The Global Economy, Student Activism, and Worker EmpowermentMatthew S. Williams
For the past few decades, the U.S. anti-sweatshop movement was bolstered by actions from American college students. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) effectively advanced the cause of workers’ rights in sweatshops around the world. Strategizing against Sweatshops chronicles the evolution of student activism and presents an innovative model of how college campuses are a critical site for the advancement of global social justice.
Matthew Williams shows how USAS targeted apparel companies outsourcing production to sweatshop factories with weak or non-existent unions. USAS did so by developing a campaign that would support workers organizing by leveraging their college’s partnerships with global apparel firms like Nike and Adidas to abide by pro-labor codes of conduct.
Strategizing against Sweatshops exemplifies how organizations and actors cooperate across a movement to formulate a coherent strategy responsive to the conditions in their social environment. Williams also provides a model of political opportunity structure to show how social context shapes the chances of a movement’s success—and how movements can change that political opportunity structure in turn. Ultimately, he shows why progressive student activism remains important.
"Williams’ interviews bring the messy, dynamic process of movement strategizing to life.... (T)hey offer insightful insider analysis into their campaigns, what did and did not work, and how they responded to new challenges. This is the core of the book, and its greatest strength.... (A)n expertly done, in-depth study of a movement that managed to thrive and survive in an exceptionally challenging period for progressive social movements."
"(A) detailed study of how university students rose up against the exploitation of workers in the global garment industry…. Williams delivers valuable understanding into the decision-making process of social movements committed to labor issues.”
"Strategizing against Sweatshops impressively details the connections between college campus activists in the United States and apparel workers around the world in a sustained movement of transnational solidarity. Scholars of student activism and social movements will benefit from Williams’s analysis of the precise mechanisms used to exert power globally in an era of neoliberal policies and race-to-the-bottom corporate labor practices. While their successes have been limited, the USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) provides a helpful case study to explore transnational strategies for rebuilding workers’ rights."
—Teachers College Record
"A well-documented and welcome addition to the literature on transnational labor activism and organizational processes and, as an engaging case study of U.S. student organizing, would fit well into an undergraduate course on social movements…. The book provides important insights into an understudied dimension of the global antisweatshop movement and will be of interest not only to scholars in the field but to student activists as well."
—American Journal of Sociology
" Williams’s study of the anti- sweatshop movement from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s traces how haphazard student efforts to empower sweated laborers evolved into a coordinated project with international reach. His interviews with anti-sweatshop activists and his history of the movement also raise the sobering question of how to build solidarity in a world of 'neoliberal globalization.'... Williams does a solid job of incorporating his interviews into a broader historical and analytical narrative of the U.S. anti-sweatshop movement." "