Uniting the Poor and Working Class for Housing, Living Wages and Justice

Social Security is politically sacrosanct for two reasons. First, it serves the elderly, and the elderly vote. Second, even though Social Security (like Medicare) provides significant help for the poor, its benefits accrue to all income classes.

It’s been a long time since affordable housing was seen as an issue that could unite the poor and working class like Social Security does. But it once was, largely thanks to the support and involvement of organized labor, as Peter Dreier points out in his article on housing and labor. Now, in many communities around the nation, labor is once again calling for affordable housing as it seeks allies to support the battle for living wages and other vital benefits.

One outstanding example of such collaboration can be seen in the Stamford Organizing Project, which Daniel HoSang describes. A number of unions and community-based organizations are collaborating through the Project to fight against discrimination and for decent conditions for the low-income service workers that keep Stamford, CT – one of America’s corporate centers – humming. Clearly, affordable housing is a key issue for these service workers – both union and nonunion – in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. The Stamford Project and other union/community coalitions are important experiments that we’ll be following closely in issues to come.

Less Clear, No Less Important

If you work at a CDC, a tenant organization or a homeless advocacy group, trying to understand your connections to all of today’s “movements” is a challenge. How exactly do you fit into the labor or environmental movements? What do you have to do with “Smart Growth” or “Regionalism?” And now there’s “Globalization.” It’s all too far removed from your day-to-day work of helping one person, one family, one block, one neighborhood. Or is it?

In “Back to the Streets,” Miriam Axel-Lute connects the dots for us. She shows us why it is, in fact, in our own self-interest to support the movement for global social justice and why US activists fighting for fair labor and environmental standards in the rest of the world need to be involved in the fight for fair and affordable housing, living wages and social justice here.

Each of these articles shares one message – for progressive change to occur, alliances must be forged. The authors give us the whys and the hows. Now it’s up to us. 


The cover art on the print copy of this issue was incorrectly titled. The correct title is “Temporary Sanity.” We regret the error and appreciate the terrific art and good humor of artist and activist Mike Alewitz.

Harold Simon is the former executive director of the National Housing Institute and former publisher of Shelterforce.


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