About 50 sisters in solidarity recently joined hands to celebrate their ability to unite and create positive change for St. Louis-area labor union women.
The circle of strength took place during the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women’s December meeting/holiday party. The event was held at the UAW Local 2250 Union hall in Wentzville.
Jennifer Disla, a St. Louis coordinator at SEIU Local 1, served as a guest speaker at the event. She gave an empowering speech that ended with the group rejoicing in unity.
UNITE AND ORGANIZE
“Our experiences help us to be strong labor union women, and it’s our stories that provide the opportunity to ensure that we communicate with one another,” she said. “We have to unite and organize.”
Disla said while she is new to the St. Louis area, she is not new to the labor movement or organizing. She began her organizing career in Mexico, Mo., a very rural community.
“I learned that organizing wasn’t just a tool; it was a tool to speak to people about a common issue,” she said.
OUR EXPERIENCE MAKES US STRONGER
She went on to share some of her past experiences, which have contributed to her strength as an organizer today.
Disla, who is of Dominican Republic assent, said she grew up in a predominately white community in New Jersey. “I knew I was different,” she said. “I felt unheard and disempowered.”
Then while taking a class in her Master’s program at a New Jersey university, she encountered another situation in which she felt singled out because of her gender. “First it was race, and then it was gender,” she said.
Shortly afterward, Disla began a fellowship at Center for Community Change and helped organize a fight for immigration reform. A year later she began working with SEIU Local 1.
But SEIU Local 1 wasn’t Disla’s first experience with a union – she comes from a union family. Her father was a union pattern maker at Liz Claiborne.
“When dad got that union job, it changed our lives,” she said. “He was able to get the wages and protection he deserved, and we were able to live in a better, safer neighborhood.”
She urged the women attending the event to talk to one another, unite and organize.
CIRCLE OF STRENGTH
After her speech, Disla asked all the women, mothers, sisters and daughters to form a circle in the middle of the room.
“If you think it is unfair to have to decide between buying gifts for your children or paying the bills, join hands,” she said. “If you’re ready to act on it, lift your hands.”
The group formed a circle, joined hands, raised their arms and cheered in strength and solidarity.
Formed in 1974, CLUW is America’s only national organization for union women. The goals of the group, which is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, are to promote affirmative action in the workplace; to strengthen the role of women in unions; to help with organization efforts for women who are not in unions; and to increase the involvement of women in the political and legislative process.
For more information on the organization, visit cluw.org.