By Maria Williams, Office Manager - Teamsters Local 117
“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice” - MLK
Sometimes it gets a bit exhausting to think about the future of the labor movement. Not because there is any doubt in my mind as to the absolute need to fight for workers' rights or to continue to build a platform for social and economic justice, but simply because of the sheer immensity of the task that young unionists are up against as we struggle to rebuild our nation.
Make no mistake, it is a scary time. Union membership in this country is at an all time low of 11.9% and union members are taking the blame for just about every economic catastrophe that has plagued this country since the 80s. Every time we turn on the news, a new attack is being waged against union workers, yet the economic inequalities between Main Street and Wall Street couldn’t be more distinct.
On Main Street we are fighting to try to keep just about every benefit we have achieved over the last 100 years. From pension, to sick leave, to seniority; I wouldn’t be surprised if the reasonableness of the eight hour day is soon called into question, if it hasn’t been already. No benefit is protected, no job is secure, no future is safe.
But, I am sick of being afraid.
Over the weekend, with other members of our Teamsters For Tomorrow youth caucus, I had the opportunity to attend an Emerging Leaders Conference facilitated by the Washington State Labor Education and Research Center. The purpose of the conference was to provide leadership training and an opportunity for emerging labor and community leaders to come together to network and coalesce over the challenges facing workers and activists in the area.
Attendees included members of a number of organizations including, the Washington State Labor Council, United Students Against Sweatshops, OneAmerica, Allyship, Puget Sound Sage, SEIU, IFTPE, AFSCME’s Young Emerging Labor Leaders (YELL), and a number of other organizations fighting for social justice in the Pacific Northwest.
Attending this Conference provided the opportunity to network with young leaders doing pretty much everything you can think of, from working with victims of domestic violence, to fighting for paid-sick leave for workers in Seattle, to serving as an advocate for workplace rights for women of color. Needless to say, having such a diverse group in the room made for a very unique experience as we grappled with the different challenges that we all face as a result of our organizational, community or personal affiliations.
However, one thing that became immediately clear was that although our interests may appear separate, we are all fighting to preserve our civil rights, a plight intimately connected with the labor movement and entirely dependent on our ability to unite.
So unite we will! On the last day of the conference, all attendees worked to form a strategic plan to continue networking, attend future trainings/events and begin aggressively building an army to lead us into the future.
I want to believe Dr. King when he says that the arc of history bends toward social justice, but just believing is not going to be enough. We need to grab a hold of that arc together to make sure that it bends towards justice.
It’s time to come together to fight!
For more information about the Teamsters for Tomorrow, Maria can be reached at 206-441-4860 ext. 1253 or at email@example.com.