Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More on unions and personal transportation

Once you start thinking about a topic, you often see it pop up more and more often around you. For example, I rarely noticed cyclists until I became one, then I started seeing them everywhere -- on the streets, in movies, in ads, etc.

In a recent post here on Veloquent, I wrote about my life as a union organizer and the intersection of that work with cycling. I also mentioned that I thought it was cool to strike a blow for environmental justice at the same time as I'm working toward economic justice. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not ascribing any huge impact to my decision, but I've come to believe that most successful change starts out locally anyway.

Today, writer and labor commentator Jonathan Tasini wrote a piece on "Clean Air and Labor Rights" that talks about a combined campaign for air quality and unionization at the Port of Los Angeles. While this campaign will still end up with drivers, not cyclists, it's an important step in the labor/environmental alliance.

This morning, I watched a short film called Matamoros: The Human Face of Globalization, which was on this month's DVD from Iron Weed Films, a wonderful progressive film club that I just joined. The documentary showed scenes from the maquilladora zone in Mexico, where hundreds of U.S. companies produce goods with cheap labor and little or no environmental standards. One of the chief products? Car parts.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to a union rally at Albany's Channel 13, where the workers have been without a contract for 6 months. One of my coworkers asked my if I used the bike for work. I said yes, and he decided right there on the spot to start taking the bus for his Albany shop visits. "Most of my members take the bus to work, and there's no reason I shouldn't do the same thing," he said. It serves two purposes -- he'll see many of his members on the commute, and he'll also be using one less car for that part of his job. He also mentioned getting a bike, and I'll certainly encourage that.

All of this to say that I think there's a real space for creative work where labor rights and transportation choices meet. My experience in Rochester was that the majority of cyclists were urban poor, and that seems to be holding true here in Albany. Many of those folks are among the workers we'll be trying to organize in the coming years. It's also the case that many of our members get to work without a car because they don't have -- or can't afford -- their own car. Why not do something to convert some of these folks into cyclists?

It seems to me that the more people start to broaden their view of economic justice -- for example, connecting petroleum use with environmental and economic exploitation -- the more we'll be creating a real labor movement in this country. Given that most of the newly organized workers these days are immigrants from countries where bicycles are more common than they are here in the U.S., my guess is that introducing personal transportation as a topic will be fairly easy.

Is this the answer to all our problems? No. But in a world where transportation is a large piece of the race to the bottom that American and multinational companies are engaged in, it's time for a real conversation about how to make smart choices for the good of our brothers and sisters around the world.

1 comment:

Adam Durand said...

I love to see these connections between progressive anti-exploitation causes. Many of the most dedicated animal rights activists I know are bike commuters, and vice versa. Some folks at UFCW even teamed up with us during our campaign against Wegmans Egg Farm, and you'll see vegans riding bikes to local hotel unionizing efforts. What an exciting world!