Asian Americans and the Labor Movement

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By MAF MISBAH UDDIN
May is Asian Heritage Month, an opportunity to reflect upon Asian Americans’ growing contributions to the nation’s economy, politics, culture and the labor movement.

The continent of Asia comprises 48 countries, including parts of Russia and Turkey, and it extends to Europe with a 4.4 billion population, or nearly two thirds of the world’s population.

The 17 million people from Asia who call their home America are known as Asian American Pacific Islanders. AAPIs have made their way to the United States to pursue a better life, as have millions of other immigrants.

Asian American Pacific Islanders have become an important voting bloc as we have become more active.

In some states, including Nevada, Michigan and New York, Asian Americans constitute more than 5 percent of the voting population. This is a substantial number of voters, and they are large enough to make up the swing vote in local, state and national elections. Non-Asian politicians recognize the community’s political clout.

More than 600,000 Asian Americans are union members. Our participation as rank-and-filers has increased as the AAPI presence in the workforce has grown from one in 40 workers in 1989 to one in 20 in 2009.

Labor and other activists recognize AAPIs’ sincere and dedicated volunteerism across the labor movement, which has significantly improved the lives of Asian Americans. Unionized Asian American Pacific Islanders earn nearly 15 percent more than their non-union counterparts, and they are more likely to have a retirement plan and health insurance.

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Today there are several labor and community-based political organizations that are strengthening Asian American voters.

These organizations include the AFL-CIO’s constituency group the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the Alliance of South Asian American Labor (ASAAL), which is based in New York City.

ASAAL has had a tremendous impact on local politics by registering new voters, pushing for ballots in Asian languages, helping the campaigns of sympathetic politicians, lending support to the organizing drive of taxi drivers and supporting human rights and workplace protections in Bangladesh, where many factory workers have perished in factory fires.

Asian Heritage Month is also a time to be proud of the huge impact that the Asian Diaspora has had in the field of business in the United States.

Many small businesses in cities all across America are owned and run by Asians. In some cases, Asian American Pacific Islanders account for more than 50 percent of the workforce, especially in the medical, academic and scientific fields.

In the fields of music, art, writing, and acting, the role of the Asian Diaspora has also been great. Musicians like Yo Yo Ma, actors like George Takei, and writers like Deepak Chopra have shaped the country’s creative landscape.

In the future, as their children grow up and immigration continues, Asian Americans will surely contribute even more to science, research, business, the arts, sports, entertainment, and the labor movement. Join us in celebrating Asian American Pacific Islanders’ contributions during Asian Heritage Month and throughout the year.

On Friday, May 20, the DC 37 Asian Heritage Committee will host an event celebrating Asian Heritage Month, at DC 37 union headquarters in lower Manhattan.

DC 37 Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin is the president of Local 1407. He is also the president and a founder of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor. He serves on the Asian Pacific American Alliance’s executive board representing DC 37’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

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