Amid the gloom, apprehension, and anger surrounding the election of Donald Trump, it’s easy to overlook those places in our society where democracy is still alive and well. Yet if you look closely enough, you’ll find sites where the democratic spirit is still vibrant, and it’s not a stretch to say that one of those sites is the workplace itself. The workplace, in fact, may hold a key to a revitalized democracy in the future.
A few hours prior to completing this piece, I was privileged to join a gathering of housekeepers who had assembled in the early morning hours outside the place of their employment: an upscale hotel not far from my home. Joined by community activists, including an interfaith social justice group to which I belong, they had met for one last time before entering the hotel to vote on the issue of forming a collective bargaining unit. The majority of the hotel’s housekeepers were present at this pre-dawn gathering, and by the time I finished writing this column later in the day, they had indeed secured the right to bargain collectively.
Only a few weeks earlier, the workers had announced to the hotel management their intent to organize, and I was fortunate to witness the courage and tenacity they displayed at that meeting as well. Speaking mainly in Spanish to the hotel’s general manager (with translation assistance provided by English-speaking colleagues), they proclaimed that they would no longer put up with exploitative labor conditions. “We are not machines,” several declared, and in the subsequent weeks they withstood repeated attempts by the hotel owners to intimidate and divide them. In their fierce determination to exert greater collective control over their working lives and destinies, they continued to exemplify the spirit of democracy at its best.
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