A New Labor Movement Is Emerging

This Labor Day at Burlington’s Battery Park we will see a glimpse of a new movement of working people who are organizing in innovative ways for their rights and economic justice. There will be home care workers, early educators, nurses, migrant farmworkers, food industry workers and many more Vermonters struggling to work with dignity in the richest country in the world.

These are the people who have begun to create a new labor movement for the 21st century, in Vermont and around the country. By organizing unions in new industries, forming new types of worker organizations, worker cooperatives, and building collective power to fight for human rights and justice in our communities and at the statehouse, growing numbers of low-income and working people are uniting and overcoming old divisions.

Our growing movement in Vermont is garnering increasing national attention and there is much to celebrate this Labor Day. This past spring over 7,000 independent personal care attendants won collective bargaining rights and in the next month will be voting to form Vermont Home Care Workers United, which will be the second largest union in the state. Also this spring, Migrant Justice, a migrant farmworker organization and one of the fastest growing worker organizations in Vermont, had a huge victory winning the right for all Vermont residents to have driver’s licenses.

Instead of tackling these issues alone, each of these groups have connected with other human right struggles, such as the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, which is continuing the fight for a truly universal and equitable healthcare system. Previously separate, single-issue campaigns have joined together in a movement building, grassroots initiative called Put People First.

This Labor Day we will also honor all of those who have come before us, all the inspiring struggles happening now around the country, like the Walmart and fast food workers striking for justice, and workers around the world resisting corporate exploitation and austerity. Looking to the future, we are gearing up for many more victories to come in Vermont in the months and years ahead: come Labor Day 2014 we plan to celebrate the state’s passage of the strongest paid sick day law in the country, as well as the right to organize for Vermont Early Educators United, and a stronger livable wage ordinance for the City of Burlington.

Moreover, in a year’s time Vermont will be on the verge of fulfilling its commitment to truly universal healthcare where we all get the care that we need when we need it and equitably financed through progressive taxation.

The Vermont Workers’ Center is celebrating its 15th Anniversary on Nov. 9 at the Old Labor Hall in Barre. What started as a handful of low-wage workers meeting in their kitchens in Central Vermont has grown into a grassroots organization of many thousands of people across the state. In a world full of injustices and inequality, people all over Vermont know that they can do something about this and make Vermont a better place to live.

As we celebrate Labor Day and the labor movement that “brought us the weekend,” we are also celebrating all that we can win together towards work with dignity in the days ahead.

James Haslam of Burlington is the executive director at the Vermont Workers’ Center, which coordinates Put People First, Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign and other grassroots initiatives for workers’ rights and democracy.