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Anthropologists, Activists, and the Labor Movement Emma Braden DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c001 “I want to know why you are doing this,” Sylvia said as she stared at me across the coffee table in our university cafe. She was referring to the local union internship I had recently accepted. It was with the same union she had worked for the year before when the food service workers at my university won a union contract. I stared nervously at her and the union organizer sitting beside her. I was trying to figure out what they wanted to hear. He was wearing a suit and tie, and she was in her barista uniform. “Don’t just tell me what I want to hear,” she said. “Tell me what you actually feel.” I took a sip of the coffee she had just made me and thought that over. “Well, I don’t know much about unions, but I do know that I have a lot to learn. I have been told that if I care about immigrant rights, then I have to pay attention to unions. And if I want to learn how to organize, this is where I need to start.” She nodded her head. “When it gets down to it, all of the social justice stuff that students talk about is just talk,” she said. “I want to see that you want to fight. You’ve gotta have a reason to fight.” 34 Emma Braden Sylvia was no stranger to fights. A couple of years ago, the food workers on campus fought for and won a union contract with the cafeteria management company. They are known as one of the most successful university cafeteria management companies in the United States and one of the leaders in locally sourced and ethically produced foods. The company prides itself on both the quality of its food and the career opportunities for its workers. However, until that summer they had refused to allow workers to unionize. As one of the leading negotiating committee members, Sylvia was instrumental in that campaign’s success. After they won the contract, she spoke to the press. “I’ve been a cashier at [this university] for more than 6 years,” she said. “I feel so proud that we now have a contract that gives consistent wage increases, immigration rights and protections, cheaper health insurance for myself and my coworkers, and most importantly, job security.” When I began interning with Local 000 in February of 2015, my confession to Sylvia was true; I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I began working full-time in the service industry to pay rent and tuition and worked for the union during my time off. Over the next year, the pieces of this complicated and bizarre world slowly began to fit together. One piece came from the workers who shared my table in the cafeteria and the women who squeezed next to me in the locker room before work. Another part came from the union organizers, workers, and fellow interns who supported me in various cities around the United States. The final part came from my anthropology courses, the dozens of texts, and academic contacts that provided me with the language and the questions with which to interpret it all. Paul Durrenberger invited me to an international workshop on labor and anthropology in Iowa and then asked me to write a chapter for this book from the perspective of a student in the thick of the labor organizing world. To prepare , I maintained contact with many of the anthropologists who attended the workshop and interviewed most over Skype and phone and via e-mail. I also interviewed two union organizers in my city. My findings are based on these interviews, as well as four union workshops, various peer-reviewed articles and books from social science researchers and activists involved in labor research, and media posts from the websites of various unions including the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE HERE, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). I have changed all of the names of the people in this chapter. 35 Anthropologists, Activists, and the Labor Movement High Tide It’s October 2015. A young white woman stands up in front of a room of diverse young adults. She has been working at a local union since college and is now a full-time organizer. Like many organizers recruited to work for unions in...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781607326311
Related ISBN
9781607326304
MARC Record
OCLC
1000128725
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-26
Open Access
No
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