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Asian American Studies 197A
Winter Quarter 2002

Market Workers Justice Campaign

Jessica Kim, T. J. Lee, Hyun-Ja Pak

On the evening of March 9 tense workers, organizers, community supporters, students, and activists marched towards Assi Supermarket in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. We hurried, nervously anticipating the culmination of a year long struggle for union recognition at this profitable grocery store. Our nervousness reflected the personal investment each of us had in the campaign. We all understood that Assi workers, the Korean and Latino workers who dedicated their time, poured in their energy, and risked their jobs to organize a union had the most to gain tonight. But the rest of us, the students and organizers and activists that waited anxiously outside the market also knew that the triumph of Assi workers symbolized the triumph of exploited workers everywhere. We knew that when they won, workers everywhere won, immigrants won, people of color won, the disenfranchised and disempowered won. When we arrived at the market, we cheered the workers on loudly, shouting "Si se puede!" at the top of our lungs as they descended into the store basement to witness the vote count and the official birth of their union. Tension mounted as we waited for them to reemerge and announce the campaign victorious. Victory meant tangible gains for Assi workers, a contract, a living wage, benefits, and job security. However, as every worker we befriended passionately emphasized, victory also guaranteed intangible triumphs: dignity and respect at their workplace. Victory also meant expanded rights for immigrant workers throughout Koreatown and Los Angeles. Victory meant expanding the campaign to other markets and other industries. Victory symbolized a step towards dignity and respect for underpaid, mistreated, and exploited immigrant workers universally. A victory at Assi represented part of a worker-driven global campaign for both the tangible and intangible: for economic equalization as well as empowerment and respect.

The Assi campaign for unionization is significant for a very specific reason: it is a worker initiated, worker led campaign. Just over a year ago, frustrated and agitated Assi workers approached the Korean Immigrant Worker Advocates (KIWA) to assist them in organizing a completely independent union, the Immigrant Workers Union (IWU). While KIWA has assisted in the organizing campaign, providing resources and support staff, all of the union’s decisions are made by worker leaders. Workers planned the campaign strategy, organized their co-workers, planned press conferences and actions, and oversaw all the components of their struggle. In this process, KIWA staff, community supporters, students, and activists relinquished their traditional positions of power as those with the privilege of English language skills, citizenship, and higher levels of education. Instead of a top-down, authoritarian decision-making process (like the one the workers encounter at the workplace) this campaign subverted traditional hierarchies by deferring to the decisions of the worker committee. The movement in support of Assi workers sought to respect the decision-making abilities of immigrant workers as they took the lead in this dynamic campaign.

The campaign is also significant because one hundred percent of the workers at Assi Supermarket are immigrant workers. Immigrant workers are an indispensable part of the local and national economy. As they labor for minimum wage or lower, however, their exploitation is ignored and their individual voices of protest silenced. In particular, immigrant workers play a crucial role in the economy of this ethnic enclave. They work as butchers, stockers, box boys, janitors, waiters, bus boys, parking attendants, gardeners, cooks, etc. Their work is key in creating profitable businesses. However, due to their disenfranchised position as immigrants and people of color, they are forced to provide these essential services for poverty-level wages. The immigrant workers at Assi Supermarket are fighting this system by empowering themselves, standing up to their management, and agitating for fair wages and a dignified work environment.

The immigrant workers at Assi also represent a diverse, multiracial, multiethnic workforce. In their unionization drive, they developed a dynamic and unprecedented campaign that transcends ethnic and racial differences in a struggle based on common experiences of economic exploitation. While many Asian American scholars and community leaders highlight the racial tensions that separate ethnic communities within Los Angeles, the efforts of the IWU demonstrate the ability of workers to bridge cultural divides in a united, working-class effort. The IWU campaign is extremely significant because it exemplifies the power of a diverse, immigrant movement united by common experiences as working class laborers.

The campaign is also significant because workers chose to form an independent union, unaffiliated with larger, more institutionalized labor organizations. The IWU consists only of workers employed at Assi Supermarket and all of the offices of this union are held by the workers who spearheaded its organization. As noted by Doug Brugge and Lydia Lowe, "a growing phenomenon is the development of community-based workers’ centers, particularly in minority and immigrant communities in which workers are often concentrated in marginal sectors of the economy. . . Community-based workers’ centers are leaders in the development of popular education about workers’ rights and organizing immigrant workers at a grassroots level." Within this context, the IWU members are creating a wholly new type of organization: a community-based labor union. Instead of affiliating with a large, international institution, Assi workers chose to build a local, community-based union with close alliances to community organizations including KIWA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and the Association of Communities Organized for Reform Now, and the Garment Workers’ Center. Their local grassroots union sets a new and exciting precedent for organizing immigrant workers everywhere.

Finally, the Assi workers’ campaign for unionization represents a national and international people’s movement for political, social, and economic justice. Their campaign is part of a struggle for immigrant and workers’ rights in Los Angeles, and will soon spread to other markets and businesses where immigrant workers are employed and too often abused and exploited. The workers of the IWU exemplify the importance and strength of worker empowerment and leadership, a model that will be utilized and emulated in other industries and geographic areas. Their campaign for justice is integrally related to the struggles of other workers in Los Angeles and linked to the larger national and international movements for justice.

 

The History of the Campaign

The Market Workers Justice Campaign has been a long journey that began almost one year ago as Latino workers began voicing their complaints to KIWA (Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates). Some of their grievances included racial discrimination from the Korean managers and hours that kept being cut from their shifts. In the summer of 2001, 20 Latino workers from the produce department at Assi decided to walk off the job demanding full eight-hour shifts. Together with Danny Park of KIWA, the workers returned and asked that their demands be met. Promised with increased hours, the management of Assi gave the workers their jobs back. That promise, however, remains to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, with this small victory, the workers gained confidence in their power and eventually formed the Immigrant Workers Union and filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The union had been born.

The core group of workers, aided by KIWA, began talking to workers, trying to convince them to support the union. In the end, almost all of the 80+ Latino workers came to support the union. The focus was then turned to the 80+ Korean workers. But they experienced more resistance on that front due to lack of trust and personal connections with the management.

On the public side, the IWU filed for an election with the NLRB to gain recognition of the union by Assi on November 15, 2001. On that same day, the workers presented Daniel Lee, the owner of Assi Market, with their demands and asked that he recognize the union. In response, Lee hired Littler and Mendelson, a notorious union-busting law firm, who began holding captive audience meetings with the workers to try and persuade them to oppose the union. In addition, Assi filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) against KIWA claiming "employer domination" and hoping to delay the election. Their claim, however, is thrown out by the NLRB in mid January of 2002. Finally, on January 24, IWU representatives and Assi Market agree on a NLRB election for March 9, 2002 at Assi.

While the IWU committee members continue to meet every Friday to strategize and plan, the first community supporters meeting is held on February 1 at KIWA. There, members of different organizations and members of the community met to plan ways to support the workers and the election. Besides flyering customers at Assi every Friday night, the community supporters staged a Valentine’s Day action on February 14. About 20 supporters passed out candy bags with cards of support and encouragement to the workers.

With the election drawing closer, on March 4, Mr. Lee, a Korean worker at Assi, sent a bold letter to Daniel Lee and the other Korean workers, urging them to support the union. In support of his boldness, KIWA staff took turns watching Mr. Lee at work to ensure that he is not harmed nor harassed. The community supporters then threw a fiesta on March 7 to rally the workers and ease the tension and stress.

The election finally arrived on March 9. KIWA staff, community supporters, and Assi workers met before the election began. They finalized their strategies and gave a last minute chant of support. The election then began in Assi’s basement at 1 pm. The law requires that no one tell the workers to vote yes or no within 24 hours of the election. Word arrived, however, to community supporters camped out at KIWA that members of Littler and Mendelson were harassing workers, telling them to vote no. In response, community supporters went in teams to Assi to make their presence known, and to keep their eyes on the "consultants." Finally, the election ended at 7 pm and community supporters were forced off Assi’s premises as the voters are counted. The NLRB declared the election too close to be decided either way. An impromptu rally was held back at KIWA where IWU leaders and KIWA staff decided to file with the NLRB for the election to be thrown out, thus taking the battle "to the streets" to force Daniel Lee to recognize the IWU. That is where the campaign stands today.

Despite a disappointing and possibly destroying turn of events, the workers and community supporters rallied together and are gearing up for more intensity, more strength, and more action in the future. The battle is far from over for the workers, but they are optimistic and re-energized. Justice will come in due time.

 

Timeline

  • workers go to KIWA to complain that their hours were getting cut
  • [Summer 2001] 20 workers from the produce department walk out demanding 8 hour shifts
  • Immigrant Workers Union is formed and filed with the National Labor Relations Board
  • [November 15, 2001] The IWU files for an election at Assi and hold a press conference to announce their demands
  • Daniel Lee hires Littler and Mendelson to hold captive audience meetings
  • [November 29, 2001] Assi files an Unfair Labor Practice against KIWA charging "employer domination" to try and delay the election
  • [December 14, 2001] Community supporters raise thousands of dollars for the IWU Legal Defense fund
  • Assi workers present a petition for full 8 hour shifts to Daniel Lee
  • [January 12, 2002] Workers file discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Assi Market
  • ULP against KIWA is thrown out
  • [January 18, 2002] Vigil is held in support of the workers
  • [January 24, 2002] IWU and Assi agree on a NLRB election date
  • [February 1, 2002] Community supporters meet to plan their strategies in helping the workers
  • [February 14, 2002] Valentine’s Day action is executed by the community supporters
  • [March 4, 2002] Letter from Mr. Lee, a worker at Assi, is sent to Daniel Lee and all of the other Korean workers
  • [March 7, 2002] Fiesta is held by the community supporters to encourage the workers
  • [March 9, 2002] Election is held with the NLRB unable to declare a winner due to a close race

 

Importance of Immigrant Workers

Immigrant workers, predominantly from Asia, Mexico, and South and Central America, labor at the bottom of the economic ladder in jobs and industries many of us consider unpleasant and distasteful. According to MIWON, the Multi-ethnic Workers Organizing Network, "many immigrants find themselves working in an underground economy where they contribute the most to the state’s economy, but receive virtually nothing in terms of living wages and health care benefits." While immigrant workers provide the essential labor that creates successful businesses and a strong economy, they are paid almost nothing. This is particularly true in Koreatown, a thriving ethnic enclave that caters to Korean American and Latino customers. The Korean and Latino workers in this ethnic economy, however, are constantly struggling to support themselves and their families with poverty wages. Immigrant workers provide essential services and make our local and state economies strong but cannot make a living wage.

In Korean supermarkets, immigrant workers comprise one hundred percent of the workforce. At Assi, workers immigrated from Korea, Mexico, and South and Central America. Their hard work has helped make this market one of the most profitable in the area. Their labor has been essential in the development of a profitable business. Daniel Sung Chul Lee, CEO of Assi market, owes the success of his corporation to the efforts of a diverse, immigrant work force. Like most of the business in Koreatown, Assi and all Korean supermarkets depend on their reliable immigrant employees. Despite the essential work of Assi employees and the profits they help the market earn, they are paid only minimum wage ($6.75/hour).

 

Unconventional Way of Campaigning

The Immigrant Workers Union is the first of grass-roots unions to be a worker-based union. The Union’s president is Assi’s worker, Maximiliano Mariscal. He was elected by his co-workers to be the representative for the union. Max and other Assi workers have genuinely established and carried the union to where it is today. Elizabeth Sunwoo, a community organizer from KIWA, expressed that she is always motivated to make this union succeed because the intensity of the workers increases. She says that they are self-motivated and willing to make the union work. The workers initiated the first step of action and because of it they are the ones who are founding fathers of this union.

Many major trade unions are closely watching this campaign to see where it will go. Seeing that it is a worker-based union supported by non-profit organizations, ideas that low funding and mass networking is being questioned. The efforts of this union are making large-scale impacts. They go against the common strategies of unions coming in to help workers rather than workers coming in to establish the union.

Executive Director of KIWA, Danny Park comments to the La Opinion newspaper that their work would not be necessary if larger unions would assist. The newspaper quotes, "If some affiliated trade unions (Central Labor) AFL-CIO were here, we would not have to be supporting these workers." The fact is that larger trade unions are not participating. Ms. Sunwoo elaborates that their very union goes contradictory to what traditional unions are made on. Though Sunwoo supports all types of unions, she recognizes that if this union succeeds it will pose a controversy to more typical unions.

The leadership of this union is a more grass-roots approach. Based on the idea of Philip Vera Cruz, these workers and community organizers have become a coalition of leaders who are working towards a fairer working condition. Though Max does serve as the president of the union, he does not make the decisions. All of the workers are equal and depend upon each other to lead the union. Even the workers at KIWA are but supporting voices to help the union move. This style of leadership has created a great influx of support as well as finding many outlets to campaign.

 

Worker Empowerment

Maximiliano Mariscal does not look like a union president. He is slightly built, almost thin, and young. He is also a recent immigrant from a southern region of Mexico, where he left all of his family and friends. His quiet charisma and humility hide his central role in the formation of the IWU. He never emphasizes his own essential organizing work, his important role in the union, or the risks he has taken and sacrifices he has made on behalf of his coworkers. He never mentions how he was fired for confronting his supervisor. In fact, he often fails to mention his position as union president. Instead he tells the stories of his friends and comrades who struggled with him. He never considers what he can gain personally from his position as a leader, but simply asks, "What can we gain together?" Max’s quiet leadership style and the collective decision-making process he and his coworkers utilized symbolize the IWU’s approach to worker empowerment.

The IWU campaign demonstrates two important concepts in leadership development: individual and collective empowerment. While individual leaders emerged in the course of the campaign, they worked collectively and congruently towards a common goal. Max’s story exemplifies this concept. He discovered his leadership skills as an individual while working toward a collective goal. Worker meetings also demonstrate this egalitarian leadership model. Workers gathered every week to strategize and plan their campaign, in consultation with KIWA staff. As they formed their union and developed a plan for recognition, all major decisions were discussed by worker committees and ultimately decided by the workers. Instead of an institutionalized union or union officials dictating the campaign, IWU members collectively planned and implemented their fight for union recognition.

In addition to creating an equal and grassroots organization, collective leadership within the IWU also empowered all of the workers involved. Instead of developing the leadership skills of a few individual workers, the egalitarian structure of the IWU involved and simultaneously empowered all of the individuals that participated in the collective decision-making process. As every worker became involved in the campaign, they discovered their own abilities as leaders and contributed their individual skills in a common struggle.

Workers’ involvement in the campaign also empowered them in their workplace and community. Workers involved in the union found the strength and support to stand up to their abusive managers. Knowing that their coworkers would support them gave workers the force to confront the exploitative circumstances they faced every time they went to work. Camaraderie and solidarity gave workers a very real sense of power while they worked and dealt with an unfair employer. Within the campaign, Assi workers also discovered the confidence to publicly reveal the conditions in which they worked, condemn the unjust practices of Assi management, and call for community support. In a public press conference, Max announced "We are tired of being mistreated, tired of being overworked and underpaid, and tired of being insulted. We deserve better work conditions, better salaries, and benefits. But the most important thing is that we deserve to be treated respectfully, because we are human beings, not slaves." His powerful words, eloquently stated in front of coworkers, community supporters, reporters, and management, embody the strength and courage workers discovered as they acted collectively to form a union.

 

Community Involvement

The community has played a significant role in the Market Workers Campaign. Organizations such as KIWA (Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates), CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles), along with over 70 other community organizations have shown their support towards unionizing the market workers at Assi. KIWA is conveniently located right around the corner from Assi market and as result has become a headquarters for the Immigrant Workers Union.

Community organizers like Danny Park and other KIWA members help workers in need to find a voice and also learn their rights. The efforts of community organizations consist of translating, legal representation, raising funds, moral support, and gathering other members of community to become aware and participants. Community supporters come together to strategize actions to help encourage unionization. KIWA and other organizations go out every Friday night to flyer the customers and get them educated about what issues are going on.
On Valentine’s Day the community members delivered valentines to the workers reminding them to stay strong support the union. Two UCLA students came and dressed up as cupids, delivering an enormous heart shaped card to the CEO Daniel Lee. In addition to these small actions, KIWA hosts a weekly worker’s meeting place where Latinos and Koreans can come together and share about the progression of the campaign. Community organizers meet often to also lend support and organize any resources they can provide for the union.

At a meeting at KIWA, community organizers, students, and other community members gathered to educate the public as well as gather ideas to mobilize the community. A strong emphasis at this meeting was the voice of the workers. After hours of meeting together the facilitators commented on how with the approval of the workers they would proceed. Tomas, an Assi Latino worker, came in to share his story and gratitude. His representation gave strong witness as to why the people needed to be involved. During the meeting, some activists began to voice out concerns of socialist censorship in media. It was impressing to see how the facilitators did not stray from their focus on the workers and encouraged them to discuss it at another time. Community organizations really do care about the needs of the workers and it is evident that there is a determination that they want justice for them.

Community participants unaffiliated with organizations have also come out. Their interest was simply by the word of mouth. When speaking to Sung Park, an unaffiliated supporter, he stated that it did not require much of him. Being a Korean American he felt that it was important to be engaged in present day labor issues. Immigration is not so far back in Asian history that community members cannot relate to these workers. That sense of identification seems to spark an interest that lies deeply within them.

The area of support in this campaign even covers elementary school students. At Wilton Place Elementary School, teacher, Otani Miller mobilizes his students to become involved in the campaign. For Valentine’s Day these students made hand-made cards to send messages to the workers that they cared. Just a few days before the Union election, students created banners to show workers that they were supporting the Union. The variety of support has covered a large spectrum of people.

Supporters feel that it is necessary to offer support and inform other community members to become aware. UCLA interns working at KIWA have shared how working on this campaign has made significant impact on their lives. They agree that social injustice and labor exploitation is still an issue of today and not something just learned through history books. Each supporter is working towards helping the Union, but could probably contest that they are being so rewarded for such little effort. Every worker has expressed such deep gratitude for the support they are receiving. At every function and every interview, their hearts humbly speaks words of thank you.

 

Interethnic Relationships

Assi Market has a 50/50 ratio of Latinos and Koreans workers. Similar to its surroundings, Koreatown also has an interesting composition of Latinos and Immigrant Koreans. The existence of two cultures in such a concentrated area can often bring up many issues between Latinos and Koreans. Within markets like Assi, a customer will often find a conglomerate of many cultural adaptations. The ability to communicate to one another has been a pressing issue for many workers at Assi. Monolithic speakers in both Korean and Spanish often find it frustrating and inhibiting for working conditions. Though each side cannot fluently communicate with the other, workers are able to articulate to one another through gestures and some familiar words. The language barrier is an important issue but is not addressed by the management. In fact, language is often a dividing factor that supervision uses to their advantage. By separating the two groups according to their language misconceived notions arise on both side that are never voiced. As a result, tension between Latino workers and Korean workers is not uncommonly found.

Community organizer, Elizabeth Sunwoo explained that a common misconceived idea is that because Korean workers speak the same language that the management does and they look similar to Korean owners, Latino workers feel that they are at a disadvantage. Because they do not understand what is being said a mistrust between the two groups is built. In retrospect, the Korean workers feel greater mistreatment because they are Korean. They are often asked to live by Korean cultural values and take direct verbal abuse by fellow Koreans. The find themselves unshielded by the manipulation of words, unlike the Spanish-speaking workers who can’t understand. This again leads to disorganizing the workers and causing division.

It wasn’t until the development of a union that Korean and Latino workers began to come together. Through the efforts of KIWA and other community organizations the barriers between cultures have been broken and the two sides are able to share with each other their stories. By giving the workers a safe place to converse and translators to share, workers found themselves having more in common than believed. Ms. Sunwoo states that, "It is no longer a division by culture, but a one based on class.

The response of shared stories helped the workers see that they weren’t so far apart after all. For those who were willing to hear, they recognized that they were not fighting each other but needed to work together to raise a voice against the management. The success of bringing together these two ethnic groups is a monumental accomplishment. It is one of the first of many Latino/Korean workplaces that has been able to bring co-existing cultures together. Though very pertinent to the Assi campaign, its influence pours over to the community surrounding it. Koreatown is unusual because it is a Korean ethnic enclave with a dominant Latino population. This has not been a focused issue but instead the two groups have learned to live amongst one another separately. This campaign has given this community a starting place to come together.

As the push to organize and unionize Assi workers continues, workers have found that management is still using culture to divide them. As the efforts increased, Korean management have separated many of the Latino workers from the Korean workers. The major activists in this campaign have been the large number of Latino workers. Since the bond between Koreans and Latinos has also increase, the management attempts to segregate the workers from one another. This tactic is to control the efforts of destructing the works toward unionization. By separation, they are able to monitor and devise specific strategies to threaten each side. In addition, segregating workers also allows for the management to manipulate miscommunication amongst the group and cause greater damage between Korean/Latino relationships.

Maximiliano Mariscal, the acting president of the Immigrant Worker Union, has found that his supervision has confined him to a more menial job away from all workers. He comments in his interview that they scrutinize his work to search for a means of firing him. He discloses that he must work with immense pressure. The continual reminder that someone is watching him creates stress and paranoia that renders an initiative to quit. He works hard to stay strong and keeps his perspective focused on the better tomorrow for him and his fellow workers.

Unfortunately, the Korean workers support is not as strong as the Latino workers. They are bound by cultural values and understanding that go against grass root organization. Koreans are known to be non-conflicting, hierarchical abiding citizens. The interest to create solidarity between Koreans often generates a resistance amongst the Korean workers. The support for union has been a harder battle for Korean workers. Though Assi market is only a few blocks away from KIWA, Koreans are slower to open up to the idea of organizing. In fact, it wasn’t until recent events that Korean workers began to truly speak out against the management.

Mr. Lee, a sashimi cutter in the fish department, took a major step towards organizing Korean workers. On March 4, 2002 Mr. Lee wrote and signed a documents advocating his support towards union. Being a respected older Korean worker, he shared and encouraged other Koreans to take matters into their hands and begin to work towards a fairer union. In a community support meeting March 7, 2002, Mr. Lee approached his fellow Latino workers. At the KIWA meeting Mr. Lee introduced himself to his fellow workers and explained to him what he had done. He spoke of supporting the efforts of the union and rallying other Koreans to also do the same. Mr. Lee’s impressive contribution was when he bowed and apologized for the harsh treatment of the Korean people to the Latino workers. He conveyed a sincere concern and empathy towards his fellow co-workers. The event of this statement was a trilingual moment, capturing the emotion and heart of three languages coming together.

Much advancement between interethnic relations has been made through the Immigrant Workers Union. The Latino and Korean community are now more unified than before and Assi workers are finding more support amongst one another. In fact, workers have discovered that many of their fellow co-workers are bilingual in their ethnic tongue. Many more Latinos actually understand and can speak much more Korean than thought to. In addition, Koreans have come to learn Spanish as well. The morning after Mr. Lee wrote his letter to the management and other workers he felt very intimidate and scared to enter his work place. Fellow co-worker, Miguel approached Mr. Lee to bring him words of support. Miguel said to Mr. Lee, "Ah jah shi, it’s going to be okay because we are united." To Mr. Lee’s surprise Miguel spoke to him in complete Korean reminding him that he was there to support. Mr. Lee was so deeply moved by his co-worker that tears welled up in his eyes and he began to cry. Miguel and Mr. Lee share one of the greatest triumphs of this campaign. The friendship expressed through their interaction showed that Latinos and Koreans could be united.

Actually, the workers feel that they now work on a more equal playing field and have greater trust in one another. The result of campaign efforts has given both sides greater knowledge of their worker rights and an ability to help stand up for each other. Although, this is not to say that the management has made union development easy. The owners have sent in litigators to cause legal intimations and threats. Workers share that they call in weekly meetings to try to scare and pressure the workers into contracting against Union. Borderline supporters of the union were given a surprising increase in pay and threats of being fired increase. As a result, the campaign continues to harbor many issues, but the rate towards interethnic unity increases.

 

Revelations

Our experiences in research have often intrigued us, but none has had such a lasting effect as this one. Through the Market Workers Justice Campaign our committee was allowed to build relationships with strong community organizers, brave immigrant workers, and other interested supporters who share a concern for the cause. Our original understanding was that we would monitor the process of the campaign and try to capture the essence of why unionizing is significant. This campaign taught us that social injustice and unfair labor exploitation is not an un-foreign thing to immigrant communities like Koreatown.

Through community meetings, we were able to learn the process of unionization. They educated us on where the process of this campaign was going and how we could directly become involved. There are many different factors and steps to take before a union can be formed and recognized. Some steps are difficult, while others are easy; some are public, while many others are unseen. But each move forward requires the conscious effort of all involved to face the current and walk against the water. Because of this need for support, our group easily found ourselves integrated into the actions regardless of our preconceived position. Members of our committee participated in the actions and were able to interact with the workers themselves. Having interviews with many of the workers and supporters we were able to give a venue for the stories to be heard. The empowerment of words came through the strong accounts of many of the Latino and Korean workers.

A strong value we learned was about how important it is to know your workers rights. Labor issues are still such a huge struggle in our society, that the knowledge of what privileges even undocumented workers have is so imperative. As students we were given the opportunity to see hands on what the experience of organizing requires of people and what it can do for workers like our friends at Assi market. It has become an incredible reality how much one willing person can do.

Through researching this campaign, we have also learned that nothing in society occurs in a vacuum. Our initial thoughts about the campaign were that it would help the workers at Assi Market. The scope then broadened and we saw its importance to workers at all Koreatown markets. From there, we were educated of the campaign’s effect on immigrant workers, residents and community members of Koreatown. And even from there, we saw that the MWJC could have an effect upon the city, the nation, and even the world. It may sound a bit naïve and idealistic, but from the response the campaign has been receiving, it is clear that many eyes are turned to that market in LA’s Koreatown.

Our eyes have been opened as a result of this project. We have met great men and women who have struggled and worked both inside and outside of the market. Beyond this campaign, they may not receive any recognition or awards, but that means little to them anyway. They are simply doing what needs to be done to gain justice and dignity for themselves and their co-laborers. These are the true leaders people should be willing to follow because of their humility and strength. We have also learned of great greed and stubbornness that blinds people from recognizing their wrongdoing and sharing the blessings that they have received. And because of that greed, our project is far from over. While this quarter comes to a close, our group is not finished with supporting the market workers. We will continue to educate, organize, and support the campaign until the workers have received the dignity and respect they deserve. In more ways than one, the workers have done much more for us than we could ever do for them. But hopefully, because of the resources we have as privileged university students, we can help them bring victory and justice a little quicker.

 

Works Cited

Brugge, Doug and Lydia Lowe, "Asian American Workers in the New Economy," Asian American Revolutionary Movement Ezine, www.aamovement.net.

MIWON, www.miwon.org

Tamara, E. J. "Alianza latinocoreana buca formar sindicato." La Opinion 16 Nov. 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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