Sound of Obies unionizing: silence
Support actions to end sanctions
Oberlin students are finally proving that they aren't all talk. The recent announcement that SWOC has gathered the necessary support for unionization is a massive advancement in student power dynamics on campus.
Student activists have taken the time and energy to follow through with protests and complaints by carefully organizing a petition campaign that has included over half of the student CDS workers. This cross-section of student workers that has agreed to unionization is taking risks - far beyond those of the standard-everyday protest - and their result will be supported legally - if not morally on campus. If the College does not voluntarily recognize the union, the National Labor Relations Board could legally hold an election on campus to yield for legal ratification of the union.
The response to this development has been one of silence. Thus far, the United Auto Workers union has not specifically endorsed the budding union, even though SWOC organizers feel the UAW workers support them in their efforts. It is difficult to say what exactly the response should be. Unionization carries significant consequences, but those consequences are and will remain unclear in these early stages. SWOC's stated goals are helpful for organizational purposes, but the power afforded by a union is such that it can and will transcend its initial humble prospects. The UAW and administrators should indeed scrutinize this thoroughly, but with a caring eye for the seriousness of these students.
The caution of the UAW to accept the union petition could be viewed as apathy on the part of the UAW workers. Such an interpretation is easy to understand - a bunch of rich kids want more money for working their cushy 10-hour-per-week CDS jobs - hardly inspiration for a revolt of the proletariat. If their reaction is indeed apathy or annoyance, this should be condemned. These students are committed to what they are doing. They are following through with their protests last fall with a clinical observation of the rules and routes of adults. If anything, they should be treated as adults in this matter. Respect is deserved for these students. Acceptance of their union is not an absolute necessity, but recognition is.
This is a very big deal with huge legal potential for students. It should be discussed, not behind closed doors, but in the open, because if this process is taken to completion - and there is no reason to think it won't - it will have serious repercussions for student workers and those using their services.
Between America's preoccupation with salacious presidential affairs and weekly cruise-missile strikes to heretofore unknown countries, we as a people have remained oblivious of the darker aspects of U.S. foreign policy. And though our despotic flavor of the month changes, one month it may be Bin-Laden, the next month it's Milosevic, throughout this entire decade one figure persists: Saddam Hussein. To punish Hussein, dating back to the end of the Gulf War, the United States has enforced a crippling sanction on Iraq which continues to decimate the Iraqi population. To protest this practice a group of Oberlin students have taken bold steps to counteract such damaging policy measures. The recent actions by these groups at the Oberlin post office, such as trying to mail such benign supplies as aspirin, deserve respect.
Sanctions, on the surface at least, appear bloodless and do not attract much attention. While CNN can garner massive ratings by showing grainy, black and white films of bombs hurtling down ventilation shafts, such round-the-clock documentation of U.S. patrol boats blocking shipments of medicine and children's toys do not offer such potential. As a result, few people are even aware of the massive damage that has been inflicted on Iraqi civilians.
Instead of preventing only the importation of weapons or materials used to fuel Saddam's war machine, we have needlessly killed thousands of children by refusing them medicine, food and sanitation supplies. And just as our bombs only frighten and kill civilians, while Saddam is hunkered down in one of his many concrete bunkers, you can bet that Saddam is getting more than his share of food, antibiotics and fresh water while many innocent children die of malnutrition and dysentery.
Due to the virtual news blackout pertaining to these sanctions, the efforts of Oberlin's humanitarian groups are commendable. These efforts have a great potential for effecting change in U.S. foreign policy. For one, by aligning themselves with larger U.S. humanitarian organizations we can funnel the strengths of our grassroots participation into a larger, more cohesive entity. Secondly, the goals of these groups are fully attainable. By attacking tangible, changeable policies, the potential for change is much higher than if attacking amorphous, yet deeply ensconced political or economic structures, as worthy of attack they may be. If the U.S. is as deeply concerned with humanitarian efforts as we claim, it is imperative that we work to end such deadly sanctions.
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 19, April 9, 1999
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