Wed Jul 24, 2024
July 24, 2024

Unions and social justice organizations speak out for reproductive rights


“The same forces that are attacking our reproductive rights are also trying to destroy our rights as workers. … Without workers, the world as we know it would come to an immediate stop.” — Nga Bui, coordinator of the Mobilization for Reproductive Justice in New York City.

On June 24, two years after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice (NMRJ) held a press conference in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. The NMRJ is composed of over 50 unions, labor groups, and social justice organizations. It was formed in 2021 by Radical Women, a socialist feminist organization, “in order to build a grassroots coalition of forces to defend reproductive rights.”

Their demand is for Liz Shuler, the AFL-CIO president, to call for an emergency national labor conference on reproductive justice. This will be delivered through 640+ letters from unions and workers.

As they stood on the Black Lives Matter Plaza, counter-protesters quickly surrounded them and tried to disrupt the press conference, shouting, “Abortion is murder, abortion is oppression.” After a 30-minute delay, the organizers were able to continue the speeches and deliver the letters to a representative from Liz Shyler’s office.

Amy Chin-Lai, from IFPTE Local 70, stated, “We know that an injury to one is an injury to us all. These recent attacks on our workers are attacks on unions itself.”

“Women are workers. Bodily autonomy is a labor issue. And we’re calling for labor leadership to move beyond resolution to action. Members are the highest decision making body in this country. And leadership has a responsibility to act on behalf of all workers,” stated Jordana Sardo, from AFSCME Local 88.

Impact of Dobbs on working-class and oppressed women

The Supreme Court has a history of protecting business interests over the interests of workers, especially female/birthing workers. The U.S. does not have a federal paid maternity and family leave act. Not only is the government regulating female bodies, but it’s also forcing parents to raise their children (the new generation of workers) with no financial support.

The Dobbs decision, which concluded that the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion, has been detrimental to working-class and marginalized birthing people. According to the Commonwealth Fund, “states that have banned, are planning to ban, or have otherwise restricted abortion have fewer maternity care providers; more maternity care “deserts”; higher rates of maternal mortality and infant death, especially among women of color.”

People will seek out abortions despite bans. The Monthly Abortion Provision Study found that “​​1,037,000 abortions occurred in the formal health-care system in 2023…This represents a rate of 15.9 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age,* and is an 11% increase since 2020.” Although this seems counterintuitive, it just proves that the need for abortions will not diminish. And as bans expand, people will become more desperate and abortions will become more dangerous for the marginalized.

The attempt to restrict abortion pills is another aspect of this fight. Although the case against Mifepristone was rejected by the Supreme Court, it was only on a technicality. Justice Brett Kavanuagh even urged, “The plaintiffs may present their concerns and objections to the president and FDA in the regulatory process, or to Congress and the president in the legislative process.”

Labor can make a difference in winning reproductive rights

The NMRJ is attempting to build a mass movement behind reproductive rights. This is significant because there has been little mass action since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. After initial demonstrations, the movement fizzled out. Much of the emphasis of activists has been misdirected into toothless electoral campaigns and legislation.

We need the organizations of working people to fight for reproductive rights. The demand to have the AFL-CIO call a conference of union women and others to defend reproductive justice would set an important precedent for using our power at the workplace. It would be the beginning of unions taking responsibility for the rights of their workers.

Recent events have commemorated the Minneapolis general strike in 1934, when workers organized action that shut down the city and won better conditions and wages. The historic event showed how workers have immense power when they democratically organize to mobilize the ranks. Every major social change in this country came from people marching in the streets and demanding rights through independent mass actions. It is possible to do the same with the fight for reproductive rights. The struggle now is to organize and convince workers to move beyond electoralism, beyond politicians, and take the issues into their own hands.

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