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In February, hotel workers in over a dozen cities kicked off a nationwide campaign for “lifting one another above the poverty line.” The Hotel Workers Rising campaign aims to win better wages and benefits for the 90,000 hotel workers unionized within UNITE-HERE, and to use these successes as a springboard to unionizing other non-union hotels.

This fall, union contracts are expiring at hundreds of hotels across the country, and this campaign will unify the struggle to win better contracts and bring national attention and pressure to bear on the hotel bosses.

According to the New York Daily News, this campaign “has the potential to be a historic turning point for the labor movement in America…It will be a tremendously important test of organized labor’s ability to become a people’s movement again.”

The hotel industry, once based primarily on local ownership, is now dominated by big corporations. The hotel industry is doing very well, with close-to-record occupancy and room rates in most American cities. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc., which owns Westin, Sheraton, and W, is projected to make $1.3 billion in profit in the next two years.

This is shocking when one considers that unionized hotel workers make only about $26,000 per year – barely enough to survive in most cities. These are the people that take care of the hotel guests, clean the rooms, and create all the profit for the big corporations.

Dina Dickinson, a room attendant at the Logan Airport Hilton for 17 years, said, “I would like to retire, but there is no retirement plan. We should be able to retire after years of service…We can’t have a society where people work hard and don’t make progress.” (boston.indymedia.org).

The majority of hotel workers are women, with a large majority being immigrants and people of color. The combined factors of racism, sexism, and undocumented status make them some of the most exploited workers in the U.S.

“These workers work hard to create a welcoming home away from home for business travelers and tourists. But many are suffering serious physical injuries from the workloads imposed on them …. Severe understaffing coupled with an increase in room amenities like heavier mattresses and linens are hurting these workers.” (hotelworkersrising.org)

Winning this struggle will take the largest possible mobilization of hotel workers and community members. It is crucial that the full power of the rank and file is mobilized through active, democratic involvement. This needs to be linked to bold demands on wages and conditions that can dramatically improve the living conditions of hotel workers.

The fact that so many hotel workers are immigrants shows the importance of linking this campaign with the immigrant rights movement. Immigrant rights groups, community organizations, and other unions should all organize solidarity. Hotel workers must mobilize in their communities through massive educational outreach to all low-paid and immigrant workers. This should explain that the only way forward to win better wages and working conditions is by organizing into unions and bringing our collective power to bear on the bosses.

Some Democratic Party politicians have come out in support of the Hotel Workers Rising campaign. However, both the Republicans and Democrats ultimately serve the interests of big corporations, and cannot be relied upon in any way. The Democrats have done little to fight Bush’s attacks on working people, and when they are in office their record is not much better.

Workers, youth, and immigrants need a political party that will defend us against attacks by big business, and that will fight for living-wage jobs, universal healthcare, and an end to racist attacks on immigrants. A mass workers’ party would provide a powerful weapon for workers to win these demands as well as give a voice to the millions who struggle without one.

If hotel workers are successful in their campaign, it will be a victory for all workers. Stand in solidarity with the hotel workers; their fight is our fight.

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