UT students arrested during protest
AUSTIN—Students at the University of Texas were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing after refusing to leave the fourth floor of the Main Building on Wednesday evening.
The 18 students, members of the Students Against Sweatshops Coalition, were staging a sit-in in protest of University affiliation with the Fair Labor Association and the administration’s refusal to affiliate with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, protesters said.
“We are here because we feel that as students of the University of Texas we have not only the ability, but the responsibility to make a difference in workers lives,” said Nick Mitchell. “USAS has done it before and USAS will do it again.”
The University is not being asked to do anything radical, protesters said. The Workers’ Rights Consortium is a credible organization that nearly 200 universities in America have affiliated with. Unlike the Fair Labor Organization, the corporations who produce the apparel and own the factories do not have a position on the board responsible for overseeing factory conditions, they said.
“For three years this group has been asking the administration to give a damn about workers’ rights, and not just workers’ rights but their lives,” said Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. “And for three years this administration has turned away and said it wasn’t an important issue.”
The rally had begun outside on the West Mall rally space and was scheduled to stay there. Students listened to a series of speeches, participated in call and answer chants, signed posters and began making phone calls to UT President William Powers’ office.
After the students in the UT Tower were denied the ability to go to the restroom and return, as they had been promised, the organizers proposed that the protest be moved to the Tower.
Students entered and marched to the second floor concourse. Their chants rang out: “What’s outrageous—sweatshop wages. What’s disgusting—union busting. This is what democracy looks like. That is what hypocrisy looks like.”
Members of the UT police department greeted the students at the stairwell and informed them that they could not pass. When asked why, the officer said she was doing her job.
Mary Beth Mercatoris, the Assistant Dean of Students, spoke to the students and gave them an official warning that they were “disrupting University business.” Such an act is a Class B Misdemeanor, will result in arrest and a referral to Student Judicial Services, Mercatoris said. When asked, she said the arrests would be blanket and would not just be restricted to those students who fail to comply with the issued warnings.
The students sat on the steps until 4 p.m., speaking their call and answer chants and formulating a plan of action. They then returned to the West Mall Rally Space and began chanting while marching in a circle. Organizers began to figure out which exit the police would use so that a show of solidarity could be carried out.
At 5 p.m. the 18 individuals inside President Powers’ office were arrested. They were taken to Travis County Central Booking while a crowd of nearly 60 people chanted in solidarity.
“Let them go! Let them go!” the crowd chanted. “Outside of the Tower, students have power!”
The decision to arrest the students was made by UT Police, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly said. A spokesman for the University said the administration has been listening to the students and taking their complaints seriously over the past two years.
No other known arrests were made.
As of 7 p.m., the students are being processed and charged with criminal trespass.
“Well I’ve been arrested while protesting for what I thought was a serious issue,” said Paul Woodruff, dean of undergraduate studies and Mary Helen Thompson Centennial Professor in the Humanities. “And this is a serious issue. I’ll give the [students who were arrested] credit for that.”