Hosts and Producers: Yi Ding and Chenxi Wu
Guests: Zishun and Kathy
[Transcript has been slightly modified for reading experience.]
Zishun: 我补充一句，我第一次听说华策会是在学校里，读本科的时候，那时华策会跟我们学校合作选拔本科生去课后辅导班做志愿者。我猜大多数大学生听说华策会时都觉得它是好的，是致力于社区服务的组织。他们大概也听说华策会在反对反亚裔暴力，这类主流媒体喜欢的叙事。这是一个经常得到称赞的组织，一个很多学校、教授喜欢与之合作的组织。我相信华策会和它的很多支持者自认为是进步派，自由派。 但作为一个有志学生，或者任何愿意参与反种族主义斗争的人，我们需要再进一步。我们不能花一个小时给课后班做做志愿者教教小孩就算了，要加入社会运动中来！我们不能总是在心中把我们自己置于社区之外。当你参与工运组织时，会发现这其实和你自己也切身相关。不管你是学生还是已经工作，你也会遇到类似的问题，消除这种无限工时的剥削与我们每一个人都息息相关。如果24小时工作日这种种族主义暴力被允许继续存在，我们所有人都会受其害，因为这就意味着没有底线了。哪个雇主都可以说，你看那些护工一天干24小时都没事，你为什么不可以。
Kathy: As for like the current state of things. So, now, it's actually very well known that in New York City, there are thousands of immigrant women, not only Chinese, but Latina, Caribbean, and those from other Asian countries or African countries. Homecare agencies are popping up in every immigrant community to take advantage of this ability to break the law, and only pay immigrant women 13 hours for 24 hours of work so that they can make a ton of money. Homecare agencies and insurance companies are just making a ton of money off of this, while hurting workers and patients from all of our communities. And it is against the state law. But part of the racism, systemic racism, is the state government under Governor Hochul is choosing to not enforce the law when it comes to these immigrant women and their patients. So, inspired by the organizing of all these women, we have a local council member here in Chinatown named Christopher Marte, who is sponsoring a bill in the city council called the “No More 24 Act-File# Int 0175-2022,” that would mandate that 24 hour care cannot be done in 24 hour workday, 24 hour workday must end, and the care must be split into shifts of maximum 12 hours. Of course, patients need the care but it's really better, for patients too, if it's split shifts, and of course it's very necessary for workers’ health and lives. So this is a bill that we are uniting everyone behind to push and demand that the City Council Speaker put it to a vote because by not bringing this bill to a vote, she is saying that 24 hours must continue, and these insurance companies and homecare agencies should continue to kill women just to make money.
Zishun: Yeah, and the campaign also united with the patients and their family, who see also that the 24 hour is really hurting the patient. Because if the worker cannot get enough rest, how can we expect them to provide good service? And that actually puts the patients in danger, who need round the clock care. So actually, many patient families also spoke against the 24 hour, they all want to get the splitted shifts. The insurance company really wants to make a huge amount of profit. So they try to deny, deny, with all kinds of reasons, to try to maintain the 24 hour shifts. But now, the patient, workers and the whole community come together. That's why I think the campaign is so powerful: it developed from maybe just a few workers from one agency to now really an issue for the whole society.
Chenxi: Thank you very much. And thank you for sharing the whole process and the experiences about the campaign. Thinking back about the whole campaign process, what do you think is the most important lesson? Or what do you wish to share with other people who are new to organizing, especially to workers’ organizing?
Kathy: I think that actually, Zishun studied labor studies in school, and learned a lot of wrong stuff there. But I also learned, even though I was just a worker, when people think about labor organizing, or organizing in general, it will be like divided into different shops, or like different industries, or like each group of people should fight for their own specific issue. And these issues are separate. I think the most important thing is to know that these are all fake divisions, that these really are perpetuated by the system to make sure everyone is divided up and not fighting together. So for example, like I'm a tech worker, I don't think now that I need to only learn and organize in my own shop where I work. I actually feel like I'm so fortunate to have this fight, uniting across industries and across races, very importantly, to be in. And we talked a bit about super exploitation before, like how it's really racism, the origin of racism, that it'll be immigrant women of color that insurance companies and homecare agencies and the government feel like they should be exploited the most so that somebody can make money. This actually creates a lot of divisions in our society, it makes people look down on us. And it also makes other people resent us for “stealing jobs”. With many people supporting Trump now, like white people, black people, increasingly, immigrant communities are also supporting Trump, because we see that the conditions are going so bad and things are becoming so bad in the jobs. Because of these, the ruling class wants to push immigrants, the most exploitable immigrants, into those jobs. It really hurts everybody. Previously, and in upstate New York, they don't have a 24 hour work day, they have 24 hour care in eight hour shifts. A homecare worker actually has a good job. You get to take care of somebody, it's a job that people would like to do except that now because of super exploitation, the conditions are so bad that now, instead, people cannot find a job at all because that job is destroyed. We really need to unite to stop this super exploitation so that we can also stop this crisis we have of not being able to find any good work, not being able to find any work at all. In our communities when people are increasingly blaming each other for our problems, this fight really shows that we can unite against the source of our problems, who is oppressing all of us.
Zishun: Yeah, exactly. I want to also add to what you said about division. Because many people, when they joined organizing, at the beginning, inevitably, they think, oh, we are college educated, we speak English, we want to help the poor immigrant workers, who don't speak English, who don't know the law, we went to college, blah blah, blah, right? So they want to come in and do good things, which is natural, because you were taught in a college you're to be exceptional, “I’m already in a very prestigious College, now I want to give back to the community” kind of thing. But this actually fits into what the system wants, because they want to see people divided. And even those who went to college, who think that they are doing good things, actually deep down, they are probably looking down on the immigrants. They think, oh, you don't know anything. So I come in to help you, I give you power, that kind of thing. But in the end, they don't really solve the fundamental question this society puts out, which is that, they tried to say everyone is different, your interests are different, the college students’ interests are probably different from immigrant worker interests. So by thinking that, doing the organizing work actually reinforces that kind of thinking. You’re thinking you're not fighting for yourself, then basically, you're thinking, “I’m just doing a good thing, I'm sacrificing my time, my youth, my energy doing all this”. After a while, you’ll be like “what's the point? Those immigrants remain ignorant, they don't know English, they just asked me for help”. So very easily with this, you’ll burn out. And you say, oh, that's not my fight, or you’ll probably be thinking you want to advance, want to have like individual advancement, which is also what the system encourages. So, in the end, they exploit the immigrants and then climb up the ladder, becoming part of the ruling class, part of the CPC. I'm sure a lot of people who join the CPC probably initially think they are doing good things, like what I did at the beginning with the CPC, but if we don't change that, and really see what we have in common, then very easily, we're going to either burnout, or just end up exploiting the community.
Kathy: We actually really see that, the immigrant women who don't speak English and are old, they're the most oppressed by the system, the ones who are the strongest to fight back, who, after the struggles, trying to work with lawyers and stuff with the government see how bad the system is, and are willing to fight back. They're very powerful in providing leadership to the rest of society.
Zishun: Yeah, and that actually, we have a lot to learn from them, and we see this as a learning process where we learn also that it’s in our interests to fight back, so it actually ends up becoming a learning experience for many of us, instead of “sacrificing ourselves”.
Ding: Exactly. All you shared also resonate with a lot of things I'm doing here in LA. The theme of competing against each other, trying to create those divisions, those divisions that don't need to exist at all. And those like myths of meritocracy or elitism that is probably harming our Asian American community is really connected to how important it is that we're doing to, to provide to foster the solidarity and support in response to the racial discrimination to the sexist to the labor exploitation. I really love the word labor because as you said, I think whatever we're doing, doesn't matter which industry or what type of work I do, this is really just the labor that we're all hurt in some way or another, all exploited by the capitalist system. So it's really important to recognize that we are the same.
What I try to get to in the end, as the last question is I love you're connecting this mentality of “we're fighting for them, but also for ourselves, for all of us together” to the common theme we see in activist work, which is burnout and fatigue. I recognize it's important to remember the mission, remember the cause as we are fighting against our fatigue. Do you want to share one or two tips about how you take care of yourself, as we wrap up this episode, just to give our passionate activist listeners, good allies, because I know this is a very tough struggle and fight anything you're doing to do self care to combat this fatigue, because there is a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, that you're experiencing every day.
Kathy: I think, mainly two words that we have talked about a lot, learning and fighting back. Like Zishun said, if you're thinking you're gonna fight for other people, you will burn out. Because of course, we have demands on our lives in this system, we all have to make money to survive, we all have to do this and that. If we see that what we're doing and organizing is separate from that, then we would think that organizing is actually taking away from our real life. But actually, we need to make sure in our fight, that what we're learning is actually liberating ourselves, that fighting back together really does help liberate me. In the past, I have really, really struggled. I've been very stressed out ever since I was like 12 years old, trying to get perfect grades, trying to get into prestigious school, and getting a good job. So I never have to worry about this, but also feel like oh, but the world is so bad, we should try to fix it. And, like, all of those things are, where we're made to kind of like work ourselves, for the purpose of the system competing with each other. Those are the things that destroy our mental health. Because when we're exploited, it really makes us look down on ourselves. It makes us look down on other people who are exploiting our fellow workers. But when we come together, learn together and fight back. That's how we really gain our dignity, we respect ourselves, we respect each other. And that's how, what we need to not have, to really break free of all these chains. society puts on us.
Zishun: Yeah, I think the people are feeling tired because of the system or process. Not only material things, like, oh, you need to survive, earn enough money to pay your bills and all of that, but also mentally. The system encourages you to exploit each other. That's what the system is about. Right? Not only the boss, I mean, of course, he's from the ruling class, but also penetrates many workers' minds, right? So the workers, they are not immune, right? None of us are immune from this system. We are all products of it, that's how we were brought up.
(Kathy: We don't need a boss to tell us to compete with each other. Try to be smarter than everyone else. We already know how to do it. We already know how to survive in the system, but we need to learn how to actually fight, to break out.)
Otherwise, I think people, of course, feel tired. They all see things separately, and even if you're doing nothing, your mind is still contaminated by those kinds of thinking. So even not doing anything, you feel tired. Actually, organizing together for liberation energizes people. Many home attendants are in their 60s or 70s. Right, they get torture by the 24 hour workday. Now they are standing up. A lot of them are actually very active, doing flyering, organizing protests, spreading the word, all of that. We were always amazed, there's so much energy coming out, they actually did down there, they're younger than many young people. That's very inspiring to many of us, If we are able to come together, see that we have a common struggle, and see this fight also as our fight, we need to use this right, 24-hour workday, so ridiculous is how exposed how bad the system is, we take it out when also, spreading the word, all of us come together to end this, to put an end to this kind of exploitation, that way I think really can energize make us feel a lot motivated. It’s like a sharp knife penetrating the system.
Kathy: concretely what I learned is that I put forward in my job was like, for the first time after organizing here, I stood up to my boss and said, I'm not going to work overtime anymore and organize some of my coworkers for our health matters, we're not going to do it anymore. Whereas before, I would have been too afraid to do that.
Ding: Wow. I love that. That's so well said about the energizing impacts of organizing, it's not just the anger or the frustration that is driving us to do what we're fighting for. It's actually the joy, the joy of speaking up for ourselves, the joy of learning, the joy of liberating ourselves, I love that. It's another way to look at organizing. I think people when they think about organizing, or activists, they tend to think about angry faces but it's really the energy and I so agree with.
After our episode recording, Kathy shared a crucial message concerning the complicity of Councilmember Adrienne Adams in perpetuating systemic racism. Please help us raise awareness.
“This systemic racism continues in New York City because of corrupt sellout Speaker Adrienne Adams. As the first Black woman Speaker of the City Council, in the country’s most progressive city, she uses her POC face to shield insurance companies and continue violence against women of color. She refuses to bring to a vote the City bill, the No More 24 Act (Intro 175), that would end 24-hour workdays and improve care for patients. She ignores the cries of pain from home attendants. From her point of view, 24-hour workdays must continue killing women unless there is more state funding–to give to insurance companies, who are currently making big profits abusing workers and patients! By maintaining this crime against humanity, Speaker Adams is a criminal at the head of a racist system. Immigrant women of color are leading a multiracial, multigenerational movement against systemic racism. ”
Everyone should join to protest Adams’ crimes at City Hall on October 18, 12pm. Spread the word. We must not allow 24-hour workdays to exist in New York City or anywhere in the world!”