Labor on: the need for unions and the Poor People’s Campaign

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By Joseph Wun

The work of peace in action demands justice for laborers the world over. The dominating cultural ethic in economic practice is exploitation for the benefit of an ownership class; the resistance, hard-fought, has resided in labor organizing into the collective power of unions. These protective organizations for workers remain precarious, now, perhaps, more than ever. However, the need for unions and their import to the people resounded with Missouri’s recent supermajority defeat of Proposition A, which would have, if passed, codified Missouri’s right-to-work law, a species of policy designed to severely hinder the capacity of labor to organize collective, protective power.

A familiar group of red-shirted allies gathered downtown on Aug. 18 to mark this victory over the evils of economic exploitation and rededicate to the struggle of justice for all workers. Organized by Stand UP KC, which is the stalwart local organization for a living wage and the right to unionize, and also is the local engine of the Poor People’s Campaign, the rally hosted space for testimonies of union workers and advocates. Also present were elected officials and candidates for office; they offered their intentions in response.

One worker affirmed her current, unionized employment by drawing the stark contrast between that work and her previous non-union job. Before, she was denied benefits by manipulative scheduling, paid well below a living wage, and subjected to verbal abuse from her managers. Days off were full of the strain of the impending return to undignified work. Now, she has health insurance, can take a day of rest (and is paid the for it), and is, if abused by a manager, entitled to redress per the contract negotiated by her union. She called upon the public officials present to lend their hands to the struggle, knowing how union representation has changed her life and how it ought to belong to all workers.

The Poor People’s Campaign emphasizes the coiled-together quality of the four social evils with which it contends—racism, economic exploitation, militarism and environmental degradation—and this rally underscored those connections. White supremacy has tragically inflected labor, causing it to divide against itself, portraying non-white workers as threats to wealth, health and work. Workers and advocates testified against this damaging fiction, making clarion clear the need for inclusion in union organizing and defining the benefits a union, so self-aware, has for advancing reconciliation and the common good. Well-worn hands must not push each other aside but join together, moving on with strength in numbers.

This strength, the officials and workers exhorted the crowd, must come together at the ballot box, at the picket line, to embody what one popular rally sign proclaims–coming together to use our strength to get things done together we can’t get done on our own. The Poor People’s Campaign and Stand UP KC march on from the season of non-violent direct action into a new season of ongoing resistance and promotion of a more equitable society. Peaceworks-KC will continue to show up and support their advancing of a world erasing violence and channeling creation.

See you in the streets.

A—Joseph Wun, a PeaceWorks Board member, lives at Jerusalem Farm in KC, Mo., a community of welcome and support for all.

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