What does the struggle for economic justice look like? Beyond the op-eds and talking heads, politicians decrying poverty while promising jobs and making giveaways to wealthy donors, what does the struggle look like on the ground?
“The Hand That Feeds” provides a glimpse. Following a group of low-wage, mostly undocumented workers at an Upper East Side fast food restaurant, we learn of their working conditions, their family situations, what brought them to New York, and why they stay. We learn of wage theft, unpaid overtime, harassment by managers, and workplace injuries.
We also get a look at what it means to fight back. Supported by the Laundry Workers Center, the workers at Hot and Crusty begin to organize. The meet to share their struggles, strategize together, and make demands for fair and better treatment. The campaign goes on for 11 months, with 2 months spent on a picket line.
What does the struggle for economic justice look like? It looks like community support. Early in the film, the workers connect with the Laundry Workers Center and activists from Occupy Wall Street. They spend hours flyering in front of the store and in the neighborhood, meeting new supporters and confronting opponents. The workers at Hot and Crusty lead the way, but they have allies behind them.
Sometimes the struggle looks like subversion and disappointment. When the Hot and Crusty workers win their drive to form a union, they are promptly informed by the owners that the store will close. Even if we’re to take the owners at their word (and there are plenty of good reasons we shouldn’t) – they are exposing the fundamental brokenness of our economic system. They are admitting that it is impossible to run a business and treat workers fairly at the same time. They reveal the ways our system depends on exploitation and oppression of marginalized people.
But sometimes the struggle is worth it. Sometimes the struggle looks like winning. The Hot and Crusty workers are able to find another owner who is willing to work with the union. The struggle can look like people who have recognized and stepped into their dignity and worth, and organized to assert their power to end their exploitation.
These struggles are happening all around us. From fast food to farmwork, cab drivers to airplane engineers, people are pushing back against the forces that oppress them, and challenging the inequality that is inherent in our system. The church has a role to play in these struggles, but we need a clear vision in order to move forward.
The FOCUS Churches of Albany will be screening “The Hand That Feeds” on October 26th, 6pm at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State St in Albany. Free, with a requested $5 donation to support local striking fast-food workers. The film is in English and Spanish with dual subtitles. Childcare will be provided, and after the film we’ll have a conversation about the Fight for $15 in the Capital Region, and the ways we can all be involved. We hope you’ll join us!
You can find the details for this film screening on the Albany Presbytery Calendar: The Hand That Feeds Film
Joe Paparone is an organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS, and the advocacy coordinator with the FOCUS Churches of Albany. He wants to talk to your congregation about justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org