Guest blog post by Jack Seigel
Last night, I attended a Jobs With Justice community meeting that included labor leaders, elected officials, community organizers, union members, and concerned citizens, with a spirit of checking in on people post-election and reaffirming a commitment to the work ahead.
As we sat and listened to the reactions from the group, we heard some hopeful responses. A local worker shared how joining a union changed his life and lifted him firmly into the working class, but he never forgot where he came from and was happy to help others follow a similar path. He wondered aloud about irrational fears of corrupt union bosses. All he sees are hardworking people who want a better life for their families. Other members of all ages murmured in agreement.
Many organizers applauded both the amount of new faces at the meeting and the diversity of our coalition. Inclusive dialogue is important; it starts in union hall basements, continues on the streets with our neighbors, and ends with a unified voice that politicians can’t ignore. An organizer correctly pointed out that it would take a while to take back the levers of power politically, but organizing people into concentrated expressions of power couldn’t wait, and clearly it wouldn’t.
Some of the most inspiring news was about ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments that just passed in other states and can serve as a blueprint for getting progressive policies in front of voters for a stamp of approval. Local labor movements also talked about ballot initiatives that have already been filed for 2018 and the work needs to be done; everything from getting signatures to launching get-out-the-vote efforts.
But before we get to that, there are actions we can join in the near future. Fast food workers will be engaging in a strike meant to demand better working conditions and higher pay. It is important that we stand in solidarity with them, especially because it is impossible to support a family on one or even multiple part time food service jobs. Working 40 hours a week should get people out of poverty, not keep them living check to check – at the mercy of landlords, not able to afford sickness, vacation, education or savings. Service workers are undervalued and dehumanized in the quest for cheap food, and the worker is only a means to the end.
When treated as replaceable cogs in a machine by large companies, people get lost and society is happy to keep them lost. The working class is out of sight and out of mind, while those who are privileged consider moving to Canada and complain about the politics of a rural America that we could not begin to understand and won’t work to reach out to. Building a broader sense of community – a coalition of people who feel empathy to each other, who stand in solidarity and are committed to social, racial, and economic justice – is what will shield local communities from a creeping tide of national hate.