Young Workers Summit Makes a Splash in Chicago
(This article first appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
More than a thousand young unionists, activists and organizers convened in Chicago from March 19-22 for the Next Up: Young Workers Summit, sponsored by the AFL-CIO.
Courtney Jenkins, who serves as the APWU representative on the Young Workers Advisory Council (YWAC), explains that the goal of the conference was to “educate, inspire, and organize the next generation of labor leaders” so the labor movement continues to grow. Jenkins is a member of the Baltimore Francis ‘Stu’ Filbey Area Local.
The conference offered 80 workshops focusing on issues that matter most to young workers, including “Collective Bargaining 101,” “Parents Just Don’t Understand: Building Generational Unity in the Labor Movement” and “What’s the Strategic Plan, Stan?”
Another objective of the summit was to connect young workers in the same state. Attendees participated in state-based breakout groups, discussing issues specific to each. They also created a calendar of upcoming events and set an agenda to work on upon returning home. “This helped with the idea of building power and taking it back to our communities,” Jenkins said.
On March 21 several actions were held around the city, including:
- A rally at Guitar Center in support of members of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union (RWSDU) /United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) in their fight for a fair contract against the anti-union law firm, Jackson Lewis.
- Leafletting to support Zara workers and their fight to raise their wages in Chicago stores – like they did in New York.
- A rally in support of fast food workers and the Fight for 15, which demands an increase in the minimum wage and the right to form a union. Close to 400 people gathered at a local McDonald’s and marched to a Food 4 Less supermarket.
The weekend included panel discussions with seasoned labor leaders, as well as remarks from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and actor-activist Danny Glover. The #1uSaturdayNight party featured hip-hop performances from Jasiri X and Rhymefest.
It was enlightening experience for Ahmilla Clemons Jenkins and Ashley Worthington, also of the Baltimore Local, Jenkins said. “It was eye opening for them to learn that there were so many different unions with so many young people involved,” he added.
“I learned what it takes to be a leader and organize and mobilize groups of people,” Jenkins said. “I also learned that we are a diverse generation. I believe that everyone deserves to live a life where dignity, respect and fair wages exist for all people.” The summit was diverse: approximately 48 percent of attendees identified as people of color, 44 percent were women and 11 percent identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Jenkins added that the summit focused on building partnerships with the community and other organizations that advocate for social and economic justice.
“We discussed how to build those relationships and coalitions, so that we not only have the support of the labor community, but the general community as well,” he explained, adding that the weekend was “empowering and enlightening.”
“This summit has given me confidence in where our labor movement is headed and how powerful it can truly be,” Jenkins concluded.
The APWU will host a conference of young workers on Oct. 11, in conjunction with the All-Craft Conference, which runs from Oct. 12-14.