Mr. Becote, Ms. Carrow, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Braswell, Mr. Cargill, Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Washington.
As I read this article, I reflect deeply, as we all should, that the “often invisible” connotation ascribed to the millions of service, maintenance and clerical staff in our nation’s hospitals is profoundly unjust.
We must ALL be reminded that it was the “often invisible” who risked everything as the first people to organize unions when such activity was explicitly illegal.
The right to organize unions in the United States is generally associated with the New Deal and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The law explicitly excluded agricultural workers, domestic workers, and healthcare workers from having the right to organize.
Hospital workers were not included in the Act until 1975!
In the face of these exclusions, all around the country in both public and private hospitals, it was the “often invisible” who led the organizing for basic human rights and dignity. In some cases, the “often-invisible” hospital workers joined general strikes in Seattle and Minneapolis in the 1930’s.
In New York City, both public and private sector health and human services workers began to organize and conduct strikes long before the passage of New York State or Federal law which granted collective bargaining rights to the “often-invisible”.
In 1959, during the first private sector hospital strike led by service and maintenance workers, 1199 picket signs read: ” you can earn more on welfare than working in a New York City Hospital”.
Through these early “illegal” struggles, the foundation was laid for humane working conditions, health benefits, pensions, and opportunity.
In this moment of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can clearly see the vulnerabilities of all working people in the country.
We can best honor the “oft-invisible” by understanding and internalizing the history of organizing in our nation: that there was never a clear path, there were insurmountable barriers, and that those who appeared “oft-invisible” were in fact the ones who paved the way for the rest of us to have some security.
To honor the “oft-invisible” I ask you to watch “I Am Somebody” https://vimeo.com/ondemand/iamsomebody,
This brilliant 30 minute film tells the story of African American women hospital workers who went on strike in Charleston, South Carolina in 1969. It is a powerful reminder of the power of conviction.
To our “oft-invisible” sisters and brothers who gave their lives at work today, let us honor them and all of our fellow essential workers by charting and acting on a new conviction.
Security for our people is only possible if we first imagine it is possible. That is what the “oft-invisible” did when they took deliberate and sustained action for security in the past. It is their contribution, their legacy that makes it possible for us to imagine what must be for our future.
I don’t know about you, but each day when I hear about honoring our “heroes” I can only respond with “heroes today…but what about tomorrow?”
No one is invisible.