Economic Justice Is Racial Justice

September 2023
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Q&A with Mikayla Vu (Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance)

Today is Labor Day — a time meant to honor the achievements and contributions of American workers. While it’s been more than 140 years since the first celebration in New York City, the labor movement for fair wages, safe working conditions, and union rights continues to this day. 

As a coalition dedicated to ending anti-Asian racism and discrimination, Stop AAPI Hate recognizes the critical role of the labor movement in advancing racial justice. The connection between racial justice and economic justice is apparent in so many issues facing our communities — from the gentrification of Chinatowns, to the acute economic inequalities facing Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities, to discriminatory home ownership bans impacting Chinese and other immigrants today.

In recognition of Labor Day, we sat down with Mikayla Vu, the National Secretary at the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and proud member of UAW Region 9A in Massachusetts. We discussed the significance of the labor movement as well as the connection between workers’ rights and the fight for racial justice.

Keep scrolling for our full conversation and download APALA’s must-read labor toolkit on anti-Asian racism, which includes resources and guidelines for workers, union leaders, and more.

As someone who has been a union member and worked in the workers’ rights space for eight years, what does Labor Day mean to you? 

Mikayla: To me, Labor Day is a celebration of workers, past and present, who have been fighting to improve their lives for themselves, their families and for other workers. Workers and unions have built our country and have secured so many of the rights we take for granted. I think Labor Day is such a powerful opportunity to reflect and celebrate some incredible victories in the labor movement happening today. 

“Workers and unions have built our country and have secured so many of the rights we take for granted.”

Mikayla Vu

How does the fight for workers’ rights intersect with the fight for racial justice? 

Mikayla: These fights are so deeply interconnected and intertwined. We cannot achieve economic justice without racial justice. The model-minority myth and anti-Blackness within our AAPI communities are tools of white supremacy that are intended to divide workers on the basis of race. The power of labor organizing is that workers can come together and build coalitions across race to fight against systemic racism and to fight for economic justice. 

What are some impactful initiatives APALA members have driven and what did they accomplish? 

Mikayla: One impactful initiative by APALA members has been APALA’s Organizing Institutes (OI). Through these Organizing Institutes APALA has trained hundreds of AAPI workers on how to organize in their workplaces. This last year, APALA’s Young Leaders Council held an OI for  young workers 35 years old and under, and we had over 20 young AAPI workers coming together to learn how to organize. We have also partnered with worker centers and AAPI community organizations to hold these OIs. APALA members who have attended an OI have gone on to organize their workplace and become union organizers. 

“We cannot achieve economic justice without racial justice.”

Mikayla Vu

What do workers have to gain from joining a union and/or an organization like APALA? 

Mikayla: I encourage all workers to join a union. By joining a union, you can fight for respect, fairness and dignity in your work and have a real voice in your working conditions and benefits through collective bargaining. Workers who join APALA are able to find a community of AAPI workers who want to help AAPI workers organize, grow their unions, and fight for justice for all workers. 

What makes you feel hopeful about the future of labor organizing across AAPI communities? 

Mikayla: I am hopeful because I see so many AAPI workers from different generations and in different sectors joining together with their coworkers to improve their lives and their working conditions. I have met so many inspiring AAPI workers and union leaders through APALA and I hope that APALA can help support this wave of AAPI workers unionizing.