Jobs With Justice at 35: The Birth of Jobs With Justice

This year, Jobs With Justice is celebrating its 35th anniversary, and this post, among others, is meant to celebrate our collective rich history and show appreciation for important campaigns throughout the years that are examples of what it means to stand together in solidarity against corporate greed and exploitation. For the rest of the year, we will be revisiting the important work our coalitions have taken part in over the years and celebrating our history in a variety of different ways. Our first post looks back at our founding and the unique dynamics that birthed Jobs With Justice.

To get a sense of how Jobs With Justice came together, you must understand where workers in the United States were in the 1980s. The nation was dealing with a presidential administration hellbent on destroying unions, from the firing of national air traffic controllers who went on strike to the staffing of anti-union members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Many corporations received the message that they had free reign to engage in worker exploitation with little to no government interference.

While all this was taking place, The Communication Workers of America (CWA) were organizing call center workers in Detroit, Michigan, at what was then Microwave Communications Inc (MCI). Just before the union election, MCI management had brought all the workers to a hotel and told them that the facility was closing. They each could sign up for a 15-minute slot to be escorted (by an armed guard) to their workstation to collect their personal belongings. At the same time in Detroit, SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign was also facing major employer opposition.

Former CWA president Larry Cohen thought that if employers could get away with this level of abuse in Detroit – a union town – they could get away with it anywhere. And the only way to balance the power that employers had was to build coalitions between workers, the community religious groups, and student allies. It was at this moment that Jobs with Justice was born.

Jobs With Justice was founded in 1987. We were created out of a clear need to bring together community, religious, and student allies with the labor movement. Our first rally was in the Miami Convention Center, where 11,000 union and community members spoke out on a new era of corporate “robber barons.” Companies like Eastern Airlines, run by Frank Lorenzo, put profits above their workers’ needs. To take on these mammoth-sized entities, it was increasingly clear to all of us that broad-based coalition models of activists and community members were vital to securing wins for working people. Thirty-five years, dozens of coalitions across the country, hundreds of partners, and countless victories locally and nationally later, we have continued to keep it going, helping to build the economic democracy that we all need.