Solidarity Education: Engaging Worker Rights at St. Peter’s Prep Arrupe Week

BY ISN STAFFApril 26, 2012

Written By: Maura Toomb, Director of Campus Ministry, St. Peter’s Preparatory School

March 26-30 was Arrupe Week at Saint Peter’s Prep. Each year the program brings a specific issue of injustice to the forefront and encourages our community to engage it and take action. This year’s theme, “Rights of the Worker,” was relevant in today’s world and directly related to Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous 1973 address “Men and Women for Others” where he stated,[quote style=”unboxed”][Catholics must have] a firm determination to draw no profit whatever from clearly unjust sources. Not only that, but going further, to diminish progressively our share in the benefits of an economic and social system in which the rewards of production accrue to those already rich while the cost of production lies heavily on the poor.[/quote]

Arrupe Week allowed our community to look at Rights of the Worker through curriculum, service opportunities, a keynote address and community mass.

On the large scale, we brought the issue of worker rights to Prep through the environment of the school. There were profiles of labor leaders displayed in the hallways, quotes and statistics about the dignity of work on posters throughout the school, and a large sculpture designed by Mr. Nyugen Smith’s Design and Color class displayed in Mulry Lobby. We also kept powerpoint presentations about the history of Jesuits and local labor movements as well as the dignity of work through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching running on the display screens and played contemporary music related to the theme during class changes.

St. Peter’s Prep student Vince Davis-Espino, ’14 working with Rocko Tejada of the school’s maintenance staff during Workers Appreciation Day

On Tuesday, Prep students participated in Worker Appreciation Day. During their free periods, and after school, students signed up to do the jobs of our Operations and Maintenance Staff. This activity gave them the chance to experience firsthand the important work that goes into keeping their school running each day.

Our keynote address was delivered by Jim Keady on Wednesday afternoon. He is the founder and executive director of Team Sweat – an international coalition of consumers, investors, and workers committed to ending the injustice in Nike’s sweatshops around the world. Keady explained that while Nike is by no means the only apparel company to rely upon sweatshop labor, its size and its reputation as a leader in the marketplace make it a logical starting point to effect change throughout the industry. His work on the sweatshop issue has taken him to factories and workers’ slums in Indonesia, where he lived as one of the workers. His presentation was evocative and eye-opening, as TJ Ward, ’14 said: “I had no idea the kind of injustice that exists. He really made me want to stay informed and do something for these people.” Most importantly, Keady closed his presentation by suggesting tangible ways that Prep students can get involved in the fight against Nike’s injustices. We continued this call for action with Thursday morning’s presentation.

On Thursday morning, all students saw a presentation by Ms. Rachel Taber, the community education coordinator for Alta Gracia, a sweat-free apparel company started because of student efforts. She spoke to our students about the history of Alta Gracia and how they can get involved in the sweat-free labor movement. Her presentation highlighted the higher end of the labor standard for our students after their eyes were opened to the lower end of the standard in Keady’s presentation on Wednesday. Her presentation inspired Spencer Shickora, ’14 to begin a Facebook page to keep people informed about workers rights: “Real Change: Students for Workers’ Rights.”

During our concluding community mass, we prayed that we could find our voice to speak out against systems of injustice. Our homilist, Mr. Richard Espinal of Centro Altagracia de Fe y Justicia, inspired us to remember the dignity of work with his reflections on the gospel (Matthew 20:1-6).

Sculpture created for the week by St. Peter’s Prep’s Design and Color Class

There’d be no possible way to detail all of the creative and engaging ways this was brought into the classroom during that Arrupe week. Our students had the opportunity to engage this topic in all disciplines, through classroom exercises and invited speakers from outside our community. They heard from labor lawyers, those involved with the Catholic Worker movement, and community organizers who work with migrants laborers. Students even participated in a tour of Jersey City, which used local landmarks to illustrate the city’s history of labor rights. We tried our best to bring the topic to all parts of the school community.

Lastly, students and faculty alike were given advocacy sheets on the last day of Arrupe Week, meant to be a resource to keep our community informed and active in the fight for fair treatment of workers. We pray that the dialogue started at Prep during Arrupe Week will continue, both in our school and in our homes as we continue the important work on behalf of laborers both here and abroad.

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