Boston Lew Finfer, the director of MCAN, the Massachusetts Community Action Network, the dean of community organizers in the Boston Area, was the last guest visiting with the ACORN Canada staff, and he honored the group with some interesting observations of what has changed and what has stayed the same in the work over the years, but the most exciting thing he said had to do with the increased recognition, now widespread, that community organizations had to lead, just as ACORN always had, in the area of “work.” There was no longer a deference to labor, despite the fact that it was our most valuable and important ally in this area, but there was a realization that when it came to recognizing issues and initiatives for our constituency, community organizations now knew there was no waiting for anyone else: it’s action time now!
What this means in Massachusetts is good news because MCAN has made the decision with its leaders and staff that in 2013 it has two priorities: increasing the minimum wage and getting money for job training. Going into the 5th year of Obama’s Administration, I dare anyone to find one word the President or the Secretary of Labor (who is that anyway?), has said about a move to increase the minimum wage. We are on the Bush and Clinton timetable, where if we are lucky there will be an increase proposed in the last year of their terms. Working families can’t wait another 3 years for a bump in the minimum wage.
Massachusetts is a good place to see a minimum wage initiative gain stream. When ACORN won the Boston living wage ordinance, the numbers led the country. An increase in Massachusetts might be won at the legislative level if the sun and moon lined up right.
Finfer also mentioned a broad coalition was forming across the community organizing spectrum, including the PICO Network, Gamaliel Foundation groups, and the former Missouri ACORN to move forward on a ballot initiative in Missouri for a minimum wage increase. ACORN led that fight in the past. It’s not easy. We’ve won and lost on various initiatives over the years, but the time is now. He reported on other community organizations that are increasingly putting their arms around the issues of work as well in recent staff gatherings of the PICO Network where MCAN is an affiliate.
If the planning for minimum wage increase fights has begun, working families can start counting the days until we see increases in pay envelopes for lower wage workers, because when we build these campaigns, we will win.