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All You That Labor

All You That Labor: Religion and Ethics in the Living Wage Movement

C. Melissa Snarr
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 217
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  • Book Info
    All You That Labor
    Book Description:

    Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Mathew 11:28 (AKJV)In the early 1990s, a grassroots coalition of churches in Baltimore, Maryland helped launch what would become a national movement. Joining forces with labor and low-wage worker organizations, they passed the first municipal living wage ordinance. Since then, over 144 municipalities and counties as well as numerous universities and local businesses in the United States have enacted such ordinances.Although religious persons and organizations have been important both in the origins of the living wage movement and in its continuing success, they are often ignored or under analyzed. Drawing on participant observation in multiple cities, All You That Labor analyzes and evaluates the contributions of religious activists to the movement. The book explores the ways religious organizations do this work in concert with low-wage workers, the challenges religious activists face, and how people of faith might better nurture moral agency in relation to the political economy. Ultimately, C. Melissa Snarr provides clarity on how to continue to cultivate, renew, and expand religious resources dedicated to the moral agency of low-wage workers and their allies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8859-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    At a southern university rally for living wages in 2005, a middle-aged African American woman rose to introduce herself and speak to the crowd. Standing there in her uniform, she stated her name and job title (custodian), then paused before saying slowly and deliberately, “Everyone keeps telling me not to speak today. They say I’ll lose my job or not get my raises. But I’m telling you today that I’m not afraid. There’s nothing they can do to me, with God on my side.” In front of a hundred students, faculty, and other staff, she relayed her story of working...

  6. 1 U.S. Poverties and Religious Resources: Movement Context
    (pp. 17-36)

    Through an African rhythm, an oppressor’s folly, and justice’s triumph, a new version of a familiar spiritual declares the presence of a growing social movement. This recent adaptation of “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep,” while echoing old labor hymns, has several novel features that reflect the living wage movement.²

    First, the activists singing these songs are on the lines of a burgeoning frontier in the labor struggle—municipal living wage ordinances. They are not just singing to factory bosses but to city councils and county commissioners, who, in an era of privatization, are contributing to lower wage work in America....

  7. 2 Living Wages: Religious Ideology and Framing for Moral Agency
    (pp. 37-65)

    In a small classroom on the campus of North Park Seminary in Chicago, three leaders from the National Council of Churches’ (NCC) Let Justice Roll campaign gathered with a student activist from the University of Notre Dame and a local Chicago alderman to train other activists on building successful living wage campaigns. While handouts and handbooks were circulating, Rev. Paul Sherry, the retiring director of the NCC’s national campaign, mused, “One of the most important parts of the campaign was to find a phrase that really captured the imagination. I think we did it with ‘A job should keep you...

  8. 3 “I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me”: Bridge Building and Political Engagement in Racialized Economies
    (pp. 66-101)

    Leaders of the Mississippi Poultry Workers for Equality and Respect knew they had to overcome significant racial and ethnic barriers if they were to challenge the power of the poultry plant owners.¹ Yet the plant owners had to be challenged. Conditions in the plants were atrocious—sweltering temperatures, a toxic environment—and the work was certainly low paying. But black and Latino workers viewed each other uneasily, fearfully, and sometimes disdainfully. In the midst of this tension, management could pit workers against each other for jobs, promotions, raises, and shifts. In an effort to cultivate “Black-Brown solidarity,” Poultry Workers leaders...

  9. 4 “Your Daughters Will Prophesy”: Women’s Labor in the Movement
    (pp. 102-121)

    The idea for the Atlanta living wage campaign came in the form of a fax. A director at the Atlanta Women’s Foundation had just finished reading an article in a business magazine, “What’s Wrong with Living Wages.” A few minutes later, she faxed Cindia Cameron, the Atlanta-based national organizing director of Working Women 9to5. Across the top of the fax, the director had scrawled, “So, what are you gonna do?” A return fax arrived: “So, are you going to fund it?” Phones rang and a funding relationship formed. Cindia next called Rev. Sandra Robertson, the director of Georgia Citizen’s Coalition...

  10. 5 “Where Two or Three Are Gathered”: Ritualizing Moral Agency
    (pp. 122-139)

    Memphis, Tennessee, is best known for blues, barbeque, and Elvis. But among religious activists, it is also known for fasting. As part of the efforts of Workers’ Interfaith Network (WIN) to enact citywide living wage legislation in 2006—efforts that were successful—and subsequently to expand the ordinance’s reach, forty-hour fasts have become a mainstay of coalition activism. The organization, led by an ordained female United Methodist minister, draws on the long tradition of religious fasting both to sharpen devotion to the sacred and to bring attention to injustice. The 2008 fast was timed to fall within Lent (the traditional...

  11. 6 Conclusion: “Come, Walk with Us, the Journey Is Long”
    (pp. 140-160)

    At the IWJ national conference in 2007, one of the first tasks of the opening plenary was learning a song. IWJ’s energetic, music-loving, executive director Kim Bobo usually chooses a song for every national conference and leads the assembled activists in its initial singing. Gathered in the large multifunctional performing arts/meeting space, hundreds of IWJ local affiliate staff and volunteers, union leaders and organizers, and students followed the piano, guitars, and Bobo’s enthusiastic musical direction. The song would be sung at the beginning of all plenaries during the three-day conference and on the way to a group protest. That year’s...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 161-186)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-198)
  14. Index
    (pp. 199-204)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 205-205)