Policies for better working conditions at the local level might reduce social and economic inequities. Such policies are particularly significant for cities in which a vast majority of immigrants reside. Given their undocumented status and language barrier, not all of them are eligible or capable to take on permanent, full-time positions. Plenty have to work seasonal, temporary jobs and are most likely excluded from laws that regulate the minimum wage, safe working conditions, hiring and firing, etc. They need to be guaranteed equal protection in the cases of illness, work injury and unemployment, amidst many privileges that legal workers are entitled to.
Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson predict that if the United States were to reduce its income inequality to something like the average of the four most equal of the rich countries (Japan, Norway, Sweden and Finland), the proportion of the population feeling they could trust others might rise by 75%, so might their quality of life. Rates of mental illness and obesity might similarly be cut by almost 2/3 each, teenage birth rates more than 50%, prison population 75%, and people could live longer while working the equivalent of two months less per year.
Even though we may not be able to achieve the same level as those four developed countries, the numbers still look pretty good provided that we live in a more equitable society in which all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead a healthy life. We cannot solely rely on the government for our equity dream to come true, we have to invest in movement building like the Bus Riders Union does in Los Angeles that is aimed to build a multiracial, bilingual, gender-balanced mass movement of working-class people that is willing to fight for a set of demands challenging corporate capital. For that reason, it is up to our organized communities to ultimately make it happen.
The slightest move of the mayor, board of supervisors and planning commissioners could potentially impact a community a great deal. However, among these decision makers, we often find missing members who truly have lived or worked in the community for the most part of their life, who know the community by heart to make informed decisions that benefit its residents.
It is unfair for an outsider ignorant of a city’s history, culture, people and current situation to determine the destiny of one of its neighborhoods. Community members can gain access to power through movement building and organizing for change. As such, we as residents shall take responsibility for the problem of privilege and oppression and maintain a critical consciousness of that problem. We shall make that awareness an ongoing part of our life and support the formation of unions for workers, be they documented or not.
There are so many ways for us to become involved, and I hope more people will realize the problem and participate to fight for a broader progressive agenda associated with societal decisions made for the collective good and for the health of our community that allows us to live our life to the fullest in a safe environment.
This article was written by Mildred D. Li, a writer for dusk magazine.