The Jobs with Justice annual Student Labor Week of Action starts today, and Carlos Jimenez, coordinator for the JwJ Young Worker Project, tells us what it’s all about.
This week, students across the country will honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez by working to build on their struggle for jobs and economic justice. As part of our Student Labor Action Project’s annual Student Labor Week of Action, we are using our power and voice to support workers fighting for better wages by taking part in teach-ins, rallies and other actions that highlight the importance of collective action. We want to bring attention to the enormous jobs crisis that is devastating millions across the nation, and its disastrous impact on America’s young people.
The economic future of today’s young workers is at risk because two avenues to the American dream, education and hard work, are slipping out of their reach. A recent survey by the AFL-CIO found that two out of five young adults were delaying further education or professional development due to financial worries, and that more than half of young workers were earning less than $30,000 a year.
The jobless rate for young workers runs dangerously close to 20 percent, and the average college graduate owes more than $18,000 of debt. To break past these barriers, we must look back at the words and actions of transformative leaders like King who once said:
Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our strength into compelling power.
Thankfully we don’t have to start from scratch, and already we see the power that comes when young people organize. Just last week, the United States Student Association and other student groups joined forces to ensure an historic student aid reform package was included in reconcilliation portion of the health care reform bill. The student loan provision increases grant support to college students and removes the middlemen in private lenders that have for too long profited at student’s expenses.
For those not pursuing a higher education, the labor movement is working hard to identify and support young workers organizing to improve their jobs and working conditions. We know that for many young workers, unions are not part of their daily experiences, but the challenge before us is finding a way to introduce the idea of collective action and bargaining, ideas that Chávez and King championed, into the lives of young workers. As the actions the students and young people participating in the student and labor week of action show, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
We hope you’ll join us.
Learn more about the Student Labor Week of Action at http://www.studentlabor.org.