Advancing Economic Equity through Community Power

October 19, 2023

People power is one of the most effective tools low-wage workers have in the face of stagnating wages, increasing rents and a crushing cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Worker activism is not new for the City of Angels. Los Angeles has a history of major wins for disenfranchised workers, including the historic El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case of 1995. This case was led by garment workers trafficked from Thailand like Rotchana Sussman who worked around the clock and slept in a crowded sweatshop surrounded by barbed wire and paved the path to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).

The first recognized case of modern-day slavery made LA a global beacon of worker activism and those holding the beacon were workers and the nonprofits championing them, such as the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC), the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA). The Thai CDC has opened the nation’s first Thai Worker Center, 28 years following the anniversary of this historic case, to ensure that workers like Rotchana have a place to receive culturally responsive services.

“The Thai Worker Center will be the catalyst for expanded economic opportunity for the Thai community and beyond that would greatly increase the success and impact of all our other community development schemes while advancing the regional, national, and global struggle for immigrant and human rights”, says Chanchanit Martorell who is the Founder & Executive Director of the Thai Worker Center. “It will affirm the reality that innovative and radical approaches to alleviating poverty cannot substitute the impact of an empowered citizenry organized to demand equality and economic justice.”

Community and worker-centered nonprofits like these and our other grantee partners have built an ecosystem of worker organizing, activism and advocacy in LA. This powerful ecosystem, while far less resourced than corporate power, has braved numerous recessions and a global pandemic to continue fighting for the welfare of low-wage workers. Alongside these community partners, the California Community Foundation (CCF) has committed to advancing the economic opportunities and mobility of low-wage workers and micro-entrepreneurs in disinvested communities through racial equity-centered funding, advocacy, convening and power-building. To learn more about CCF’s Economic Opportunity work, please contact Maria Cabildo, Housing & Economic Opportunity Director, at mcabildo@calfund.org.

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