As we look at what is happening in the world around us today, we at CTUL are reminded of a story told by a compañero from the CIW to a group of allies. He talked about how elephants are “restrained” at many circuses. These giant and powerful creatures are “restrained” by ankle bracelets attached to chains held down by small stakes in the ground. When the elephants are babies, people put these ankle bracelets on them. At the time, they are too small and weak to break free; they are taught in this way that they are not strong enough to break free from the shackles. When they grow older and stronger, they are more than strong enough to escape, but they don’t believe that they can.
Over the past two years, retail cleaning workers in the Twin Cities have started to realize the collective power we have to change the world around us. In only two years, workers have gained significant changes in an industry that seemed to be spiraling out of control in terms of wages and working conditions. According to many workers, over the past ten years the workload has nearly doubled, and wages have dropped by $2-3 dollars an hour. Wage theft is rampant in the industry, with multiple US Department of Labor investigations and federal lawsuits for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws (include link). At the most extreme, a case of modern-day slavery is currently being investigated in Philadelphia involving workers who cleaned large retail chains like Target (include link).
Over the past two years, retail cleaning workers in the Twin Cities have led campaigns to recover an estimated $50,000 in unpaid wages and damages. In addition, workers have reportedly gained important changes at the companies where they work, including ending the illegal practice of wage deductions from workers’ paychecks at two cleaning companies, and pressuring another cleaning company to end the practice of sub-contracting their labor to other companies. And most recently, many workers from across the industry in the Twin Cities have reportedly gained the first raise they have seen after years of decreasing wages.
Now the 99% is also starting to take off our mental shackles to use the collective power we have to change the world around us, with Occupy Wall Street spreading to hundreds of communities across the country. People are standing up to big banks to reclaim democracy. We live in exciting times, and CTUL is proud to stand with the 99%.
Join us in celebrating our collective movements at the Festival for Justice, Sunday, October 16th, from 1-7pm at 27th Ave. S. and Lake Street in Minneapolis. The block party will include performances by Mayda, Guante, Brass Kings, Grant Hart of Husker Du, and much more. For more information, see CTUL’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/CTULucha