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Interview with Sarah Hirsch: Sit-in over, struggle against sweatshops continues

By staff

Sarah Hirsch is a member of Student Action with Workers and a part-time student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She took part in a historic 16-day sit-in at UNC, demanding that the UNC administration break their ties with the sweatshops that manufacture UNC apparel. Rather than negotiate, the administration had five of the students arrested, including Hirsch, on May 2.

Fight Back!: What are the achievements of the sit-in?

Hirsch: It is possible that Chancellor Moeser will not adopt the Designated Suppliers Program [DSP] before he leaves his post at the end of June. We have made it clear to the incoming Chancellor that we are serious about workers’ rights at Carolina and we have shown how much public support there is in the community for the DSP. The Chancellor was forced to call an emergency meeting of the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee and the DSP is back on the table.

Our sit-in empowered students and strengthened our group, Student Action with Workers. We built relationships with campus workers and student groups, and made important connections with community members. Next year we will have a strong group and are in a better position than ever to act in solidarity with workers. The sit-in is over but the fight for the DSP will go on and we will continue to work for justice for all workers.

Fight Back!: Did you receive support from other groups? What impact did this have in the struggle?

Hirsch: By the end of the sit-in we had endorsements from 18 different student groups. Students from many of these groups joined our sit-in or did support work for us during the sit-in. We were endorsed by the Progressive Faculty Network, the university Employee Forum and several local unions. Our local state senator supported us and came to our rallies and many people from the community were behind us.

Support ranged anywhere from bringing us food and sending us encouraging messages to spending the weekend inside of the building. Groups at other schools around the country that are affiliated with United Students Against Sweatshops sent messages out about our sit-in and did solidarity actions at their own universities. Having four sit-ins for the DSP around the country take place within a week and a half of each other strengthened us. Having students and faculty behind the sit-in was most important to us because the administration needed to see how much support for workers rights there is at Carolina.

Fight Back!: Chancellor Moeser does not seem interested in negotiating. What are your next steps?

Hirsch: The Chancellor would rather arrest students than take a stand for human rights. Chancellor Moeser was never willing to have an honest discussion about the DSP, and consistently misrepresented the policy to the media. He did not respond to the ten-page letter we sent him during the sit-in that corrected many of the untrue things he had said and asked him to meet with us. The Chancellor’s refusal to respect basic human rights forced us into occupying South Building. He has tarnished his legacy and UNC’s reputation, but the administration has been reminded once again that students will make sacrifices to stand in solidarity with workers.

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