BACK TO THE FUTURE: Labor history repeats itself

By Mac-Z Zurawski  –  Archer Journal News

As I tried to relax over the Labor Day weekend, I noticed countless channels showing the 30-year-old film, Back to the Future. It struck me as odd, since we are well into the 21st century. What does a time-travelling DeLorean have to do with audiences today? We have hoverboards, the Cubs never won and a woman is running for president.

Then it struck me. We are “Back to the Future.” More than 100 years ago Teddy Roosevelt, the newly established labor movement and thousands of immigrants were fighting for labor rights. The Haymarket Riot was still cutting fresh wounds. The Union Stock Yards dug a new niche in the food industry. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle hit the shelves and influenced Congress to create safety guidelines for workers.

The vast majority of these Chicago workers were immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and Ireland. Before Little Village and Pilsen became Latino enclaves, they were Slavic territories with Pilsen named after a city in Bohemia.

The point is that these “forelaborers” were immigrants and created the greatest safety nets for all workers by carrying the banner and burden to expand union membership.

From the Red Scare to the invention of the iPhone, immigrants are the backbone of this country’s labor movement. Many South Side neighborhoods are today majority Latino and immigrant. They are the backbone of the taxes that fund our schools, patronize our businesses and become our extended family.

Immigration and unionization are traditionally partners that bring financial and social justice to America. Immigrants are notoriously underpaid, especially when they are persons of color. Their working life is fraught with trials and tribulations, unless they are in a union where they receive equal wages, steady work and benefits.

Unions ensure safety, security, equality and empowerment for all workers, especially immigrants. Unions also ensure working rights against the double discrimination Latinas are dealt in the workplace. Hispanic women are the lowest paid workers in America. Without expanded unionization with its focus on immigrant inclusion, these women will continue to be the 21st century American slaves. These Latinas are our neighbors, friends, family and extended family. When we stand for unions, we stand for them and their safety and freedom.

We have a responsibility as Americans to not only open our doors to the “tired and hungry,” but keep them safe and secure. As the labor movement continues to fight against anti-immigration, we must support those efforts. Unions are neighborhood security. Our unionized immigrant neighbors have workers rights that make them sound investors. Union employee based neighborhoods have historically been resilient to economic recessions, have lower crime, and higher housing value.

The DeLorean is back, telling us history must repeat itself. We must continue to support the economic and social justice the labor movement provides with the immigration movement. We as citizens have all the tools and knowledge for this fight. It’s not our first time.