FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

25 Years of Jobs with Justice

by MARK VORPAHL

It’s no secret that the last 30 years have seen a brutal corporate assault on U.S. workers. Incomes and union membership rates have plummeted, unemployment is soaring, and the two corporate parties have joined forces to go after our previously untouchable historic gains.

This class war has largely been one-sided—but not entirely. The organization Jobs with Justice, for one, demonstrates that the workers’ movement is still lively, innovative, and capable of resistance.

A well-organized, tantalizing, and frequently inspiring new collection of interviews and essays, Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices, traces the group’s history and points toward what could be a promising future.

JwJ is an ongoing national coalition with 40 chapters where, in the words of co-founder Stewart Acuff, “community leaders and leaders of faith can sit down as equals with labor leaders and plan campaigns and plan initiatives.”

It has created a space where union members can count on activists focused on community issues to support their workplace struggles—and vice versa.

‘I’ll Be There’

JwJ’s “I’ll Be There” pledge encapsulates this commitment. “Those who signed the ‘I’ll Be There’ pledge card realized that if we were there five times a year for someone else’s fight, we might start winning,” according to Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, a co-founder of JwJ and national board member.

While the pledge could be reduced to “I’ll show up at your event if you show up at mine,” victories won through collaboration promote a deeper solidarity. Participants begin to realize that no struggle is isolated, and learn the meaning of “An injury to one is an injury to all” from their own experience.

With this model, JwJ is able to stretch the boundaries of what union leaders are usually willing to take on. As Carl Rosen, co-founder of Chicago JwJ and president of the United Electrical Workers Western Region, wrote:

To me, the most important impact of Chicago Jobs with Justice has been its role in breaking [machine politics] up, and instead helping Chicago regain a much more independent labor movement where the labor leadership can stand up on behalf of what they think is right for their members. They aren’t beholden to elected officials or anyone else.By uniting union and non-union workers, JwJ can even sometimes embolden labor to take on corporate politicians of both parties. It builds its power for political change from the grassroots—rather than running lobbying campaigns with no strength behind them, as many unions do.

The book describes campaigns ranging from strikes and union organizing drives to health care, living wage, and anti-discrimination efforts, where JwJ has played a pivotal role in winning. JwJ was even a key player in bringing the U.S. Social Forum to Atlanta in 2007.

One disappointment is the omission of the Vermont Workers Center, which is that state’s chapter of Jobs with Justice. In 1998 the VMC launched its “Healthcare Is a Human Right” campaign and changed what was politically possible in the state. As a result, Vermont politicians passed legislation with the potential to create universal health care and a single-payer plan—in striking contrast with the rest of the country and with Obamacare.

VWC activists are now following up with “Put People First: The People’s Budget Campaign,” an alternative to the cuts only/shared sacrifice budgets of the Democrats and the Republicans. The book would have greatly benefited from detailed discussion of the VMC’s work.

A Single National Campaign Is Needed

Reading about these victories is inspiring. But there are limitations, too.

JwJ chapters’ efforts are largely local and scattered all over the issues map, without prioritization. Meanwhile, politicians of the 1% are busy erasing the gains made by the union and civil rights movements, and the political voice of workers has diminished to an ignorable whisper. The rights to jobs, health care, education, housing, and a good retirement are under attack, while the corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes to lift the well-being of all.

The AFL-CIO has passed resolutions and some labor leaders have made powerful statements in defense of these rights. But they have not committed serious resources toward building a mass movement. Gains for workers are now considered politically impossible and unrealistic.

By fighting its many defensive local battles, JwJ cannot hope to pose a challenge to corporate domination, except in isolated incidences. While admirable, these campaigns are like sticking fingers into the cracks of a crumbling dam.

How might JwJ develop to meet the present challenges? The group could consolidate its efforts into a focused national campaign that can draw in the widest layers of the 99%.

The movement should demand a federal jobs program—as the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom did, and the AFL-CIO is on record advocating—to be paid for by taxing the rich, the corporations, and Wall Street.

Because of its efforts over the last 25 years, JwJ is in a good position to promote a united movement of labor and its community allies for economic justice—starting first and foremost with the right to good jobs.

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail