“I'LL BE THERE,” READS THE PLEDGE. “During the next year, I will be there at least five times for someone else's fight, as well as my own. If enough of us are there, we'll all start winning.”
With this pledge, Jobs with Justice builds a corps of people who will turn out for the direct actions the organization wields in its David-and-Goliath struggles—between janitors and one of the largest corporate landowners in Seattle, for example, or between immigrant airport workers and the combined power of the Homeland Security Department, the INS, and the giant airplane catering company Skychef.
Founded in 1987, when the shrinking U.S. labor movement was struggling for its existence, Jobs with Justice (JwJ) draws faith-based, community, and student groups into worker-rights struggles, using creative tactics to turn around the most overmatched fights. JwJ helps low-wage immigrant workers join forces with long-established unions, such as the Machinists and the Longshore Workers, for example. These unions supported a JwJ action for immigrant airport workers because their primarily white, well-paid, male members realized they were all being targeted in the name of national security, says Jake Carton, an organizer with JwJ in Seattle.
JwJ, which now has chapters in over 40 cities, takes actions a labor union wouldn't touch with a 10-foot cleaning brush. One recent action sent JwJ activists sneaking into a high-rise office building with toilet plungers and cleaning supplies to invite the partners in a major corporate law firm to help clean bathrooms. The building had been turned over to a non-union cleaning service—slashing janitors' already-low wages and eliminating health-care benefits—and the owner refused to budge, even threatening to convince other commercial landlords to turn to non-union firms. So activists filled one of his buildings, mortifying the tenants, who were told that if they wanted to avoid future embarrassment they should urge their landlord to return to a union firm. The landlord called the union soon after.
JwJ can respond to only a few of the requests for assistance it receives. “We pick fights that are precedent-setting for the community, that are public and graphic, so we're not just winning the particular fight, we're shifting the landscape,” says Carton.