I’m a very old woman. I was born in 1915 in what was later known as the First World War, two years before the Russian Revolution. And because I was born to Chinese immigrant parents and because I was born female—I learned very quickly that the world needed changing.
But what I also learned as I grew older was that how we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change.
The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to think not only about change in our institutions, but changes in ourselves. We are at the stage where the people in charge of the government and industry are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s up to us to reimagine the alternatives and not just protest against them and expect them to do better.
James Hill has worked at the same St. Louis, Missouri establishment for over 20 years. And for 20 years, he has been advocating for a bus system that better accommodates his wheelchair. He acknowledges the major improvements to public transit since the early 1980s when he faced incredible discrimination but believes the system still has a long way to go.
“Metro drivers didn’t want to pick up disabled persons,” he recalls. “They’d leave wheelchair [users] sitting at bus stops, or if they did stop, the wheelchair lifts didn’t work.”
Nowadays there are working wheelchair lifts on every running bus in St. Louis, but Hill knows that the fight is far from over. To get to work, he must travel in his wheelchair to the closest bus line, nearly a mile from his home. While the $30,000 electric wheelchair makes this possible, the journey along sidewalks and streets can feel quite hazardous in bad weather and insurance is not forthcoming when it comes to paying for repairs. Still, the wheelchair and the bus line, which drops Hill within a block of his place of work, constitute a lifeline to freedom. Hill has many wheelchair-bound friends who have to make at least one transfer, if not two, to get to their places of employment.
In December 2008, the Republic Windows and Doors Company of Chicago announced that it would be closing its factory because Bank of America had refused to extend a loan. Faced with the loss of their jobs, 200 workers occupied the building and refused to leave.
As Lalos, one of the workers explained: “Bank of America has a lot to do with the problem we’re having now. [It] is one of the banks that received billions of dollars from the government.”
The workers—members of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE)—did not have to go it alone, however, because while they occupied the factory in shifts, outside in the snow, other trade unionists showed their support.
Six days into the sit-in, Bank of America agreed to extend the loan to the company and following a unanimous vote to end the occupation, the workers left the factory through the front doors—declaring victory.
Cleveland rocks!” is the theme song of the long-running Drew Carey TV show. But not all neighborhoods rock equally, at least when it comes to jobs and economic opportunity.
Cleveland—once put down as “the mistake on the lake”—has undergone a dramatic revival in its downtown business district over the past 15 years with popular attractions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the East 4th Street food and entertainment section, and new stadiums and arena for professional sports teams. University Circle—the city’s cultural center—has a vibrant core of health, cultural, and educational institutions, as well as some major international businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in good-paying jobs.
Fall 2012 marked 20 years since the signing ceremony of the North American Free Trade Agreemhent (NAFTA) in San Antonio, Texas. The city held a two-day conference in November to commemorate the signing. It’s also 22 years since San Antonio’s Levi’s factory closed—throwing 1,150 women out of work. A 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that almost 700,000 U.S. workers were displaced by NAFTA.1 In San Antonio, the workers fought back. –Ed.
On November 17, one day after the big NAFTA conference in San Antonio’s Northside, we at Fuerza Unida (Strength Together) were in the Southside, celebrating our first line of denim clothing, including “Jeans with Justice.” These aren’t just important because they represent our newest cooperative enterprise, but because our organization started when we lost our jobs making blue jeans for Levi Strauss.
We are two of the 1,150 women workers who lost our jobs when the Levi’s factory closed on January 15, 1990. We were laid off without notice and without fair compensation. When we worked in the factory, our eyes were closed. We knew nothing of politics. We didn’t know we had rights as workers, nor did we know how to organize. But when the plant closed, we began to organize together with other workers and allies to demand fair compensation from Levi’s and better conditions for workers in other plants.
On August 8, 2012, Minneapolis became the first city in the nation to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment. Coauthored by Councilmembers Cam Gordon and Don Samuels and passed unanimously, it declares institutional racism “a primary reason for unemployment disparities” and requires the city to take action to ensure that people of color have a fair shot at government jobs, promotions, and contracts.
“We heard from the community that the city better have its own house in order,” said Gordon. “If we can develop tools that make a difference within the city, that’s going to be more powerful than [trying] to tell others what they should be doing.”
Teachers, students, and parents across the United States are experiencing wrenching changes in our system of education—from the way schools are run, to who gets to teach, and what may be taught. As students are robbed of meaningful learning and time for play or creativity—in short, anything that’s not tested—hostile politicians blame teachers for an astounding list of social and economic ills ranging from unemployment to moral decline.
In all but the wealthiest school systems in the United States, academic accomplishment has been reduced to scores on standardized tests developed and evaluated by for-profit companies. Parents, teachers, and students—education’s most important stakeholders—have little say in what is taught, while corporate chiefs, politicians in their thrall, and foundations that receive funding from billionaires who profit from pro-business education policies determine the substance of education. While almost every country in the world has experienced this chilling form of social engineering, in the U.S. it is sold to the public as essential to raising educational standards—making individuals and the nation economically competitive.
When it comes to organizing for health care as a human right, nurses far more often than doctors, are taking the lead in advocating for their patients. Nurses organizing gave us legislation to protect women who were able to stay longer in the hospital after giving birth; mandated registered nurse-to-patient ratios; improved protections for women survivors of domestic violence; and are at the forefront of many battles for better access to health care.
Every day, at the medical facilities where they work, nurses are first hand witnesses to health care practices that put profit above quality of care. Increasingly, hospital stays are cut short and essential medical procedures denied for cost reasons. Patients are removed for nonpayment of bills and services considered necessary are cut, even as the patient-to-staff ratios rise to dangerous levels.
So, it’s not surprising that nurses are at the frontlines of the battle for a more equitable and fair health care system, speaking out for the people’s right to access quality care and the rights of healthcare workers to do their jobs effectively.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was central to preserving public sector jobs, most of which are held by women. Not only did it provide funds for state and local education and Medicaid—which kept teachers and health care workers on the job—it bolstered state budgets so other services could avoid deep cuts. ARRA also provided additional funding to states for child care, child support enforcement, and administration to handle the upsurge in Food Stamp and Unemployment Insurance claims. So, when ARRA funding started drying up in mid-2010, public sector jobs started to disappear, slowing down the recovery, especially for women.
In late 2010, San Francisco was abuzz with the prospect of being selected to host the 2013 America’s Cup sailing race. Like other cities seeking to emerge from the current recession, San Francisco has been eager to attract business and economic investments. Moreover, local billionaire Larry Ellison’s team had won the previous race, giving him the right to select the location for the next one. But San Francisco’s America’s Cup experience has been emblematic of the fact that equitable distribution of economic benefits is not automatic. It is up to community advocates to push policies that ensure equity.
As is typical with any “public-private partnership project,” jobs were at the center of the America’s Cup discussion. Supporters projected a $1.2 billion infusion of cash into the local economy that would create more than 8,000 jobs. Meanwhille, community advocates had spent the summer and fall of 2010, working with Supervisor John Avalos and building trade unions to develop a landmark mandatory local hiring policy.