We believe economic justice equals racial justice
THE CIVIL RIGHTS movement did not end with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. We are still in the midst of it. The work continues as we grapple with the legacy of our nation’s original sin of slavery. The Black Lives Matter movement is only the latest embodiment of our collective and ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals of liberty and justice for all.
What began as an uprising against police brutality and violence, Black Lives Matter has sparked a moment of national reckoning on racial justice and the need to dismantle racist systems and finally invest in black and brown communities. This shift has pushed many leaders in the business community to publicly condemn racism and police brutality. However, their actions have unfortunately not always matched their rhetoric when it comes to supporting the black and brown workforce. For far too long, anti-worker and anti-union rhetoric has attempted to silence black and brown workers as they organize for dignity and respect, step up to have a voice in their workplace, and demand that their labor and their families’ well-being be valued.
In this moment of national reckoning, we have an opportunity to push policymakers and business leaders alike to examine the ways in which our institutions have upheld and perpetuated white supremacy and acknowledge our role in dismantling systemic racism. This moment demands far more than press statements condemning racism and copious ad buys in support of Black Lives Matter. This movement demands unprecedented action. For those Massachusetts businesses taking a stand, we thank you and remind you that your public commitment must also include protecting and improving the livelihoods of the very black employees who make your business possible. And that commitment must center the foundational principle of honoring their contributions and their right to speak with one voice through a duly elected union.
In the Commonwealth, the healthcare sector has not only been critical to combating the COVID-19 pandemic but remains our largest employer with over half a million workers. Women and people of color make up a disproportionate number of our front-line healthcare workers and have sacrificed their own wellbeing to protect us all.
As these essential workers care for Massachusetts families, they have faced coordinated and well-funded anti-union campaigns that threaten their livelihood and ability to care for their own families. In nearly every health care setting – hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes, and home care agencies – black and brown workers have been repeatedly silenced as they fight for higher wages and better benefits—denying them the recognition and respect they deserve and have earned for themselves and their families.
Black Lives Matter isn’t only about honoring those lost to police violence. It is also about investing in black communities, valuing black lives – and truly valuing the contributions of black workers and yes, allowing them to unionize without fear or intimidation from their employer.
Economic justice is racial justice.
It is past time we took immediate action to dismantle racism, white supremacy, and economic exploitation wherever it exists, especially in our own workplaces. Workers deserve livable wages, the right to join a union, the right to quality healthcare, paid sick leave, accessible and affordable early education and care, and economic support for those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
We are all called to do more and must show up for black lives—and that starts with listening to those most impacted. We must stop forcing black workers to bring a folding chair to the negotiating table and be intentional about not just hearing them, but understanding them. The hostility towards workers’ rights to organize must end, and we must finally live up to our bumper sticker values.
That is how we ensure that Black Lives Matter.
Ayanna Pressley is a congresswoman from Massachusetts and Tim Foley is the vice president of 1199 SEIU.