Municipalism and LaborMay Day 2023 at 1:00-2:00 PM PT/4:00-5:00 PM ET
Workers are rising up and taking cities back from capitalists and corporations. Unions are negotiating for benefits for the community and not just members, emerging from behind the fortress. This moment of labor insurgency in the aftermath of the pandemic, which laid bare the disposability of the working class, has echoes in historical struggles to make cities more livable and democratic.
Our speakers include Bianca Cunningham of Bargaining for the Common Good, Claudia Jimenez of Richmond Progressive Alliance, Rand Wilson of Somerville Stands Together, and labor historian Shelton Stromquist. Labor journalist Michelle Chen will facilitate.
Spanish and ASL interpretation will be provided.
Art by Melanie Cervantes.
Bargaining for the Common Good
Bianca Cunningham is a former Verizon Wireless worker who led her coworkers in 7 stores across Brooklyn, NY to join CWA in 2014, making them the first unionized retail workers in the company. She later led her coworkers on a 49 day strike to secure their first contract. Verizon fired her for organizing, and during the Verizon strike, picketers across the country chanted “Bring Back Bianca!” Bianca was on the bargaining team to help secure their first contract for stores in Brooklyn as well as a store in Massachusetts.
She then decided to join the staff at Labor Notes where she was building the Black worker network nationally by working with Black caucuses at a number of unions and helping to build out the work of Race and Labor developed for the Washington State Labor Council by April Simms and Bill Fletcher Jr. She is still consulting for Labor Notes but is now the campaigns director for bargaining for the common good where she helps unions connect to community groups to broaden the scope of bargaining and build up local infrastructure to run common good campaigns.
Richmond Progressive Alliance
In 2020, Claudia got elected to Richmond City Council joined by a majority of progressive elected members in Richmond. In Claudia’s two years she has been instrumental in passing a budget that addresses key proposals to Reimagine Public Safety in Richmond as well as saving millions of dollars to the city by passing budget policies to get the city out of Swap bond deals.
Claudia has been a resident of Richmond, California for over a decade where she has been an active and beloved member of her community. Claudia has a history of building coalitions between unions, community organizations, political leadership, philanthropy, and the private sector. Claudia has a passion for and a strong commitment to creating spaces for everyone to participate in making decisions that benefit the Richmond community as a whole. For the last ten years, Claudia has been actively involved with Richmond and Contra Costa communities in campaigns and efforts to ensure access to health, jobs, housing and services, especially for those most impacted by discrimination based on race, ethnicity, citizenship status, and other forms of social and economic exclusion or displacement.
Together with other Richmond neighborhood parents, Claudia was instrumental in helping to rebuild the Solano Playlot, a vital neighborhood park serving north and eastern Richmond families. She joined other leaders in the immigrant community to negotiate policies with the Richmond police department benefitting undocumented immigrants who live in Richmond. As a homeowner, she advocated for residents’ rights to be able to stay and thrive in Richmond. She was one of the proponents of the Rent Control ballot initiative that was passed overwhelmingly by Richmond voters in 2016.
As a deeply experienced community organizer, she has led several campaigns in Richmond and Contra Costa County, including the “Invest in People not Prison” campaign in collaboration with the Safe Return Project and CCISCO. That campaign forged an alliance of African American and immigrant community leaders in Contra Costa to end the sheriff’s cooperation with the ICE Secure Communities program and redirected $5.2 million in state realignment funds toward services for people in Contra Costa County returning home from incarceration.
Originally from Colombia, Claudia is a trained architect who has worked to design and build affordable housing and watershed management projects in Colombia. She received her Master’s degree in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. She lives in District 6 of Richmond with her husband and two children.
Somerville Stands Together
Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator since the early 1980s. He started in the labor movement as a member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) Local 8–366 where he led several organizing drives, was chief steward, and served on his local union’s executive board.
For most of the 1980s, Wilson worked as an organizer for the Communications Workers of America (CWA). In 1989 he helped coordinate solidarity efforts in Massachusetts during a successful three-month strike by 60,000 telephone workers against health care benefit cost-shifting. The strike victory helped spur the formation of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. As the founding director in the early 1990s, Wilson spearheaded efforts in Massachusetts to support legislation for universal health care and against so-called “free” trade deals like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization.
In 1995, Wilson worked for the Teamsters union and helped develop the union’s 1997 contract campaign strategy for national negotiations with United Parcel Service. Wilson coordinated communications for a year-long campaign to build membership unity and get members involved in actions to support winning a good contract. When national contract talks broke down, Wilson was chief spokesperson during the union’s historic 15-day strike. The Teamsters won a contract that created 10,000 new full-time jobs, limited subcontracting, and increased funding in Teamster pension plans.
In 2005, Wilson worked for the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment on a campaign to oppose the Bush Administration’s plan to privatize Social Security. Wilson organized actions across the country exposing the conflict of interest created by the financial services industry’s support for privatizing Social Security while it managed trillions of dollars in worker’s retirement assets. From 2007 through 2011, Wilson worked on a joint CWA and IBEW union initiative with the AFL-CIO to help Verizon and other telecom workers build on-the-job unity.
Active in electoral politics, Wilson ran for state Auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Working Families Party affiliate in Massachusetts.
Inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign, Wilson volunteered as national coordinator for Labor for Bernie, a network of six national unions, over 100 local unions and nearly 50,000 union activists. He was elected a Massachusetts “Sanders delegate” to the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. He was elected as a delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention in 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022.
Wilson is active in Our Revolution (the Sanders’ campaign successor organization) at the state and local level in Massachusetts, while continuing organizing for Labor for Bernie to continue the political revolution.
In May, 2021 Wilson wrapped up nine and a half years as an organizer (three as chief of staff) for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888 in Boston, MA.
Wilson has written and lectured widely about contract campaigns, strikes, health care reform, and strategies to build workers’ political power. He is board chair for the ICA Group and the Fund for Jobs Worth Owning; a trustee of the Center for the Study of Public Policy, a trustee for the Somerville Job Creation and Retention Trust, an elected member of the Ward Six Somerville Democratic Committee and convener of a community-labor coalition: Somerville Stands Together.
Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Iowa
Shelton Stromquist, Professor Emeritus of history at the University of Iowa. He continues to be active in his field of social and labor history, primarily of the United States. He has authored or edited nine books and numerous articles. His most recent publications are Claiming the City: A Global History of Workers’ Fight for Municipal Socialism (Verso, 2023) and an article, “Municipal Socialism,” was just published in the Cambridge History of Socialism, Marcel van der Linden, ed. (Cambridge, 2023). He was elected vice-president and then president of the national Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA) from 2010-2014; he has served as president of the New Pioneer Cooperative in Iowa City and continues to be active as an ally and chair of the finance committee for the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa.
Prior to his academic work, he was active in the civil rights movement from 1964-66. He participated in the Mississippi Summer Project (1964, 1965) organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one phase of the Selma voting rights campaign in 1965, and the James Meredith March in 1966. He subsequently worked for two years in Tanzania’s Ujamaa (socialist) villages with the American Friends Service Committee. On returning to the US he was actively involved in community organizing and anti-Vietnam war work for a number of years.