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28 March 2011, 4:00 pm 2 Comments

Action: The Need for Solidarity

Submission by Sylvia Renee, TNG staff writer.

On March 16th I had the amazing pleasure of being part of a truly organic and spontaneous rally against a Republican fundraiser for Scott Walker. If you haven’t heard, we spilled out onto the streets and decided to march to the White House, and then to the US Chamber of Commerce. For a short period of time we occupied both the building housing the fundraiser and the USCC. Quite simply, this is an incredible time for progressives and those even further left, such as myself.

As others have noted, there are some problems. For starters, this isn’t just about Wisconsin anymore. This is about Michigan, about Ohio, about Pennsylvania. This is about all of us, and I do mean all of us. However, most of what we have seen seems to be mostly about working class white people. There is a general invisibility of anyone whom isn’t heterosexual or white. True, we need their support, but they need ours as well.

If we are going to be able to seize this opportunity to create a new and powerful movement, it is imperative that we learn that worker justice is women’s justice is LGBTQI justice is racial justice.

A new labor movement that does not recognize the importance of domestic labor leaves out the vast sectors of workers most in need of representation. Queer relationships, though often at least slightly more egalitarian, are not immune to having someone responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and other household maintenance.

This perspective also fails to address the feminization of poverty, or that queer people of color of either gender — though particularly for those who identify as women — are some of the most vulnerable people in the the entire country. They are also the likeliest to be poor and they are a part of this fight.

A queer rights movement that does not recognizes the importance of laws protecting women’s bodily integrity against the regressive redefinitions of rape, access to family planning, and others that seek to limit autonomy risks having our own bodily autonomy denied. At the same time, this also neglects the huge and largely unavailable need for trans-positive reproductive health care.

A feminist movement that neglects the disparate social, political, and economic conditions that face people of color can only go so far before it runs into its own limits.

A queer movement that neglects immigration fails to see that the harder it is for transfolk to get documentation, the harder it is for immigrants. It also fails to account for the transnational families separated due to heteronormative immigration laws.

A labor movement that does not address the systemic inequalities that face anyone who isnt a heteronormative / heterosexual cisgender white upper middle class man neglects the vast majority of us who sorely need labor protections and a voice.

To take it a step further, the recent theatrics of Representative King’s (R-NY) hearings on Muslim radicalization are motivated by exactly this same type of hatred of anything that varies from the norms prescribed by the existing political economic structures which favor the rights of corporations over the rights of people.

To quote Leslie Feinberg: “Fighting all forms of oppression defends lives. And it also helps build unity in the struggle by revealing to the entire working class the social and economic inequalities that are built into the capitalist system.”

To be sure, I am not saying that we are all oppressed the same, or even that some oppressions are more worth while than others. In fact I have zero tolerance for the Olympics of Oppression. My concern is that as this progressive movement continues to build, it will only reproduce the existing systemic inequalities that have led us to this point in history in the first place.

I am not so foolish as to think that this can happen overnight. While you are in the streets against the common enemy, talk to your comrades. Talk to them about how our struggles are related and what each can do to fight on other fronts. Build connections. Build solidarity.

We are all work(er)s in progress.

These protests are an incredible moment in our history. Let’s make sure we take every chance we can to make something that will be unlike anything the world has ever seen!

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  • Joseph T said:

    This is a great post. Thank you.

  • Union queer said:

    As someone who is both queer and a union member, I think it would be great to highlight that mutual solidarity on labor and queer campaigns is not only about growing a progressive front that would be helpful in a general way in promoting social justice, but it’s also critical to maintaining — and expanding — the benefits that queer workers have been able to win specifically through collective bargaining that in many cases go beyond what laws and protections in different states provide. In other words, union membership itself is often a vehicle for rights protections for queer people on the job and just the fight to protect collective bargaining should be seen as a queer issue. Many of us with union contracts receive partner benefits, freedom from discrimination and many other benefits and protections due to our contracts and without collective bargaining rights, we would lose these rights at work. There are so many prominent queer individuals in the union movement and unfortunately, just focusing on the “invisibility” of queer union activists does little to lift up the important work that many of us are doing every day. On that note, I HIGHLY recommend the book “Out at Work: Building a Gay-Labor Alliance” which while it came out ten years ago is a critical starting point for thinking through these issues.

    There is lots of reasons for hope though. Everyone should support Pride at Work which lifts up queer issues within the union movement and works to expand union activism within the queer community. There are also other exciting examples of collaboration like the AFL-CIO’s strong advocacy for ENDA and the role many unions played in opposing Proposition 8 in California. Additionally, on the issue of reproductive rights, the AFL-CIO recently co-sponsored a rally with Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin to stand for reproductive justice.

    I think this post is a really interesting start to the discussion and I would love to see more about how different communities are working together on shared visions of justice and mutual support.