A couple of weeks ago I was in Seoul, Korea for a conference on community organizing in Asia. While there, I witnessed a massive rally in support of contingent/temporary workers (workers who get paid minimum wage with no benefits and no guarantees about full time employment). In Seoul, Bangkok, Jakarta these workers are called “irregular workers.”
I work with a homeless organization. I know workers in the “irregular” work force. These workers are today’s slaughter house workers. If my grandmother was alive today, she could be working for a temp agency in a Walmart distribution center. She could also be working for a temp agency in a downtown Chicago hotel. Her husband could be working as a janitor for a temp agency at O’Hare Airport.
When I was growing up, she worked at the stock yards. My grandmother would tell me about the difficulty of her job, the discrimination she experienced, the paltry pay check, the awful working conditions. She was an immigrant working in Upton Sinclair’s Jungle.
Today’s slaughter house workers live contingent lives in irregular jobs and temporary housing. They are in and out of homelessness, living doubled up or in a homeless shelter. In Chicago they are called day laborers, contingent workers, Walmart workers, temp workers.
The face of a worker in “Temp Labor America” is the same face you see in Seoul, Korea, Bangkok, Thailand and Jakarta, Indonesia. These temp agencies or day labor agencies are the new hiring halls for Walmart or Hyatt hotels or the City of Chicago.
While in Seoul I witnessed the result of our global economy. But more than this, I witnessed the world wide connection of the work I do with the homeless in Chicago. By organizing low wage workers, we are part of a world wide struggle for justice. We are pushing the arc of the universe to move slowly toward justice.
Ed Shurna is executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.