committees are open
to all students. ASM is led by an elected 33-person council, which sets policy
and priorities for the organization, and allocates millions of dollars to
student organizations and services. In 1998, the radical UNITY! slate won 16
of 33 seats on the Council. The new ASM leadership established the ASM Social
Responsibility Campaign, which among other things, took a lead on the
sweatshop issue.


ASM, as the campus student
association, is unquestionably the most broad-based student organization at
UW-Madison; it also has the largest number of members not only on paper, but
also in terms of active members. The involvement of ASM leadership in the
occupation meant that many students took part in the occupation that had never
participated in direct action before. It also meant that the occupation had
greater credibility with the Administration and the media as being an action
that students in general supported.


ASM resources proved
essential in ensuring the success of the occupation. Tools such as quality
walkie-talkies, portable computers, cell phones, and megaphones were all
readily available due to ASM involvement; the ASM offices and ASM staff
organizers, along with the UW Greens Infoshop, served as the main base of
support work for phone banking, web and email updates, media work, and so on.


ASM elections provided a
forum for students to ratify or reject the goals of the occupation by
referenda. Students generally showed their support for the goals of the
occupation in the February 23-25 elections by passing the anti-sweatshop
referenda with over 76 percent of the vote.


UW Federation of
Labor & South Central Federation of Labor; http://www.Sit.wisc.edu/~workers/


The UW Federation of Labor
was formed in the fall of 1997 as a means to unite campus labor unions and
student organizations. To this date, the UWFL’s main project, outside of
bringing itself into being as a working federation, has been to fight for a
guaranteed living wage for campus workers. Additionally, the Federation has
played a role in enabling actions of solidarity around campus labor issues,
including contractual struggles involving affiliated campus locals as well as
organizing around the rights of student workers and Limited Term Employees (LTEs).


The affiliated unions of
the UWFL played a significant role in the Bascom Hall occupation action; the
Teaching Assistants Association (TAA/AFT) membership and the members of AFSCME
171 and 2412 were very supportive.


The South Central
Federation of Labor (SCFL) is the regional labor council of the State of
Wisconsin AFL-CIO. SCFL involvement in the Madison Anti-Sweatshop Coalition
meant that the occupation received significant labor support throughout the
region, that SCFL’s Union-Labor News provided coverage of the action, and
that the AFL-CIO phone lists were activated to turn people out for
anti-sweatshop events. The South Central Federation of Labor is also the most
recognized and established labor organization in our region of Wisconsin.


Student of Color
Organizations


On the night of Thursday,
February 20, leaders of various students of color organizations joined the
occupation and stayed overnight. Thus, the action taken by leaders from within
the Asian American Student Union, the Black Student Union, MEChA, and other
student of color organizations represented a widening of the overall struggle
and a shift in the cultural and political content of the protest.


Students of color and
progressive white students have worked together over the past several years on
a number of fronts. The Civil Rights Defense Coalition served a role in
coordinating the struggle for the adoption of a strong affirmative action, or
so-called “Design for Diversity,” program across the UW System. Last fall,
the Black Student Union led a multiracial crowd of 500 students in a
demonstration of support for affirmative action. Later that night some 250 of
us confronted University of California Regent and corporate executive Ward as
he spoke at a Bradley Foundation-funded attack on affirmative action and
multiculturalism. The multiracial UNITY! slate ran 27 candidates for ASM
Council, and won 21 of those races. All of the UNITY! candidates participated
in the occupation.


Community; http://mcc.student-
org.wisc.edu/


Community support for the
occupation was strong throughout. Local elected officials affiliated with the
New Party, the Green Party, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party
came to offer support. Food co-ops and small businesses donated food, housing
co-ops donated blankets and other supplies, community members dropped off
cakes, pizza places delivered free pizzas (one pizza box came with word
“Revolution!” inscribed within), and the Cafe Assisi Collective
contributed coffee.


Faculty


Another important
development was the support among members of the UW-Madison faculty. A dozen
professors broke through the silence, which normally greets student-led
actions on this campus and spoke out strongly in support of our position.
After the occupation came to an end, Chancellor Ward indicated that it was in
part due to the support we received from professors whom he respected that he
decided to reevaluate his position. Some of the faculty who spoke out had been
involved in the effort to form the United Faculty and Academic Staff (UFAS/TAUWP/AFT)
union, others had been involved in the Democracy Teach-Ins over the years, and
still others spoke out due to students approaching them directly for support.


Media


Community radio WORT 89.9
FM and community television WYOU both carried daily in-depth stories about the
occupation. The campus dailies, the Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal,
as well as the Capital Times, the Madison Times, and the Isthmus,
all ran editorials strongly supporting our action.


The media attention the
occupation of Bascom Hall received was instrumental in bringing public
pressure on Chancellor Ward. We knew he couldn’t really afford to have the
anti-sweatshop protests outshine all other stories about UW during our
sesquicentennial celebration year. Did Chancellor Ward really want UW-Madison
to be known as a campus of building takeovers, radical politics, and a
heartless administration?


So
what to conclude? Well, for one thing, many people reversed their positions
because of the occupation. Chancellor David Ward reversed his position on
sweatshops because of our protest. Ward also has been heard recently wondering
on the radio whether Wisconsinites are aware that the public status of the
University of Wisconsin is at stake; this from a person who several years ago
said that he liked to think of the UW as if it was “almost like running a
conglomerate.”


The Daily Cardinal
(neo-liberal) and Wisconsin State Journal (conservative), both of which
had editorialized against us only a week before, also eventually came out in
support of our position in editorials and cartoons. Even some members of the
College Republicans reversed course and came out to support our demands; this
coming from an organization whose members registered the “Enslave Burma
Coalition” as a student organization only a year or so ago.


The Bascom Hall Blackhawk
Anti-Sweatshop Occupation was a success chiefly because it was a long time
coming. Over the years, we organized, organized, and organized some more.
Through our collective labor, we created an opportunity to seize a victory in
the struggle between democracy and corporate rule. We seized that opportunity,
and we won. But it’s not over yet.
                       
Z


Ben
Manski is a member of UW-Madison Alliance for Democracy. Photos by John E.
Peck.