Archive for the ‘Organized Labor’ Category

This post is the introduction to a paper I delivered as part of a series of talks culminating an immersion trip to Italy sponsored by the USD Francis Harpst  Center for Catholic Thought & Culture.  Today, in honor of the legacy of the work that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr did during his lifetime, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and why I believe we all must commit ourselves to continuing the work of Dr. King.

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“ We are not only living in a time of cataclysmic change; we live in an era in which human rights is the central world issue”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963, 94)

    On October 23, 1963, amidst a year-long campaign advocating for President John F. Kennedy to issue a second “Emancipation Proclamation” that enforced civil rights and voting rights via executive order (ibid 87), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address to the members of District 65 Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to commemorate their 30th anniversary. His speech highlighted the idea that the disempowered could fight economic and political power structures to achieve victory by engaging in a social movement so powerful that it enabled workers to “wrest some tokens of dignity from unwilling hands” (1963, 90).   The struggle for dignity, according to King, was an experience shared by unionists and African Americans and served as common ground that made the groups, allies in a broader struggle that linked labor rights to economic justice.  King acknowledged however, that numerous obstacles and barriers including racism within unions and society at large impeded social change. While unions were winning battles,  King warned that  even as those in power made concessions to unions, they would ‘give to us with one hand and snatch back with the other, every gain we make” (ibid). Achieving social justice meant acknowledging, “that mankind through the ages has been in a ceaseless struggle to give dignity and meaning to human life” (ibid).   Dr. King’s words and social analysis are equally important today as they were almost fifty years ago. The struggle for economic and racial justice remains at the forefront of political mobilization and action. Workers, particularly in the public sector, find themselves fighting their state governments for benefits, collective bargaining rights, and retirement. The civil sector, in an era of globalization, was once considered a safe haven for middle class jobs and lifestyles, now find their livelihoods in jeopardy.  Recent legislation enacted in Wisconsin and Ohio, and proposed changes in twenty-four other states, most notably Indiana, directly attack the collective bargaining rights of unionized public employees.  Additionally, there is anti-immigration legislation similar to Arizona’s SB1070, proposed in 24 states. These initiatives bring to the forefront the struggles facing both immigrant and non-immigrant workers across the country.  Funded and backed by a broad array of socially conservative politicians and think tanks, as well as corporate libertarians like the Koch brothers[1], these new initiatives attack the stability of government sector jobs and stealthily disguise moves toward privatization in the public sector including the prison, medical, and finance systems that need lower wages and non-union shops for corporations to profit.[2]The fight for economic justice and the recognition of the contributions of all workers regardless of race, gender, and citizenship is needed just as much now as it was when Dr. King addressed District 65.  More insidious, however, is the vitriolic public discourse that fails to disguise the hate, racism, xenophobia and anger directed at immigrants and the working class –both of who are integral to sustaining the US economy.  For example, Sheriff Joseph Arpaio announced that Maricopa county plans to launch ‘Operation Desert Sky.’ a program “staffed by citizen vigilantes and deputies from human smuggling and drug enforcement units” that will deploy 30 pilots into the air with M-16’s to hunt border crossers.   While these examples are extreme, they push us to question the motives behind, and the public response to these initiatives. Why do individuals feel threatened by workers receiving living wage, pensions, and benefits? Why are people threatened by providing immigrants access to decent, albeit low paying, jobs? Why do politicians and members of the citizenry at large feel compelled to turn to misinformation, lies, or worse –violence as a “solution” to perceived immigration or worker problems?  These attacks on worker and immigrant rights confront us with difficult dilemmas about the divisive way in which politics intersect with identity, difference, and privilege.  As educators focusing on social justice and equality, we must grapple with the complex reality that the challenges and changes we want our students to see depends on a reconfiguration of the social, ethical, and moral infrastructure that frames how work, organized labor, and immigration are viewed by students and society. _______ In the full version of this paper written in conjunction with a Catholic Social Teaching (CST) Immersion seminar sponsored by the Francis Harpst Center for CatholicThought and Culture, I discuss the potential for utilizing the CST principles of Dignity of Work and the Preferential Option for the Poor and sociological research on  stratification and privilege to help teach the importance of advocating for workers and immigrants in the modern era.


[1] Hamburger, Hennessey, and Banerjee. (2011). “Koch Brothers Now at the Heart of GOP Power” in February 6, 2011 Los Angeles Times.
[2] Handley, J. (2011).  “Divesting from Private Prisons” in July 16, 2011 , In These Times. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/11623/divesting_from_private_prisons

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” Albert Einstein

 

This Labor Day, as you fire up the grill and lament the end of summer, I want to challenge each of you to reflect and remember the history of organized labor that this holiday is supposed to commemorate. 129 years ago, the Central Labor Council of New York organized and celebrated its first Labor Day, which was designed to celebrate the social and economic contributions and successes of American Workers.[i] Despite a past that’s riddled with racism, xenophobia, and sexism –the Labor Movement –both past and present are the reason we have Child Labor Laws, an 8-hour day, overtime pay, health benefits, workplace safety standards, and weekends.  These laws did not magically appear, they were the rewards of hard fought battles that men and women paid for with blood, sweat, tears, and in many cases their lives.  We are the beneficiaries of many unionists’ sacrifices.

As a professor that teaches about work, organized labor, and immigration, I remind my students that the history of the United States is synonymous with the history of organized labor. How we understand race, masculinity, and citizenship is deeply entrenched in how we understand both worker identity, and what it means to be an “American” worker.  David Roediger (1999) reminds us in The Wages of Whiteness that the rise of organized labor coincided with a desire to promote white supremacy and free white labor. Historically, it’s important to understand, that it was during the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, we saw the expansion of what groups were considered “white’ and that it coincided with a desire to consolidate power and privilege for white male workers.  Not surprisingly the expansion of whiteness coincided with the growth of racial and ethnic minority worker populations migrating to the United States to provide cheap labor and competition for white workers.[ii] This history is the legacy that organized labor has had to overcome in order to form and create a group that both represents and stands for the “American” worker.

The history of the labor movement in the United States is also a testament to the importance of coalition and collaboration.  The history of the Civil Rights Movements demonstrates the power of the combined efforts of the Civil Rights Movement and the Labor Movement.  History provides us with “heroes” and more importantly inspiration for understanding that change and transformation is possible in all social institutions.  A. Phillip Randolph –a fierce organizer and Civil Rights advocate, challenged union bosses and the American government to eliminate discrimination, particularly in workplaces and industry, and give every worker equal rights and fair wages.  He believed that, “Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.[iii]”  His life’s work is a testament to the importance of making sure all voices, particularly those that are most often silenced, are heard.  Randolph was central in pushing a Civil Rights agenda –starting with his work with the Brotherhood of Pullman Car Porters, and continuing with his steadfast work in organizing epic protests, such as the March on Washington, and finally in pushing the AFL-CIO to address issues of segregation and discrimination in its ranks.

We can look at the history of the United Farm Workers of America to understand the importance of cross ethnic collaboration and mobilization.  Although Cesar Chavez is often depicted as the driving force behind the growth of this union –it is important to note that the true history is more complex. Filipino workers were equally important to this movement and instrumental in UFW’s greatest successes.  After all, it was Larry Itiliong who originally initiated the Delano Grape Strike. It was Philip Vera Cruz’s ability to organize Filipino workers that helped drive the success of the union. When reading his autobiography, we begin to understand the struggles he faced as a leader, but what remained true –even after he broke ranks with the UFW when it supported the Marcos’ dictatorship was his fundamental belief in workers. He says, “The success of any positive changes in this country depends on the strength of the workers and the organizations that hold the workers together are the unions…. Nothing will really change in this country without the total support of the working class” (154).

Today, who we define as an “American” worker is much more global in nature.  Over the past fifteen years many unions have come to realize that in order to garner success, their organizing strategies must not be bound by borders and nation-states. An examination of any industry in the United States shows that workers are more diverse and includes immigrants and citizens, women and men, young and old. As recent studies have shown, union decline accounts for most of the rise in wage inequality[iv].  Yet, despite the fact there is seemingly greater need for unions than ever before, this year we’ve witnessed some of the most vicious attacks on collective bargaining.  Wisconsin, Ohio, and 25 other states have proposed drastic revisions on collective bargaining rights, particularly for public workers. Unionized public workers, who represent the final bastion of the middle class in the United States have become the scapegoat for the economic downturn the entire nation is embroiled in.  Media and pundits seemingly ignore the fact that big business is funding these campaigns and by all accounts profiting from their efforts. Is it particularly surprising that corporations have bounced back and recorded profits even as American workers are taking home less? (see table at end of blog.)[v] .  The attack on workers is not solely related to the middle class, however.  Recent anti-immigration legislation that is proposed or initiated in 26 different states across the country has created a narrative that paints immigrants as lazy and undeserving. Media utilize sound bytes that make immigrants the scapegoats for the economic downturn because “they’re taking American jobs.”  While factually untrue, these reports create rampant xenophobia and obscure the historical and empirical facts that clearly show that the nation’s economy depends on the labor of immigrants.  As seen in the aftermath of the Georgia and Alabama anti-immigration laws –in the absence of immigrants, their agricultural are faltering. So what does this say about how workers are viewed and treated?  The current message seems to be, “We want your labor, but only if we can exploit you for it.”  The idea that workers have the right to a living wage, benefits, and a fear from discrimination and persecution has seemingly fallen to the wayside.  The battle that unions and worker organizations are embroiled in across the country is not simply about maintaining middle class standing, it’s about promoting a more ethical form of capitalism in light of the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. It is about ensuring access to resources for workers and their families so that they can have a quality education, access to health care, and the ability to retire.

For me, Labor Day is about honoring the history of organized labor in this country.  With all its faults and problems, it serves as a model for how social institutions can change. Instead of passively believing that eventually something will happen, labor organizers have shown us time and time again, that if you account for the needs of communities and workers, change is the outcome of privileging the many above the few.  Charles Darrow once said, “With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men (and women) that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men (and women) than any other association.”

So this Labor Day, I encourage you to support workers. All actions, big or small, matter.  Tell the managers at Ralphs, Albertson’s, or Von’s that if they fail to sign an equitable contract with UFCW you won’t be shopping there any more.  Sign petitions supporting collective bargaining in your state. Boycott the Hyatt until they sign their union contract. If nothing else, take a moment and remember all that we’ve gained from the sacrifices of the workers who came before us.

Union Yes!  Si Se Puede.

 

Source: Jared Bernstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities


[ii] Numerous scholars discuss this including (but not limited to): Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2000) in “”Unequal freedom: how race and gender shaped American citizenship and labor;” Vicki Ruiz (1987) “Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950;”  Chris Friday (1995) “Organizing Asian-American Labor: The Pacific Coast Canned-Salmon Industry, 1870-1942”

[iii] A Phillip Randolph Institute: http://www.apri.org/ht/d/sp/i/251/pid/251

[iv] Western, B. & Rosenfeld, J (2011). “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality” in American Sociological Review. Volume 76, Number 4, pgs 513-537.

Has it really been a year?

June 5, 2010 –the world lost a great leader, teacher, mentor, and family man.

On the one year anniversary of his death, I found myself reading John Delloro’s book, “American Prayer: Online Meditations on Asian America, Obama, and Self “ and reflecting on the strength, vulnerability, hope, anger, and possibility he shared in his writing.

One year later, I find myself inspired by his words, his passion, his commitment.  Lately I’ve faced my own struggles that challenged me in ways I was unprepared for. I find myself searching for something that I can’t seem to put my finger on –but I know that I need to identify it before I can move forward. As I continued reading, I finally realized what I was searching for –my voice.  There in the pages of his book, I realized that I could hear what John had to say, I felt what he believed, and I knew in my heart the future he envisioned for his children.  I realized how easy it was to feel powerless in the face of personal and political obstacles  –and I knew — no –I felt in my soul, that I have it in me to fight for what I believed in.

I wonder if this is what John felt like when he wrote, “I felt a rekindling of something warm inside me that I have forgotten.  This is more than a sentimental feeling, but a remembered epiphany” (pg 79).  I know he was talking about finding a political candidate he could believe in –but these words mean so much more.  For me, it’s a reminder that there are so many values that our communities share and that we must do the work it takes to make change happen.

John reminds us that, “central to organizing is the belief that everyday people have the power within themselves working together to create change and take control of their lives” (pg 171). So step one for me is committing to the process of change and ‘saying what I have to say.’  In the past 4 months, we’ve witnessed continuous attacks on immigrants, workers, and public servants.  My pledge is to not let myself get mired in petty politics and instead commit myself to the process of writing and communicating the type of truth to power that was at the core of all the work that John Delloro and his allies did.  Maya Angelou wrote, “I can be changed by what happened to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it. “  Now it’s time for me to clock in and work for change.

I hear you John. Thanks for the reminder. You are missed.

Works Cited:

Delloro, J. (2009). American Prayer: Online Meditations on Asian America, Obama, and Self. Burning Cane Press. Los Angeles, California

“In California we find a curious attitude toward a group that makes our agriculture successful. The migrants are needed, and they are hated.  Arriving in a district they find the dislike always meted out by the resident to the foreigner, the outlander.  The hatred of the stranger occurs in the whole range of human history from the most primitive village form to our own highly organized industrial farming. The migrants are hated for the following reasons, that they are ignorant and dirty people, that they are carriers of disease, that they increase the necessity for police and the tax bill for schooling in a community, and that if they are allowed to organize they can, simply by refusing to work, wipe out the season’s crops. They are never received into a community nor into the life of a community.  They are never allowed to feel at home in the communities that demand their services.”[i]

Reading these words, one might think that they spoke of the contemporary experiences of immigrants in the United States. However, it was John Steinback who wrote these words In 1936, as part of a series of articles for the San Francisco Examiner.  The ‘migrants’ he referred to were, the ‘Okies’ from Oklahoma  –poor white farmers fleeing the Midwest in the midst of the Dustbowl and the Great Depression in hopes of simply finding jobs to help their families survive.  I find myself inspired by the series of articles John Steinback wrote in “The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath” because it reminds me that our histories are interlinked. It reminds me that the fight against discrimination, and the pursuit of social justice is a marathon, not a sprint and impacts all social groups.

It seems almost poetic that this May Day, I find myself in an airplane traveling the length of California  (or most of it at least) –San Jose to San Diego.  Looking out the windows, I see agricultural fields cover the land below, stretching out as far as the eye can see. Obscured from my view at 25,000 feet are the immigrants planting, plowing, and harvesting those fields, ensuring each of us fresh fruits and vegetables on our tables year round. As I gaze out at the land below, I remember that the immigrants working today are part of a much longer history that connects generations of immigrants to the land and economic development of this country.  My grandfather, like many other fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers worked these fields creating the wealth and plenty so many of us benefit from. The discrimination felt by the Okies during the Great Depression still exists today.

May Day –the International Day of the Worker should remind us of the contributions that all workers make to improve the quality of our lives.  Obscured or lost from our working knowledge of history is the fact that unionized workers are responsible for the 8 hour work day, child labor laws, and occupational safety standards.  Immigrant workers built the historic and contemporary infrastructure of this country –including but not limited to the railroads, highways, the technological super-highway, the cell phones we carry, and the food we eat.  They clean our offices, our cars, our universities,  parks, and public spaces.  We depend on them to take care of our children, cook our food, and sew our clothes.  Almost all of us (with the exception of those indigenous to these lands) are immigrants –some new and others a few generations removed.    If it were not for the May Day strikes in both 1885 and 1886, the ‘work day’ would be very different then what it looks like today[ii].

Now, May 1st 2011, workers’ rights are under attack again.  Legislation weakening or dismantling collective bargaining rights is on the table in over 20 states.  In addition, 24 states have proposed anti-immigrant legislation under the guise of immigration reform.  The challenge, it seems, is to move beyond scare tactics and hearsay. Instead, we must remind ourselves of the history that built this country and commit ourselves to standing for the principles of democracy, community, and fairness that the country was founded on.  When we care for workers, and invest in their well-being we all prosper. This May Day, let’s recommit ourselves to promoting policies and procedures that help, not hurt workers.


[i] Steinback,, J. (1936) The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath

Two years ago the young men and women of MEChA and AChA of USD asked me to deliver comments at the annual Chavez mass.  In 2009, after reading the Autobiography of Philip Veracruz, student organizers decided to rename the mass to honor both Cesar Chavez and Philip Veracruz and the spirit of multiethnic and multiracial union coalitions.  Today, on the eve of Cesar Chavez’s birthday, I decided to repost my comments to both honor the legacies of both men, but also to remind us all of the importance of Community, Dignity of Work, and social justice.  Unions across the country are being attacked for standing up for the rights of all workers. Lost in the media representations and rhetoric are the facts that unions were responsible for the 8 hour day, overtime pay, child labor laws, and collective bargaining rights.  As we celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday –let us remember not only his legacy of work, but his commitment to working people.

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Community, Dignity of Work, and Responsibility are just 3 of the central principles that informed the lives and organizing of Cesar Chavez and Philip Veracruz. While many are familiar with the amazing work of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, far fewer realize that Veracruz, as a first Vice President of the UFW, and the Filipino farm workers were equally instrumental in those successes, for if it were not for the spirit of collective solidarity and multiethnic coalitions, the farm worker movement would not have been as powerful or influential as it was.  So today, we gather to commemorate the lives of both Chavez and Veracruz who along with their fellow workers, teach us the importance of fellowship, human dignity, and sacrifice. More importantly, we gather as a community, to celebrate and honor workers and the dignity of work here on our campus.  We honor the contributions of those at the University of San Diego, who contribute everyday to all aspects of campus life. We honor those whose dedication, commitment, and contributions –whether big or small, are often overlooked and unacknowledged.

Cesar Chavez once said, “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us, so it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are.“ So, in the few moments I have, I want to reflect on the ideas of solidarity, social responsibility, and dignity of work which were central to the work and activism of Chavez and Veracruz, and to the Catholic Church. More importantly, I want each of us to think about how these ideals pertain to us individually as well as our university community.

Solidarity, simply defined, is the union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities, interest, and purpose.   However as most of us know, whether through our everyday experiences, or our involvement in clubs, organizations, and community work –developing this union or fellowship among individuals is not easy. There are often conflicts, differences of opinions or in approach –however, it is often the process of working through these differences that provide the unique opportunity for creating understanding, empathy, and purpose.  The development of the farm workers movement is no different.  In his autobiography, Philip Vera Cruz critiques and analyzes the development of the UFW and the leadership –including and perhaps most pointedly the work of Cesar Chavez.   His concerns were often rooted in, what he felt, was the silencing of Filipino membership within the union. Despite these frustrations, both he and Chavez felt that unity could be achieved through the development of greater understanding of the common issues all farm workers faced.  Veracruz says, “ I know that misunderstood issues can become destructive and eventually divide individuals and groups, even a union.  But I believe workers will unite successfully only when there’s a better understanding of the issues in their entirety, including honest differences of opinion which could give a broader view of the solutions to our problems.”  In order to achieve these aims, the UFW needed to find ways to bridge their communities, by communicating honestly about the issues facing them, and creating new ways of working collaboratively. Without a doubt, this type of work must continue to be embraced both within our university, our country, and our world.

In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo VIII reminded the Catholic community that the well-being of the rich and working class are intertwined and that each had the responsibility of looking out for one another.  He wrote, “Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create-that being housed, clothed, and bodily fit, they may find their life less hard and more endurable.  Pope John Paul II, reaffirmed this belief in his 1981 encyclical Laborem exercens, when he wrote, “the Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and the rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated,“  These ideas of interconnectedness, social responsibility, and dignity at work are central to the work of the UFW, Chavez says, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

As a university community, we must be more diligent in working to embody the spirit of these writings and principles. Even today, as we celebrate a mass honoring workers, -many of the workers who take impeccable care of our classrooms, residential halls, gardens, and offices are unable to join us at mass because they either had to take vacation time or lose pay in order to participate in a mass held in their honor. To truly honor the dignity of the worker, we must move beyond picnics and celebratory pictures and instead reflect on how we can improve practices and support workers in ALL parts of the university.  Even in fiscally challenging times, it’s easy to push aside years of dedication and service to our university in favor of outsourcing and subcontracting.  Like many publicly and privately held corporations, we need to hold ourselves as an entire institution to moving away from what’s comfortable and hiring those ‘like us’ and instead consider what differences does to enhance us.  As a university, more importantly a Catholic university, committed to promoting the core values of academic excellence, knowledge, community, ethical conduct and compassionate service we have a responsibility to do more, and be more –to privilege humanity, and honor the dignity of work and the lives of the workers who assist us everyday by showing the same commitment to them as they show to each of us.

The news is not all dire.  In fact, I believe that many of our students work proactively to make change happen. Veracruz would say that our students are the “golden foundation for the struggle of all people to improve their lives.”  Recently, a group of our students banded together to address the issue of sweatshop labor and worked to advocate for a change in our University bookstores purchasing policies. Particularly after learning about the exploitative conditions and labor violations that Honduran garment workers faced when sewing for Russell athletics –one of our major clothing vendors –they worked fastidiously to implore and motivate this university to make the ethical and moral decision. Their efforts were rewarded with the University putting the vendor on probation. The simple fact that our students embody the spirit of Veracruz and Chavez’s work –and the morals and values advocated through Catholic Social teaching should make us proud –and motivate all of us, individually and collectively, to do more to both honor and protect workers at our campus.

Let me end my comments by borrowing the words of Dorothy Day, a woman whose activism with the Catholic Workers Movement inspired both Chavez and Veracruz.  When reflecting on the movement, she says, “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?“  Each of us has an opportunity to live the morals, values, and ethics promoted by Chavez and Veracruz… it’s time for each of us to love our community and our university enough to make change happen.

Se Puede?

Si Se Puede!

Mabuhay Estudyantes! Que Vivan los trabajadores!

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.

4. Community

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.