Reflections on Labor Day from Funders for a Just Economy

Alejandra L. Ibañez, Chair of NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Lead Program Officer at Woods Fund Chicago, urges colleagues to defend the past achievements for workers' rights that are now being threatened by unprecedented attacks, and to be bold in pushing towards a more just economy.

As we prepare for the Labor Day weekend, which celebrates the strength, resilience, and achievements of workers in this country, I am reminded of the history of organized labor in shaping progressive social movements. And where organized labor has not gone, we see a flourishing of worker centers and the development of cooperatives and small businesses that provide a path towards the economic self-determination for communities of color.

As a Chicagoan, I would be remiss to not recognize the historic role of Chicago workers and activists with such critically important events as the Haymarket Tragedy of 1886 and the Pullman Strike of 1894 in making Labor Day a national holiday. Today our region’s worker centers continue the fight for labor reform and worker’s protections and recently passed the Responsible Job Creations Act, providing protections for our most precarious workers in the Temp industry. This was only possible because Black and Immigrant workers have come together to make unified demands for better conditions.

As an immigrant who grew up in a working class family, with an undocumented mother at the helm forced to work multiple minimum wage jobs, sometimes history can sound like a faint hum against the tireless drum beat of the day-to-day survival for many workers like my mother. Workers today are facing unprecedented attacks we could not have predicted a little more than a year ago and now we have no choice but to do more. This Administration’s current policies are perpetuating economic discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, criminal history, and immigration status and eroding job quality, benefits, and health and safety regulations.

In the face of these harrowing challenges, we must articulate and create the economic structures needed to push forward and continue building a more just economy. Since 1996, the Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has engaged and organized funders around strategies that improve access to quality employment for working families with living wages, comprehensive benefits, improved health and safety conditions, with the aim of economic stability for low-wage workers. First as a community organizer in Chicago’s near south side, and now as a program officer, I have witnessed the power and success of collective efforts by workers, parents and youth demanding what they need for better living and working conditions.

Now more than ever, our understanding of and ability to support the field in addressing systemic racism, structural poverty, criminalization, and gender-based discrimination is critical to resisting economic conservatism, dismantling white supremacy, and shifting power. We must be bold and strong in our strategies and programs to meet the challenges of today.

As a first step, I am inviting you to this year’s learning tour in the state of Alabama. The people of Alabama are on the frontlines of these challenges, as they face pre-emption laws, mass incarceration of young African American males, blatant racism against undocumented workers and social conservatism that permeates local and statewide lawmaking. On this tour, you will learn how communities are organizing for change with migrants, farmers, and people of color leading the charge. RSVP on the event page here.

A more detailed agenda for the tour will be available soon. If you would like to learn more about the learning tour or get involved with Funders for a Just Economy, please contact Senior Program Manager Manisha Vaze at manisha@nfg.org.