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Honor Labor

A message to the 1,700 educators I represent in the San Jose Unified School District, and to my sisters and brothers everywhere.

 

Monday is Labor Day and, for many hard-working laborers, it’ll be a day of well-earned rest and joy. As ever, it’s also an important time to reflect and to speak on the impact of organizing in our communities and in our history. In 1965, in a speech to the Illinois AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”

What a beautiful endorsement of us. I hope that you see yourselves in the labor movement, as so often education professionals do not. But we are there; our contributions are monumental.

Our state and national unions have either lead or been instrumental in supporting:
-a free public education for every child
-the Civil Rights Act
-the 26th Amendment
-pensions systems
-ending gender-based discrimination in employment
-women’s suffrage
-the GI Bill
-collective bargaining
-minimum school funding legislation
-marriage equality

And so, so much more. I’m so proud to be a part of it with you.

I do this work because of this legacy, but I also do it because of my stepfather. He worked for years for a reprehensible employer who violated his rights but managed to skirt the law just enough to get away with it. Without a union, our Papa was without recourse or support. He was fired and he never understood why. But we did know he was the oldest man in the plant, but there was still nothing we could do. At 60 years old, he searched desperately for a new job, and he ended up commuting three hours every day, working the night shift, and it took a terrible toll on him.

In 2005, he died. On Labor Day. At work.

I can’t undo the past, and I don’t do my job out a need to right this wrong, but he is never far from my thoughts.

Every person who works for their community brings with them a multitude of reasons. I hope that you have a moment this Labor Day to reflect on what matters to you as a laborer, as one who makes a tremendous impact on the world around you. I’ll be thinking of you, and grateful for every opportunity we have to change the world, together.

“Like my father, I believe that working people of all races share a vision. It is a vision of decent wages and working conditions, a vision of multiracial unity and mutual progress, a vision of hope and opportunity for all. It is a vision that the American labor movement and people of color have shared for generations, and it is the basis for a new coalition of conscience that will turn the struggles of today into the triumphs of tomorrow.”

-Martin Luther King, III

Indeed. Happy Labor Day, from my family- both in blood and in vision, to yours.

papa

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