By David Dyssegaard Kallick
How did your work on living wage campaigns come about?
Living wage campaigns came out of people locally looking at what they could do in the local economy. Something that was pro-active. [The campaigns are] a proactive way to address some of the issues in the economy and build a broader coalition around that. Rather than traditional labor organizing that says we're going to organize these people in this workplace.
[They have] been a good way to bring community, labor, and to some extent religious [constituencies together] in a way that each party has a self-interest, but it's not totally self-interested for anybody. Here's a concrete thing we can do about it together; working together, while building the relationships that are necessary to take on other important campaigns.
Our own self-criticism would be: at the end of the day, how many workers are covered? The numbers are not very high. But it's a smart strategy becasue it builds the coalitional power to fight on some other fronts as well.
At the same time, in relation to setting a good minimum wage: there's got to be at least a critical mass for setting a floor.
What kinds of places do living wage campaigns work?
It's most successful in places where people have been able to wage a broad-based struggle to enact [agreements] that cover some critical mass of workers, but also lay a foundation for ongling struggles around interventions in the local economy.
So what criteria would you use if you were going to choose a new place to wage a campaign?
The extent of organizational capacity on the ground, and the possibility for winning.
What about the economic situation?
That's less a part of the calculation.
So far, it's been primarily urban instead of rural. There are some subsidies coming out from local governments. Where this is true, it gives you a wedge. [Other important factors are the existance of low-wage jobs. And government contracting. It's good to be able to say: "here's how our tax dollars are at work."
This is one tactic in an ongoing strategy of building a base in a community that's educated and interested in intervening in issues in the local economy, [and to help people] feel like they have a right to have a voice in that debate.
What would be the next step?
I think that's a good question. It's got to be answered locality by locality. But if there's a coalitional base being created by this campaign, to keep them in motion in other issues affecting the local economy, whether it's labor union organizing, looking at corporate subsidy abuse in the community, ways to have an impact on job creation in that community. I think everyone is still figuring some of this out.
Is there a national strategy?
The targets of these campaigns are all local. Ultimately there might be some national targets-specific corporations, or national government.
It sounds to me like on the one side is an evaluation of where our capacity lies - where we can make change happen. On the other side is an economic analysis about what change is needed. But can you make these two match up?
That would be good [chuckle.]
Jobs with Justice is also campaigning around workers' right to form labor unions, isn't it?
Our "Right to Organize" work is another piece that's very important. In Colorado with public school workers, in Massachusetts nursing homes.
[The work in Massachussets has been very effective.] Most workers [there] are Haitian, so that commmunity sees a real stake in these workers getting rights on the job. We have both corporate targets and local legislative targets.
In Denver, where we've been working with CWA to organize workers at the Denver Public Schools. It's been harder, and there was extreme intransigence on the part of the school board. We did recently win a victory there however.