College is a place where young minds come to be filled with grand ideas of worldly importance. Where intellect is sharpened and individuals are molded to enter the world as working adults. Unfortunately, in recent years, a college degree that once gave you a leg up from the competition, now merely keeps you afloat in the drowning American economy. Not too long ago, a college degree set you right into the job market with a good occupation and a fair wage. In this day and age, those that graduate college are not guaranteed anything of the sort.
As a current college senior, I myself am slowly starting to peel back my denial and open my eyes to the job market that sits before me, or rather, the lack of it.
I spent the summer working on the LA Labor 411 directory as the Project Manager, talking and writing about a movement that is promoting good, middle-class jobs. So it was only natural for me to ask, where were the unions in all this talk of me getting a job after college? Since my experience working in the world of union activism, I have been constantly thinking about all the possible jobs right here in the U.S. and how many jobs we’re shipping overseas as we kiss manufacturing goodbye - all in the interest of getting cheaper and cheaper t-shirts made by poor Chinese laborers. As I go about my daily life, I am always thinking whether or not something is touched by a union worker, is union made, or even American made.
I decided to browse my college bookstore and see what University gear was made in the United States. Sadly, I knew to not expect anything to be union made. As I went up and down the rows in the apparel section, I saw brands like Under Armor, League Collegiate, Jansport, Champion, etc. Every single one of these brands took me on a trip around the world, with tags that said “Made in Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, China, Honduras, Colombia, Cambodia, Mexico, Nicaragua, India, Pakistan.”
Of all the apparel, I found 4 brands that advertised that they were made in the USA. Upon further inspection, I found that one of these brands advertised with a sticker on the front of its apparel that says “designed and embroidered in the USA”; however, the inside tag stated “Made in China.” So my count went down to 3 brands of American made university apparel.
Next, I decided to go downstairs and check out textbooks. I searched through Anthropology, Art History, Religious Studies, Sociology, Math, Psychology, Political Science, Physics, Philosophy, Music, History, Chicano Studies, Classics, etc. and found that 87% of books I turned over were made right here in the U.S.! The next runner up was China, publishing .06% of the books. The other countries I found were Canada, the UK, and Italy, each comprising only .02% of the books I looked at… Things were starting to turn around for my quest!
On my way out I stopped by the notebook section and came to find that most, if not all, of the notebooks were made by a company called Roaring Spring Paper Products. This company not only uses recycled paper in their notebooks, but is American made as well!
From my short excursion through the university bookstore, I found that nothing was explicitly union made.
After doing a little research, I found that most of my professors, the servers in the cafeteria and the support and maintenance crews on campus are all union. And have been since the 1970s, when the University of California became subject to collective bargaining by California state law. Currently, there are 16 unions that represent approximately 73,000 UC employees in 24 bargaining units. So it turns out, there is a union presence on the UCSB campus, maybe just not confined in shelves of the bookstore!
It is this that becomes the challenge for the labor movement: to reach out to college students, who may be unaware of how they are touched by union work, and have them see that their future depends on job options right here in America. It is these future workers of America that we need to mobilize to become part of the Buy Union! movement. Because buying union is about being a responsible consumer…just like using a reusable bag when you go grocery shopping or having a refillable canteen for water. And let me tell you, college students on my campus love to be responsible consumers… its merely about planting the seed and watching it grow.
Project Manager, LA Labor 411