As the Labor day weekend comes to a close, it seems only appropriate to spend a few moments reflecting on the labor and the labor movement. Far too often, we’re happy to fire up the barbecues, enjoy the long weekend, and lament the end of summer. However, in our 3 day weekend bliss, we fail to acknowledge what this holiday is about. Personally and professionally, there are many reasons why I am grateful for organized labor and the labor movement. While I thank them for fighting for the 8 hour work day, overtime, and child labor laws –but there is so much more that they provide us.
1. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (giving voice to API workers)
For the past 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of being a member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. APALA, was my first exposure to organized labor. The men and women that I met have dedicated so much time, energy, and effort to ensuring that the voices of Asian and Pacific Islander Labor is heard. Too often, in deracialized discussions of work –immigrants and minorities are left out of the picture despite the fact that these workers are often the most exploited. Furthermore, in the current political climate, API workers are not exempt from the rampant xenophobia that informs all levels of social and public policy. The result, discrimination that is rationalized as part of promoting ‘national security.’ The reality is that API workers now, as in the past, are essential to holding up the US economy and should be respected for their contributions.
2. Si Se Puede!
Yes we can. Organizers —they are a unique breed. I admire them and hope to be more like them. I have never met a group of people that face such daunting odds with such unwavering perseverance and optimism. They approach every problem with the fundamental beleif that they will find and create solutions. This attitude is contagious!
3. Aqui Estamos y no nos vamos!
We’re here and we aren’t leaving! The labor movement and workers advocates taught me the importance of determination. For those working for social justice, one of the most important things that I’ve come to realize is that this work is about longevity. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Commitment and dedication means not only taking care of others, but taking care of yourself such that you can continue to help others in whatever ways are possible. I look at the men and women I met ten years ago when I was first introduced to organized labor as a young graduate student, and they are all still involved –working to make change happen, and doing whatever it takes to promote fair and just policies.
This past year, more than any other, I realized the importance of taking care of one another . In the face of grade tragedy and adversity, I’ve watched the brothers and sisters of the labor movement come together to take care of their membership. While the pubic often focuses on news bites and the political leverage of unions (at least if you listen to the limited focus of mass media), what’s lost are the ways in which the memberships come together to support their communities, their friends, and their families both financially and emotionally.
5. Social Justice
While I’ve learned so much from my friends in the labor movement that goes way beyond a short list of five things… what I am most grateful for is a better understanding of what social justice means. The people that I’ve met, and the stories that they’ve shared about their lives inspire and humble me. When I think about the type of person, and professional I want to be –I always remember the courage, integrity, and determination of the people I’ve met during various campaigns and hope I can translate that into my work.
As we all head back to our respective offices, I hope that we take a moment to reflect on how we’ve benefitted from the Labor Movement and that we continue to work for living wage, health benefits, and safe work places. I hope we continue to fight worker exploitation and workplace intimidation.
Thank you brothers and sisters, past and present, for all that you’ve done to make my life more rich and meaningful.