Introduction to JUST Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice


Vol. 14-1 Credits

Editors Emeritus
Carl Anthony
Luke Cole

Juliet Ellis

Ben Jesse Clarke

Editorial Advisor
Steven Pitts

Contributing Editor
Connie Galambos

Ben Jesse Clarke and
Guillermo Prado

Copy Editing and Proofreading
Merula Furtado, Marc Caswell

David Bacon

Race, Poverty & the Environment is published twice annually.     © 2007 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat.


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RP&E was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. The views reflected in RP&E are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.




Urban Habitat Board of Directors
 Joe Brooks (Chair)
 Romel Pascual
Omowale Satterwhite
 PolicyLinkMayor's Office, City of Los Angeles
Community Development Institute
  Fred Blackwell (Vice-Chair) 
 Arnold Perkins  Tim Thomas
 S.F. Mayor's Office of Community Development 
 Alameda Public Health Department 
 East Bay Habitat for Humanity
 Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)  Gabriela Sandoval Organizations are listed for
 S.F. Mayor's Office of Community Development 
 Department of Sociology, U.C. Santa Cruz identification purposes only.

About This Issue

One doesn’t have to possess an advanced degree in economics to see that there is something definitively out of alignment when it comes to job creation in the United States. Multinational corporations with no national, muchless local, allegiances are given billions of dollars in tax subsidies in a shell game, which moves an ever-shrinkingnumber of manufacturing jobs from city to suburbs, and state to state. Big box retail stores are destroying locallyowned small businesses in shopping districts across the country, and the largest employment growth is takingplace in low-paying service sector jobs. Real wages are stagnant and fundamentals, such as overtime pay, healthinsurance, retirement benefits, job security, even regular paid vacation, are swirling away at hurricane speeds.

In this issue, Greg le Roy, Anmol Chaddha, Manning Marable, and Barbara Ehrenreich contribute compelling portraits of the economic crisis at hand, detailing the scope of corporate subsidies and the breadth of economic dislocation.Steven Pitts provides a succinct overview of neo-liberalism and the advance of privatization as a path toprofit for corporate owners—at the expense of the rest of the population.

Manel Kappagoda and Rajiv Bhatia take a look at the health dimension of the question and discover that unemployed people live fewer years and have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression, and suicide than the employed. So just what will it take to win quality jobs for the communities we are committed to? Our contributors come back with an age old solution: Organize, organize, organize. But in the global economic system in which we now live, figuring out effective targets, successful coalitions, and winnable campaigns is more challenging than ever. To start looking for solutions, we look at notable strategies from the past and present. Howard Zinn reviews the history of the Flint sit-down strikes, Terry Messman considers mass civil disobedience, and David Bacon looks at immigrant labor, the most inspiring new movement in decades.

Immigration “reform” proposals that would create a new class of guest workers with even less rights than undocumented people currently inside the United States are a malevolent manipulation of the desire to protect United States-based jobs. Gerald Lenoir and Stephen Lerner unmask the lie that immigrants are stealing United States workers jobs. It’s unregulated capital—United States-based and multinational—that is depriving workers on both sides of the border of the ability to do work that benefits our communities and our environment.

Further, the very conditions which activists have denounced overseas, prison labor and coerced reproductive choices, are again rearing their ugly heads in the United States as welfare-to-work and prison labor policies become ever more stark. Jaron Browne describes the history of United States slave labor; Gopal Dayaneni and Aaron Shuman examine prison recycling industries; and Linda Burnham and Bill Berkowitz write about the impacts on women—10 years after the so-called welfare “reforms” of 1996. The low-wage low-benefit economy is indeed booming.

But of course, organizing efforts to turn bad jobs into well paid work with benefits are underway in many sectors, from domestic labor to healthcare. We present six organizing profiles that show how worker centers, unions, and community labor coalitions are opening new avenues for worker solidarity to challenge the power of unregulated capital. And we offer portraits of a half-dozen local efforts that demonstrate how to create good jobs for low-income communities of color, showing that the solutions to complex economic problems can be found right in our own communities.

Paradoxically, organizing for increased localization requires us to act in solidarity with our counterparts throughout the world. The impact of capital flight must be confronted at both ends of the transaction. Until we have won an international living wage and the right to organize freely for worker rights and union representation, capital will continue to press for the low-road option in economic development. But history has shown that courageous unified action by dedicated activists can have a transformational effect that far exceeds our numbers. Clearly, the time for that action is now.

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JUST Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice | Vol. 14 No. 1 | Spring 2007 | Credits

From the Director's Desk

Heading into 2007, Urban Habitat is poised to take on some of the challenges of a regional economy that is ever more starkly divided into the haves and the have-nots, and where communities of color continue to bear the burdens of growth, without receiving the benefits. Urban Habitat’s expanding work on equitable development and quality jobs are keystones in building a new approach to regional development, so that good jobs, clean air and water, and accessible public transportation are available to all our communities.

In the last few years, as multinational corporations like Wal-Mart have invited themselves into the Bay Area’s Alameda and Contra Costa counties, some local communities have split over whether to accept low-paying jobs as being better than no jobs. Well documented studies of Wal-Mart’s impact on local businesses and on international labor standards have too often been ignored by local governments in the interest of short-term benefits, such as increased local sales tax proceeds.

To respond to this challenge, Urban Habitat is staffing a new effort by the Social Equity Caucus to make “Quality Jobs” a reality for our constituents. Working with the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, the Social Equity Caucus (a coalition of over 75 Bay Area nonprofit, union, and religious organizations) has created a “Quality Jobs Working Group” (QJWG) to analyze and participate in movements to create quality jobs for our communities. Our formula for progress: research, analysis, and action. QJWG members are well-represented in this issue of RP&E: East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment, Apollo Alliance, Bay Area Localize, Change to Win, and the National Economic Development and Law Center share case studies from their own organizing work. Six months into its development, the QJWG has already identified and moved forward on key research needed to drive future campaigns, building partnerships with allies along the way.

Newly elected Mayors Ron Dellums in Oakland and Gayle McLaughlin in Richmond both owe their new jobs to a sense that business-as-usual is not working for many people in these cities and across the region. The QJWG sees these and other Bay Area political shifts—including adoption of comprehensive healthcare services to uninsured San Franciscans and their employers at a reasonable cost—as indications that campaigns should gear up to take advantage of innovative leadership and start moving on a progressive jobs agenda.

In Richmond, our Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) has launched a comprehensive campaign to move the city towards a new framework for land use and economic development. The REDI coalition represents a diverse group of stakeholders, including academics, religious organizations, labor advocates, lawyers, public health officials, and social and environmental justice organizations.
Working with our REDI partners—EBASE, Contra Costa Faithworks, the Center for Community Innovation at University of California Berkeley, Communities for a Better Environment, Ma’at Youth Academy, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and ACORN—we are laying the groundwork for a city planning process that will provide the residents of Richmond better jobs, cleaner air, and more effective transportation choices.

Of course, Urban Habitat transportation justice efforts and leadership institutes are also running full steam ahead, but we’ll have more on that in the next issue. To stay abreast, please visit our website,

Thank you for all your support.

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JUST Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice | Vol. 14 No. 1 | Spring 2007 | Credits

From the Social Equity Caucus Working Group

Environmental justice activists have taken heroic steps fighting environmental degradation, which falls disproportionately on people of color and is magnified by the poverty suffered by most communities of color. Clearly, the environmental and economic problems faced by our communities are intertwined, and environmental justice cannot be attained as long as poverty remains unchallenged. The twin ills of racial oppression and class exploitation indicate that the movement for environmental justice must expand its work to include the battle for quality jobs.

Environmental justice activists have long battled economic development plans that place hazards in communities of color. Now, increasingly, activists are seeking to be proactive by proposing “green” solutions to the problems of economic development and job creation. However, more must be done.

Because of institutional racism and the development model of the twenty-first century global economy, millions of people of color have jobs that fail to provide family-sustaining wages. “Green” industries are healthy correctives to this economic trajectory but they cannot address the need for quality jobs on a scale that is needed. Added attention to job training and access to existing good jobs is also vital, but this does not solve the problems facing most low-income workers. Disproportionately, people of color clean and guard office buildings, care for young children, the elderly, and the disabled, and work in retail and hospitality establishments. These jobs are being created by the millions each year and no attempt to move people into better jobs or generate alternate employment will change this dynamic. There must be a movement to transform the quality of these jobs. To ignore this reality does a disservice to communities of color.

How do we transform jobs? Two primary strategies can transform jobs: 1) workers can organize and use their bargaining power to improve job quality, and 2) laws can be passed which enact labor standards that force businesses to create better situations for their employees. Unions have long been the primary organizing vehicle. Many jobs, which we now take for granted as being good jobs, became that way through years of struggle by union members. Recently, worker centers have sprung up in many cities to improve the lives of workers through a combination of organizing, service delivery, and policy advocacy. In addition, coalitions of labor and community organizations have begun a movement to develop new laws that raise minimum wages, force city contractors to pay living wages, and require certain industries to pay higher wages.

Urban Habitat has long advocated for regional, multi-issue solutions to the challenges facing our communities. Joining and building labor-community coalitions is emerging as a positive path to fulfilling this vision. The emerging Quality Jobs Working Group of the Social Equity Caucus is one step on this path. Success in these arenas of struggle will especially benefit communities bearing the burdens of environmental racism. In addition, the alliances between the movement for environmental justice and the movement for quality jobs will generate more political power, which we can wield in fights to end environmental degradation. We invite our readers to study some of the successful projects detailed in the following pages and to join us in these efforts.

 Steven Pitts is a Labor Policy Specialist for the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley.  Joe Brooks is the Chair Person for Urban Habitat's Board of Directors.

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JUST Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice | Vol. 14 No. 1 | Spring 2007 | Credits