Jobs with Justice national conference

By Brian Chidester

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Some 800 people attended the 2008 Jobs with Justice (JwJ) national conference here on May 2-4. Terrence Courtney of Atlanta JwJ summed up the mood: "I have detected a serious radical shift in Jobs with Justice, and that's a good thing!"

Providence activists, JwJ organizers from around the country and a handful of people from other workers' rights organizations, such as the United States Student Association, the Student Labor Action Project and the Vermont Workers' Center, attended the event.

Speaking on movements, AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff said, "Memphis strikers ignoring national leadership was real movement. Movement comes from below and engages people in collective action. Sometimes, we confuse the institutions of the movement with the movement itself."

Acuff talked about the momentum in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and said: "The next president--President Obama or whoever--has to listen to workers' demands!" Alyce Gowdy Wright of the South Florida JwJ in Miami declared, to great applause: "JwJ is positioned to be the connective tissue for a broad-based workers' revolution."

Speakers also included Matt Howard of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, who spoke about the militarization of all levels of society and the ways the military takes advantage of working people's economic vulnerabilities for the sake of recruitment.

When asked about the election and the coming political period, he said: "'Hope' transfers our responsibility. Putting hope in politicians takes away our responsibility. Hope will not get us out of Iraq; resistance will get us out of Iraq."

JwJ Executive Director Sarita Gupta spoke for many attendees when she said, "The elections in November should bring a sea change in the political landscape." What a Democratic victory would mean concretely for the labor movement was a topic of discussion for conference attendees. Many people were clearly for Barack Obama, and others saw his election as a stepping stone to a larger transformation that would have to be carried out by the rank and file.

JwJ will be working on initiatives around health care and immigration reform in the coming years, as well as the EFCA. Additionally, many activists are working on local campaigns, and left the conference with a sense of the renewed importance of those campaigns.