Editorial: Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living

July 13, 2021

Screen Shot 2021-07-19 at 11.29.52 AM.pngOur strength and unity carries us through the pandemic and on to the struggles ahead.

Vaccines are bringing our country back to life. As of early June, some 51% of the U.S. population had received one vaccine dose. Among those 12 years of age and older 50% were fully vaccinated; among those 18 and up, 64% had received at least one shot. Though we are not necessarily in striking distance of the 70% vaccination threshold needed to reach herd immunity, we are making definite progress. At the same time, activists of every stripe are bolstering efforts by building trust and reducing vaccine hesitance in our communities. (If you want to learn more about this, go to 1199SEIU.org and check out our weekly vaccine newsletter Frontline News.)

As our sister Ruth Johnston points out, a year and a half ago where we are today seemed almost unimaginable. Our country—and particularly our frontline caregivers—was gripped in a seemingly endless pandemic midnight, shrouded by uncertainty and death. But the sun is up today. Though we must remain vigilant, we are getting our lives back. We’re hugging our loved ones, kissing our grandbabies, and holding the hands of our treasured elders. We’re also back to the daily work and mission of our Union. We never stopped, but today we are back full strength, fighting for good jobs with good pay and benefits; standing up to injustice against anyone anywhere; and electing candidates who aren’t afraid to get down into the trenches with us.

As this magazine goes to press, 1199ers were prepping for contract talks with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes and the Group and Greater nursing home employer associations. Largely (but not completely) because of the pandemic, 1199ers are facing some of the most challenging bargaining conditions recent memory. In League talks, at stake is 1199’s gold standard collective bargaining agreement. Over in nursing home talks, workers who were decimated by COVID-19 are undertaking a decades-long struggle to win the fair pay, benefits, respect, and working conditions that allow them to provide the quality care their residents deserve. Even after risking (and in many cases giving) their lives, workers are readying for a tooth and nail battle for every single millimeter of progress. 1199ers may be weary, but we are inarguably battle tested—and ready. We will not let management forget that we are indeed the heroes in this fight, and they WILL do what is right. At the same time, the purple army was in the midst of making political history in New York City by helping Maya Wiley win the New York City Mayoral race. Should she win, Maya would be the first woman to hold the city’s highest office. Members are also stepping up in the fight against the poisonous strain of anti-Asian racism that’s currently taken hold in the United States.

As Mother Jones taught us, working people have vast power to fight oppression and make change, and as 1199ers demonstrate, that power comes from unity and standing side by side, which we did through the darkest days of COVID-19 and which we’re continuing to do today. So as we head into the many fights before us, let us keep those lessons and unity in mind, and remember Mother Jones’ famous battle cry: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

1199 Magazine - May / June 2021