The great recession of 2008 continues, with official unemployment hovering at nine percent. Add under-employed workers and those who have given up looking for jobs, and the rate tops 16 percent. In communities of color, these rates are close to doubled. As people trickle back into the workforce, they are being offered jobs that pay less, have less benefits, and fewer “rights.” At the same time, the right wing has launched a concerted attack at local, state, and federal levels to deprive public employees of the right to collective bargaining, secure pensions, affordable health care, and fair work rules. “Good jobs” with decent pay, vacation, sick leave, retirement, and health insurance, in either the private or public sector, are becoming ever more scarce.
Last year at the U.S. Social Forum, a coalition of workers banded together to form the ”Excluded Workers Congress.” They are engaged in organizing in some of the toughest sectors of the U.S. economy. Farmworkers, domestic workers, taxi drivers, tipped employees in restaurants and salons, day laborers, truck drivers—all are working together to build new kinds of coalitions to win basic rights and to force employers to negotiate. Efforts, such as the domestic workers bill of rights, passed in New York state last year, and the organizing of direct actions at a restaurant or job site hint at the range of the effort. In fact, as Saru Jayaraman points out, these challenges are not in the margin, they are in the mainstream. These “excluded workers” are actually central to our economy and to our well-being.
What is often overlooked in the public discourse about workers in this country is that the “good jobs”—such as union manufacturing work in industrial cities like Detroit—were not created “good jobs.” They became good jobs after a generation-long fight by auto and steel workers to form unions and to wrest concessions from both employers and governments. There is nothing intrinsically meaningful about working at an assembly line, putting together automobiles, or pouring steel. What made those jobs good was worker solidarity. Caring for children and the elderly, or harvesting and serving food are today viewed as “bad jobs.” Of course, if we get organized and fight, there is no reason why these“bad jobs” can’t be turned into good jobs. And sadly, when it comes to public employees: there’s also no intrinsic reason why a good job can’t be turned into a bad one. —Ed.
Restaurants and Race
By Saru Jayaraman
Food Workers—Wages and Race
By Yvonne Yen Liu
Undocumented Immigrants Stand up to Chipotle
By David Bacon
San Francisco Chinatown Restaurant Workers Fight for Fair Employment
By Crystal Carter
Farmworkers—the Basis and Bottom of the Food Chain
By Christy Getz and Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern
Filipina Domestic Workers on the Move
An Interview with Katie Joaquin
By Christine Joy Ferrer
Combating Nail Salon Toxics
By Pauline Bartolone
Class, Race, and the Attacks on Public Employees
By Mazher Ali
The Fire Last Time:
Worker Safety Laws after the Triangle Fire
By Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen
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