Last Monday, July 28, a number of activists and leaders from labor, faith organizations and community activist groups came together, to yes, one more time, put together a mid-Willamette Valley, Jobs with Justice chapter. The meeting was good; the attendance was especially good given that this was a first meeting. Folks made it from from rather diverse organizations, including CWA, SEIU, The Teamsters, the First Congregational Church, Voz Hispanica, Manno et Manno, and the Salem chapter of the Communist Party.
Monday night’s meeting was attended and facilitated by Margaret Butler, who coordinates the very successful Portland Jobs with Justice chapter.
Maybe a quick explanation for readers who don’t about Jobs with Justice:
Jobs with Justice is about 20 years old and came together in a number of east coast cities in response to the social devastation being caused by rampant workplace closings, de-industrialization, and the re-structuring of American capital in the direction of bigger and better profit extraction.
From its inception, Jobs with Justice has been very much a community-based phenomena. The project is based on putting together community wide responses and initiatives in the interests of a more decent society (understatement intended). As such, community/city chapters of JwJ includes unions, progressively oriented religious and spiritual groups, civil rights organizations, grass-roots neighborhood organizations, and largely labor based individual activists who come together based on a shared sense of the need for a community response to “business as usual” economic and social predation. As an organization of activists, the terms of membership are pretty straightforward… Show up at any five actions you want over a one-year period…
So, back to Margaret and Portland JwJ:
Portland JwJ has a solid 15-year history. As with most efforts around organizing, it began with a handful of activists and organizers, and it grew as more folks and organizations saw the need….
I don’t want to do a recitation here, but when I was doing picket duty at the Portland Parry Center strike, I saw the food and coffee, money and people show up continually and in goods numbers. This was the Portland JwJ. Portland JwJ mobilized for Hilton Hotel workers too… Results were an excellent contract. Lots of Portland area school workers have the contract they have because of the kind of community pressure JwJ can exert.
Jobs with Justice in Salem:
There has in the past been a Jobs with Justice presence in Salem and the Mid-Willamette Valley… Thus, the “one more time” title. And some good work has been done. I’m thinking of the Albany Steelworkers and the brutal Wa Chang strike. There was also the contract campaign support for City of Salem AFSCME workers, and the Corvallis Living Wage ordinance… All solid wins!
But Salem Jobs with Justice has never been more than a handful of activists (some real dedicated) and a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. The key failure here has been a solid lack of buy-in by Salem’s labor unions.
I don’t know what to call it, maybe “capital city-itis”…
Salem, being the State capitol, has a feel like all other capitols. Capitol cities are cities that center around “cutting the deal”. That’s what capitalist politics are, it’s all about “cutting the deal”, or as cartoonist Carolyn Berry put it, “two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.”
And the mentality of “cutting the deal” permeates Salem labor unions, leadership and rank and file like a wet blanket on the imagination. Salem’s labor leaders fixate on lobbying and cutting the deal with the State’s politicians. Salem’s primarily public sector workers identify with the aims and purposes of their jobs and the perceived significance of their elected bosses. Salem’s private sector unions are lost in the shuffle, and the Immigrant Rights/Labor Rights Movement; such a big issue in Salem, organizes and hangs out largely alone.
But the times change. The historical forces change…
The Monday July 28th meeting and folks present looked at some pretty big issues facing
Salem workers. Issues like housing and health care, inflation, civil rights and worker rights, education, transportation… all things that are bleeding folks dry.
And there have been some sharp lessons. The Teamsters learned last summer exactly how ineffective a traditional strike can be. SEIU got a good contract a year ago… The one before that was… not so good… The City transportation workers and drivers took big layoffs last fall. At the same time Salem’s poorer working class folks have to face an even harder time getting around town with a thoroughly inadequate public transportation network.
And to add to the list, it is becoming more and more apparent that viable collectively bargained healthcare is on its last finger hold… And unions and memberships are going to have to cope with inflation… i.e., the usual 3% ain’t going to cut it when inflation and the Consumer Price Index are running at 6%, 7% or 8%.
Back to Basics:
Starting a Jobs with Justice chapter is not magic or rocket science. It involves getting out and talking to people, leaders and activists, and that’s it… Real basic, just talk, look at the big picture, and go from there.
From there… It is largely up to the collective imagination and conversations as to whether to play politics as usual, or try something new, like going back to old concepts like solidarity and organizing for working class and peoples’ power.
Given the historical forces at play, I’m optimistic for Salem and a viable Jobs with Justice chapter. The issues are too big, and the social holes too wide to put our heads in the sand. I’m going to trust the inherent intelligence of the Movement to see the big picture and adapt. I think it’s there…
By the way, if you are interested in joining the Jobs with Justice effort, contact Timothy Welp at email@example.com, or me at LambchopII@comcast,net.