Pro-Labor Group Speaks Up
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 02:11
Between efforts to unionize dining workers and to end the university’s contract with Adidas, Georgetown Solidarity Committee has been a vocal presence on campus in recent years.
But at GSC meetings, members remain silent while one person talks, wiggling their fingers to agree or making a blocking hand motion to continue the discussion.
As a nonhierarchical, open-membership group of roughly 15 to 20 members, GSC uses consensus-based decision-making tactics to organize.
“Generally, if there is even a single member of the group that has really strong objections, we won’t go forward with it until we figure out a way to alleviate concerns,” GSC member Julia Hubbell (COL ’15) said.
GSC was founded during the 1996-1997 school year. One of its first initiatives was participating in the Guess Jeans campaign, an anti-sweatshop initiative. Students bought a pair of Guess Jeans and then allowed students in Red Square to write messages to the company on the pants. The jeans were then mailed to the Guess corporate headquarters.
Current GSC members have continued to support workers on campus by organizing workers’ breakfasts every Friday at 6:30 a.m. and bi-annual barbecues that are open to workers’ families, friends and the broader campus community.
“That’s to show [the workers] that we really appreciate everything they do on this campus and [that] we really want them to feel like they’re a part of the campus community,” GSC member Erin Riordan (COL ’15) said.
The organization also collaborates with the Center for Social Justice to run an English-as-a-second language program for workers at the university.
But according to Riordan, GSC’s advocacy for social justice issues isn’t contained to Georgetown’s campus.
“I see a lot of injustice happening in D.C. or in the world at large or different things going on that I don’t necessarily agree with,” Riordan said. “GSC is a way that we can really stand up and fight against that.”
Recent endeavors include an attempt to encourage Chipotle Mexican Grill to sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
GSC also endorses “Real Food, Real Jobs,” a campaign led by the union of the O’Donovan Hall workers, UNITE HERE that aims to bring just jobs and healthy food into D.C. cafeterias.
This year, GSC members hope to work more closely with the university administration.
“One of the things we would really like to do this semester and through this year is to talk to the university about creating a panel or a committee that brings together students, workers, university officials and Aramark representatives,” Hubbell said. Aramark is the dining service provider contracted by the university to run Leo’s. “Until now, there have been various attempts at committees to solve problems, but none of them have ever had all concerns represented.”
According to Riordan, GSC generally does not plan specific initiatives at the start of each year.
“We’re continuing to host events every single week … but we haven’t done many specific initiatives,” Riordan said. “Those tend to come up as issues [that] are brought to our attention, so a lot of what we do is community based.”
When discussions result in initiatives, members claim specific roles in the project by declaring “bottom line” — which means taking responsibility for a certain task.
“We have individual actors but ultimately, all decisions go back to the group,” Hubbell said.
Members sit on the university’s Advisory Committee on Business Practices, which assists with on-campus endeavors, and the Licensing Oversight Committee, which focuses on off-campus licensing issues.
Hubbell said that GSC has largely been embraced by the university.
“The issues that GSC deals with are very complicated in nature and this means that there are a lot of opinions on them,” Hubbell said. “There are absolutely people on campus who don’t always agree with the positions that we advocate, but the great thing about Georgetown so far is that there hasn’t been any real backlash even when there’s been disagreement.”
GSC member Katerina Downward (SFS ’14) attributed this acceptance to Georgetown’s Jesuit affiliation.
“There has been the underlying will of both GSC members and other people in the community to link these campaigns and these motivations to the broader social justice goals, emblematized and encapsulated in the Jesuit identity,” Downward said.
Current members look to GSC alumni and their initiatives as inspiration for the future of the committee. Riordan said she specifically admires the 2005 Living Wage Campaign as an example of a successful GSC effort.