Community and Labor Coalitions to Support A New Equity Agenda

At present, an informal division of labor exist between labor unions and civic organizations. Labor unions represent workers in negotiations with employers on wages, benefits and working conditions; community organizations work on housing and social services for many of the same workers, as well as for non-union workers and people outside of the labor force.

This system leaves significant gaps:

There is little coordinated thinking or strategizing regarding the role of workers in their communities, or how to organize workers as economic actors.

  • ALT: Workers must play a more strategic role in creating community-based economic change

There is little thinking or advocacy regarding alternative, decentralized (local) economic development strategies, and accompanying opportunities for community ownership and local wealth creation.

  • ALT: Community ownership and democratic wealth creation must be better integrated into economic development practice

Together, labor and community organizations can mobilize to break down the institutional silos that stop communities from taking leadership in governing local economies to produce benefits for all. A community-based economic development strategy can be the basis for reaching across traditional divisions such as those between health and housing, or buildings and energy. Organizing around local assets and value-creation can build a community infrastructure to support ongoing civic engagement and can serve as a foundation for seizing the opportunities that result from making connections between these sectors.

Consider electric cars. In communities desperate for stable jobs and struggling with the health effects of pollution, electric cars and associated manufacturing jobs could be a tremendous opportunity. Electric cars enhance community resilience to climate and other crises. For example, during a power outage, electric cars can be plugged back into the grid to provide significant reserves of available energy. The Mondragon Cooperative, a network of over 100 worker-owned businesses in Spain, has reported that although foreign automakers have invested significant resources in electric car technology, they struggle to bring these innovations to market in the United States because so few communities have the infrastructure for recharging electric cars. An organized community might leverage disaster resilience or other funding streams to build local charging stations, incentivizing electric car manufacturers to build electric car manufacturing facilities nearby. This type of trifecta of community economic change (improved livelihoods, improved health outcomes and improved resilience), would require far greater coordination and collaboration between civic and labor organizations in communities than currently exists.

Community-based collaboration between civic and labor organizations could begin generating programs at the municipal, state and federal levels that provide opportunities for shared wealth and improved wellbeing of people and the planet:

Community-based collaboration between civic and labor organizations could begin generating programs at the municipal, state and federal levels that provide opportunities for shared wealth and improved wellbeing of people and the planet:

Full employment: A unified front to advocate fiscal policy that generates and maintains full employment; a federal works program to employ job-seekers and stabilize the labor market during downturns; taxation policies to fund full employment programs and reinvest capital into communities.

  • ALT: Build a unified front to advocate for policies that generate full employment, including a federal works program and tax reform

Decent work: Support for a fair minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work; support for unionization and collective bargaining; a ban on the use of credit checks by potential employers; refreshed industrial policy that sets a new course for the future of domestic manufacturing, and financial policy to ensure adequate and strategic investment along these lines.

  • ALT: Mobilize support for living wages, equal pay for equal work, and collective bargaining while advancing a vision for the future of industrial policy and domestic manufacturing

Healthy Communities: Coordinated efforts across several sectors to support community well-being, including: implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Community Benefits provisions; healthcare workforce development and wage increases; affordable and accessible community-based health and social services; addressing racial disparities in health outcomes; hunger prevention; healthy food access and food justice; HIV-AIDS prevention, treatment and education; and, most important for sustained change, the active engagement of neighborhood voices in guiding the future direction of care.

  • ALT: Coordinate cross-sector efforts to advance community well-being with a focus on policies and programs that address racial disparities in health outcomes and build community control over the future of healthcare

Affordable housing: A crisis of housing affordability disproportionately affects communities of color, and requires strategically addressing: the construction and long-term availability of safe, decent affordable housing; racial discrimination, which has not improved in 60 years, and the need for resources to fight it; assistance for homeowners facing foreclosure; addressing inequities in federal renters’ assistance funding; activism around local and state land use policies to prevent displacement; comprehensive programs to combat homelessness.

  • ALT: Innovatively address the housing crisis faced by communities of color by constructing long-term affordable housing, fighting racial discrimination in the housing market, and preventing displacement and foreclosure through financial assistance and land use policy.

Environment: A joined environmental and civil rights movement could leverage each others’ support on issues including: immediate action to reduce fossil fuel emissions and corporate pollution; the creation of “climate jobs” to implement adaptation efforts; countering the expansion of corporate agriculture and replacing it with generous support for family farms. A global perspective on these issues would acknowledge the special responsibility of countries in the North, call for an end to displacement of environmental hazards to the global South, and provision of foreign aid to countries taking innovative steps to address the environmental crisis.

  • ALT: Deeply link the environmental and civil rights movements through immediate action to reduce fossil fuel emissions and corporate pollution, creating green jobs through climate adaptation, and countering the expansion of corporate agriculture by supporting family farms.

Energy: Comprehensive energy policy would address multiple drivers of inequity and climate change: grid modernization; renewables expansion; expanding local ownership of generation and distribution; job-creation through renewable energy generation and retrofitting; an immediate end to fracking, and expedited replacement or retrofitting of coal plants.

  • ALT: Address the intertwined drivers of inequity and climate change by organizing for local wealth-building and job creation through significant new renewable energy infrastructure and investment, banning fracking and expediting the replacement of coal plants.

Communications and technology: The information technology revolution, only just beginning, must be democratized; breakthroughs come from innovative combinations of new technologies rather than individual inventions. Universal broadband access is imperative for communities to participate in open source development, take advantage of digital manufacturing technology, and educate and uplift the students who will become the next generation of creators and entrepreneurs.

  • ALT: Democratize the IT revolution by advancing universal broadband, digital manufacturing, and STEM education in working-class communities.

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