Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices

Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices

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Overview

Through a series of interviews and essays, this compendium gives voice to the community, labor, immigrant, student, and faith activists that have built Jobs with Justice (JwJ). The book speaks on both the core principles of the organization for workers’ rights and the experiences since its founding in 1987. Though the discussion reflects on the last 25 years of the JwJ coalition, it also looks openly and optimistically at the next 25. It includes the perspectives of longtime national leaders, like founder Larry Cohen, newcomers like Ai-Jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the locally based, working-class men and women who have built JwJ from the ground up.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604868838
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 09/01/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Eric Larson is a lecturer of history and literature at Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Larry Cohen is the president of the Communications Workers of America and the Jobs with Justice founder. He lives in Washington, DC. Rev. Calvin Morris, PhD, is a member of the Jobs with Justice National Board of Directors and the former executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago. He lives in Chicago. Sarita Gupta is the executive director of Jobs with Justice. She lives in Washington, DC.

Read an Excerpt

Jobs with Justice

25 Years, 25 Voices


By Eric Larson

PM Press

Copyright © 2013 PM Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-883-8



CHAPTER 1

Mattie Stegall (B. 1947 - D. 2012) Former Texas State Employees Union-CWA leader and JwJ activist


I'd like to hear about some of your thoughts and stories about Nacogdoches and the union campaign at Stephen F. Austin State University (in the 1980s). How did you start working at Stephen F. Austin?

I worked in the kitchen, and I worked there 23 years. When we first started working, they paid us $99 a month. ... It went pretty good for a while until they decided to contract out. We didn't understand why they wanted to contract out a million-dollar job. We were making a million of dollars a year in food service, and they were going to contract out the business. That's when we decided to form the union, and that's when I met {TSEU-CWA 6186 organizers} Johnny Ware and Danny Fetonte, and there were several others. Through Mr. Arthur Weaver {head of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People}, we met them and we decided to go for it. I think I was the first one to sign up for the union, my husband signed, and then we kept talking and pretty soon we had a lot of people pointing in that same direction, and that's how it started. We just went from there, trying to make things better, and it actually helped a little for a while.

That day when we had the Jobs with Justice rally, we did the little march from the park to the campus. That was a sight to see. As far as you could see, if you stood down on Power Street, you could see people coming off the hill from the park, and we had a lot of help from a lot of people. Some of them we didn't even know were supporting us. That was something else. I can just see it now, all the people walking from the building until up on the campus. And when we got {to the rally}, they took turns speaking, different people. That was one heck of a thing.

I think things kind of changed for Nacogdoches then. Because they used to have like washeterias here, and on one side it said "White," and one said "Colored." {One time} there was an attendant there and I put my colored clothes over on this side, and then I walked around to the White side where it says "White," and put my white clothes in. And it was {the manager} and another lady in there, and they just kept looking at me, and in fact he said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Well, that sign up there says "White" and "Colored," and I put my colored clothes here and I thought I was supposed to wash my white clothes over there." It was a couple of weeks and they took the sign down.

I mean, it was kind of stupid to me anyway, with the signs like that. I grew up in west Texas and we all grew up together {with Whites}. There was no big separation. Of course, when I first went up there and went to school, {Blacks and Whites} had different schools, but that changed before the rules came in where you had to change schools. But down here {in East Texas} it was really different. Certain places you couldn't go in the front. If you wanted to eat at Shepard's restaurant you had to go to the back and be served in the kitchen. {My husband} used to work in Shepard's restaurant, and when he was coming home he would tell me about people eating in the back. There were a lot of places like that around here. Like even the doctor's office. It was stupid. We was all seeing the same doctor and we was all spending the same money, so what difference did it make? ... Things have changed some. Not very much. But they have changed.

One of the things I went through here in Nacogdoches ... {was} the way they never promoted us on the job, and never put us in managerial positions or anything. They always brought in somebody and we had to teach them what to do and how to do it, but then they would get the job and get the credit for it. Like I trained two or three of them, but they never offered me the position. But I worked 23 years up there in the kitchen. I enjoyed my time most of the time until they contracted out to the ARA company, and lot of people got frustrated and quit, and they would fire a lot of people. ... I wouldn't work up there today if I had to.

But we had a lot of good times up there working together. I can remember the night that we were counting the vote to see if we would get {a union}. Mr. Goade was one of the managers there, and he would be sitting there and tapping his pencil, and every time they would get a "no" vote, he would tap a little louder. You know, like, "I got this." It got down and all them votes kept coming in "yes," and "yes," and I knew we would get {it}. And he snapped his pencil and got red as a beet, and I said, "Is there a problem?" And he got up and left the room {laughs}. Oh, it was something else. You actually had to be there to see it, some of the stuff that happened. But we had lot of problems — still have problems, but not quite as bad. I think we made it a little better for the ones that came after us.

CHAPTER 2

STewart Acuff

Cofounder, Atlanta Jobs with Justice Former president, Atlanta AFL-CIO, and former national JwJ board member


You've been president of a central labor council and you've been organizing director at the AFL-CIO. What do you think the role of JwJ is within the Labor movement? What was it and what is it?

JwJ is probably the most effective national community-Labor coalition over a long period of time in the history of the Labor movement. JwJ was born during a period of severe assaults in the form of forced strikes and concession demands in 1987, and JwJ did two really important things. One was that it rediscovered a culture relevant to the Labor movement, and it sort of woke up Labor leaders who wanted to hold onto the social contract that American corporations and Labor had in the '50s and at least part of the '60s and part of the '70s. JwJ said, "Look, this social contract has been destroyed by government and by American business and the financial elite, and we need to fight back."

JwJ absolutely informed the vision for what central labor councils could and should be when John Sweeny, Rich Trumka, and Linda Chavez-Thompson were elected in 1995. On the local level, JwJ helped develop relationships between powerful and not-so-powerful community organizations or civil rights organizations and women organizations, progressive ministers, and even progressive politicians in the local Labor movement and over the years in hundreds of strikes and organizing campaigns.


Can you share a bit about how you came to JwJ?


JwJ was started in Miami at an Eastern Airlines event {in 1987}. I was head of the SEIU public employees' union, and Jobs with Justice got off to an uneven, rocky start in Atlanta. Rather soon after the founding {in Atlanta}, it was crushed and suppressed by the State Federation of Labor and the central labor council.


Regardless of everything, you and everybody else were able to get JwJ going in the early '90s in Atlanta as part of the central labor council.


I got drafted to run {for Atlanta AFL-CIO president} and I ran on a platform of doing whatever it takes to make sure the Olympics were done in a righteous way and through a strong community-Labor coalition, and focusing on organizing and solidarity, all of which was the JwJ program. So I got elected ... and we formed JwJ as a committee of the labor council ... almost immediately after I was elected. I was elected in '91, and there was a national, or what they used to call "annual meeting," in Denver, which were neither annual nor union meetings. They were sort of conventions. I went, and a big crowd of people from Atlanta went, and we said we want this thing in Atlanta.


You've been a key leader in the South. How has JwJ learned from the civil rights movement?


JwJ was very smart at learning the lessons and the histories of the civil rights movement and in the case of James Orange, adopting a leader who had been a leader in the civil rights movement. Let's do a parenthesis here on James Orange, and this is really important. Reverend James Orange was a football hero in Birmingham. He played on some professional football practice squads; he practiced with the team and was paid by the teams. He was drawn to a mass meeting in Birmingham about the Birmingham movement and he volunteered to march. He marched, and as the Birmingham movement got more brutal because of {commissioner of public safety} Bull Connor, his activity stepped up. James Orange is the man who organized the high school students to strike, to walk out of the high schools, and he is the person who led the demonstration during which the kids were attacked with fire hoses and German Shepherds. You know that iconic image. I'm not exaggerating at all, and {civil rights leader} Andy Young would probably tell you this: James Orange was the embodiment of an individual who turned the nation's consciousness onto the civil rights movement.


Can you tell me about the time you discussed in your book when he was arrested?


I love this story, so I'll talk too long. So Newt Gingrich gets elected from a racist, suburban county of Atlanta called Cobb County It was known to be a racist county. They wouldn't let MARTA {the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority} in there because they wouldn't want Black people riding public transit into their county. They called MARTA "Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta." We saw how devastating Gingrich was going to be, and I said, "Look, it's our responsibility to rip the façade off him to make it clear that his own people don't support him, and to raise major hell about him." ... I'm not one for process, but we processed the shit out of this because we knew there'd be a terrible backlash. Probably somebody would get hurt and maybe somebody would get killed because Gingrich was so powerful. He was more powerful than the president at the time. So I wrote a memo about what we would do. It would be a truth demonstration, and we processed the action at the crowded labor council meeting in February, and we decided to go forward with it. So our JwJ committee did the work on it and we rented four buses, because it would be too easy for the police to control cars.

We gathered everybody at the appointed time at the IBEW auditorium, and we had a combination strategy session and prayer meeting, with me and James leading the strategy and Reverend Orange leading the prayer meeting. The idea was for the front bus to stop in the middle of the street. We had two people with a banner that said "Boot Newt," and they would stand across the other lane so we were blocking both lanes of the street. Everybody then would get out of the bus as quickly as possible and move to Gingrich's district office. We had chants and everything else. ... The Speaker had a large district office, and we filled the whole thing. Reverend Orange and I had an agreement that we weren't trying to get people arrested. We intentionally had almost all White people because we didn't want it to seem {only about Gingrich's} racist narrative. It was mostly building trades. ... So his office is just jammed with people. One of our guys is answering the phone in the office. There was very little damage to the office for so many people getting in there — maybe 300-400 people. Although we weren't looking for a huge crowd, we wanted a crowd large enough to make a point, so we thought we would hold the place for 20 minutes and that would be that. That would accomplish our purpose. Sean Hannity, who was just a radio loudmouth in those days, was out there with his tape recorder. All the media in town were out there.

After {helping lead} that action I attracted my own security officers. One was a city police officer who wore a uniform and who came leafleting and was very cool. He was like, "What do you have planned next week? What do you need us to do? Let's just make sure everything's nonviolent and there's no property destruction." We had a good relationship. Then I get a call from a labor lawyer saying, "Well, you made the big time." He said, "Do you know you have your own FBI agent?" I said, "What are you talking about?" He's like, "Well, there's a guy here from the government who's calling everyone about you." I never knew if he was from FBI or if Congress has its own police force and its own investigatory staff, or if he was from Department of Labor. But I feel relatively confident that he was from the FBI.

Shit hit the fan nationally. I was on the Laura Ingraham show, Newt Gingrich talked about it on his show, I almost got into a fight in the studio with Sean Hannity, and it made the national news. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a full-page, top-of-the-fold, front-page piece. The jump page was page three, which was full-page including all our demands. Then it was on. And then we had a demonstration which was heavily monitored by the police at a Newt Gingrich fundraiser. Meanwhile, I went to Jobs with Justice and I made a speech about it. JwJ chapters all over the country started doing actions on Newt Gingrich and on his team and his core supporters in the House. The biggest one was in Seattle and that was about 2,000 people busting up some kind of award dinner.

It ended with a demonstration we had at a health care conference in September '95 that Gingrich was speaking at, and where we took over. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) went with us and we took over the conference and Gingrich didn't speak. He left. The conference was so disrupted. I mean, we literally took the microphone, stood on the tables, ran people off the stage, and we just completely blew it up.

Now, here's the main thing that people don't remember: the people in the streets. People remember {President Clinton} outsmarting him, and the president took him to the cleaners. That is true, but it's not the full truth. The full truth is that he went from the powerful Speaker of the House to the controversial Speaker in about three months. Everywhere he went he was greeted with hostile demonstrations, with people breaking up his book signing, the offices of his deputies being taken over.


What was JwJ's role in all of that?


It was a JwJ deal. Sometimes I don't distinguish between JwJ and the labor council, because JwJ was part of the labor council. But this was a JwJ deal.


One idea I took from your book is that movement can be fueled by heart and inspiration and hope and faith. How did that play out with JwJ? Can you talk about JwJ through the lens of faith?


{In Atlanta} there was a meeting every Monday morning of the Concerned Black Clergy. It ran from 12 people to 40 people. James Orange, who was the co-chair of Jobs with Justice, said, "Stewart, you got to go." So I went every Monday morning, whether I added something to the agenda or not. Usually I didn't, but I could build relationships with the most powerful Black ministers in Atlanta. Dr. Gerald Gurley, a fascinating man, and then the man who became my pastor, Reverend Jim McDonald, are two of the ones who stand out in my mind. I could name others. But particularly when the fights involved African Americans, I would go and I would make a pitch.

We did lots of creative stuff around faith. During the Overnite Transportation strike, which the Teamsters lost, Atlanta was a hub. ... Right before Christmas we called for this major illegal rally at the plant gates. We got a pick-up truck, and, well, I'm a person of faith and I'd read the Bible and I went back to the Bible and highlighted every part of the Bible that I could find that had to do with workers or poor people. Then we had a dozen ministers and Black ministers and one White nun read those from the back of the truck, and then attempt to deliver the Bible to the terminal manager. That took a lot corporate calls and lawyers. You can't imagine what simply delivering a Bible would cause an American corporation to do. But eventually they were able to do that. We lost the strike, but it really strengthened the workers.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Jobs with Justice by Eric Larson. Copyright © 2013 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments,
Editor's Preface: Capturing the Stories of the "Permanent Coalition" — Eric Larson,
Introduction: Stand Up! Fight Back! — Larry Cohen,
Part I: Jobs with Justice Means ... Victory,
Mattie Stegall (Nacogdoches, TX),
Stewart Acuff (Atlanta, GA),
Steve Valencia (Tucson, AZ),
Margaret Butler (Portland, OR),
Maria Whyte (Buffalo, NY),
Lara Granich (St. Louis, MO),
Ai-Jen Poo (New York City),
Part II: Jobs with Justice Means ... Transforming Relationships, Bridging Differences,
Carl Rosen (Chicago, IL),
Rand Wilson (Boston, MA),
Barbara Ingalls (Detroit, MI),
John Ryan (Cleveland, OH),
Fred Azcarate (National JwJ Office),
Mary Beth Maxwell; (National JwJ Office),
Russ Davis (Boston, MA),
Simon Greer (National JwJ Office/New York City),
Treston Davis-Faulkner (Philadelphia/National JwJ Office),
Part III: Jobs with Justice Means ... Fighting for the Future,
Michael Leon Guerrero (National JwJ Board of Directors),
Marielena Hincapié (National JwJ Board of Directors),
Denise Diaz (Central Florida),
Israel Alvaran (San Francisco, CA),
Isaiah Toney (Student Labor Action Project/National JwJ Office),
Saket Soni (New Orleans, LA),
Conclusion: Jobs with Justice — The Next Chapter,
Sarita Gupta (Executive director, Jobs with Justice),
Closing Meditation,
Rev. Calvin Morris, Ph.D. (Former national JwJ board member),

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