May 24, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – If organizing is the lifeblood of the new labor movement, than the forward-thinking and innovative strategies explored at a recent Murphy Institute panel discussion might as well be the oxygen that today’s unions need to breathe. (Watch Video)
“This has to be an entrepreneurial undertaking,” Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director Sara Horowitz told labor supporters last week. “It is the act of building and putting things together. What is the essence of the union? The core thing it operates on is solidarity – some sense that we’re all in this together. The rest is open to complete free thinking."
Lately, some of labor’s biggest gains have come from organizing way outside the box by partnering with grassroots advocacy groups and associations – as witnessed in the RWDSU’s successful team-up with the WASH NY campaign, which is busy unionizing New York’s infamously exploitive car wash industry.
“We have the old labor movement and we have the new, emerging labor movement,” State Senator Diane Savino said. “There’s this new emerging group of labor activists that are working in areas that are really not the traditional industrial and manufacturing workforce. And we have to adapt our workforce to these new emerging workers and their leaders.”
In 2010, the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s creativity and perseverance culminated in passage of the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights in New York State. Earlier this month, Hawaii became the second state to pass similar protections. Seven other states are now on course to follow suit.
“What we’ve realized is just establishing labor standards is a very important first step,” National Domestic Workers Alliance Director Ai-Jen Poo said. “But the opportunity here is to really shape the future of care, service work, and the economy as a whole. And in order to do that, we have to have a future vision that is bold and ambitious. That also has room for experimentation and for failure, that has lots of support and is also completely and utterly committed to organizing.”
Just last year, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance became chartered with the AFL-CIO. Inclusion into the Central Labor Council came in 2007. But the trailblazing group has been organizing drivers since 1996, staging successful strikes and forcing the occupants of City Hall to take notice.
“To us, it doesn’t matter what federation you are aligned with,” New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said. “It is the organizations that have continued to organize and struggle outside of the traditional labor movement that have understood all along that we are one labor movement. We’re really proud to be affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but I wish that more people in the labor movement understood that ultimately, it’s not about the affiliations and the charterships – it’s about the fact that working people, against tremendous odds, have found creative ways to organize.”
Desai calls the Taxi Workers Alliance’s long odyssey “phenomenal.”
“Imagine how much more phenomenal our gains would be if we worked together as one unified movement,” she added.
Like the Taxi Workers Alliance and other aforementioned groups, the umbrella organization known as La Fuente with its roots in Washington Heights, has had a remarkable record of achievement rallying around issues of worker rights.
“This not about being each other’s friends,” La Fuente Executive Director Lucia Gomez-Jimenez said.“This is about being amazing partners and forging ahead and using the resources that we have collectively.”