SEIU 1021

In memory of Jane McAlevey

Union organizer Jane McAlevey

Vice President of Organizing Brandon Dawkins reflects on the life and legacy of union organizer Jane McAlevey. Jane passed Sunday at her cabin in Muir Beach, CA. She was 59.

“Jane taught me that in politics and organizing, the future is radically unknown. Our national politics might creep closer to fascism, or we might fight for and win a progressive future. The national labor movement may continue to shrink, or we may realize SEIU President April Verrett’s vision of organizing a million workers over the next decade.

“The crucial point is that it is up to us. It is exactly because the future is uncertain that we are able to take up the opportunity of collective action — and indeed, we can make the future we need a reality, but only if we choose to come together and believe in our power to organize.

“In Raising Expectations, Jane’s first book, Jane writes that to organize is to make workers demand more “about what people should expect from their jobs; the quality of life they should aspire to; how they ought to be treated when they are old; and what they should be able to offer their children. About what they have a right to expect from their employer, their government, their community, and their unions. Expectations about what they themselves are capable of, about the power they could exercise if they worked together, and what they might use that collective power to accomplish. Ultimately, expectations about where they will find meaning in their lives and the kinds of relationships they can build with those around them.”

“Jane raised expectations for tens of thousands of people, including many members and staff here at SEIU 1021. Through her online training program, ‘Organizing for Power,’ she trained 36,000 people in 130 countries on the fundamentals of organizing. She trained 4,500 organizers through her workshops at the UC Berkeley Labor Center. These numbers don’t even begin to account for trainings she led outside these two institutions and the hundreds of thousands she inspired through her books.

“Jane’s contributions to the worldwide workers’ movement are too numerous to list — her popularization of ‘whole-worker organizing;’ expanding union organizing into the community and involving the community with labor; her inspiration to thousands of workers to take control of their unions from the bottom up; and more.

“All of these were major contributions. But what I will remember Jane most for is her wisdom that in dark times like those we face now, hope is something we create together through collective action. I do not believe the doomsayers who tacitly accept a fascistic future, nor do I believe those naively blinded by optimism. Fundamentally, I do not know what our future holds.

“As Jane taught me, uncertainty creates an opening for collective action: Only we, together, determine tomorrow.

“Thank you, Jane, for inspiring me and so many others. May you rest in peace.”