By Jim Lane and Paul Hill
PROVIDENCE, RI - Jobs with Justice continues as a tremendous asset for organized labor, but new and exciting trends were also evident at their National Conference May 2-4 in Providence, Rhode Island. The organization that was founded by five industrial unions in 1987 has continued to grow and fulfill its original purpose of reaching outside to assist the union movement. Now, it is also organizing the broader working class in America and abroad.
Executive Director Sarita Gupta announced proudly that the group had exceeded its goal of tripling its activist data base, and that 45 active coalitions now belonged directly to the network. Each coalition includes unions, churches, community groups, civil rights organizations, and occupation groups not easily incorporated into the legal and traditional structures of unions. Some chapters have been organized in Brazil and other countries.
Domestic workers, independent taxi drivers, day laborers, security guards, former prisoners, mobile home owners, tenants, imported immigrant construction workers, and other hard-to-organize groups now look to Jobs with Justice and its associated networks for help in organizing. Their confidence is rewarded with success after success, as explained by speakers at the conference. At the same time, the organization's commitment to organized labor was shown by its commitment to national health care, fair trade laws, and the right to organize as codified in the Employee Free Choice Act. One JwJ goal is to gather 1 million signed commitments for this vital American legislation!
Jobs with Justice is a tax deductible (code 501c3) organization, and thus cannot endorse or support political candidates, but a number of workshop leaders pointed out that a fundamental change in the government is needed to accomplish working people's goals.
Internationalism was evident throughout the conference. A raffle was conducted to benefit Colombians, and a large group of imported workers from India took the stage to explain their militant fight to make American contractors live up to their promises. The men and women from India had already marched from New Orleans, where they were brought as cheap labor for hurricane disaster clean-up, to Washington DC. They announced that they would begin fasting for justice on May 14. The Jobs with Justice Education Fund is conducting a world-wide fight for living wages that includes worker correspondents and cooperating organizations in Asian nations.
The first speaker introduced at the first plenary session set off a pattern for wildly enthusiastic responses that lasted through the entire event. When International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Organizing Director Peter Olney announced that his union had shut down West Coast ports on May 1 to oppose the Mid-East war, 1,000 JwJ activists rose to shout, applaud, and shake their fists in solidarity. Olney said that government leaders viewed the ILWU action as if it had been an "act of defiance." "Of course it was an act of defiance!" he told the wildly enthusiastic supporters.
Hardly any sector of the world working class, hardly any concern of workers, was overlooked during the two day conference.
A new major strategic planning process to meet the needs of the new situation was emphasized throughout the conference. Not since the disastrous ideological diversion of the Congress of Industrial Organizations during the Cold War has America seen this level of commitment within our American working class!
Jobs with Justice leaders reject any description of their organization as one that primarily studies and talks. They are nothing if not an activist organization, and they demonstrated it with a major march of a diverse crowd of about 2,000 from the conference hotel to the Rhode Island state capitol, where they demanded fair treatment for state workers.
Workshops reflected the many fights that JwJ activists are in such as: health care, immigrant rights, funding public services, organizing, and stopping war. At a workshop titled, "Low-wage Workers Organizing! Workers' Centers and other models issue forum agenda," One of the panelists began his short address in Spanish with "Workers of the world, unite!"
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