Amid a rising tide of worker action across the United States, progressive activist Nina Turner is launching a new operation to financially support working families and striking workers.
On Wednesday, the former Ohio state senator and Bernie Sanders surrogate launched We Are Somebody, an organization geared toward amplifying the work of unions and supporting striking workers, both financially and through organizing efforts. We Are Somebody adds to a steadily growing network of progressive organizations working in and outside of Washington, including labor-oriented outlets like More Perfect Union and Labor Notes and political organizations like Justice Democrats.
“In this country, the battle for workers and everyday people is so immense that you need a variety of organizations to come at the challenge from different angles. And We Are Somebody is a part of that larger coalition to come at this conundrum of inequality from a different angle,” Turner told The Intercept. She describes her new venture as “a capacity-building organization for the working class,” for which she drew inspiration from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights and the nearly two-yearlong Alabama coal miner strike.
The coal workers’ “heroic” sacrifices got her thinking about how to help labor unions sustain such long-term efforts, whether they have a strike fund or not, she said.
Such labor actions have intensified in the past year. Just last week, the Writers Guild of America concluded a historic, 148-day strike after securing a contract with substantial wins for its members, while the United Auto Workers union is almost three weeks into its strike against the Big Three automakers. As of September 15, around 362,000 workers had gone on strike so far in 2023, according to Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations — nearly triple the number of striking workers by the same point last year.
The organization is Turner’s first major move since she ran for Congress in 2022, when she lost a primary contest against incumbent Shontel Brown in the face of massive spending by pro-Israel groups. Turner served as a national co-chair for Sanders’s 2020 campaign and as a surrogate for his 2016 run. After the 2016 race, she became the president of progressive political action group Our Revolution. Prior to her presence on the national stage, Turner worked as a history and women’s studies professor at Cuyahoga Community College for nearly 20 years, serving as a Cleveland City Council member and Ohio state senator during that time.
In a two-minute launch video, Turner speaks about executive pay that has shot up at the expense of workers over the last few decades and points to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s as a framework for marrying the causes of economic, racial, and social justice.
“We got to have those conversations both within unions and outside of unions, that working-class people from all walks of life have to come together and fight for their best interests,” Turner said in an interview.
“And we cannot lose sight of that intersection between class and caste, and it does not diminish fighting for class issues,” she added. “To me, it enhances the fight on the class side to duly note, as a nation, as a coalition of people, that racism, and anti-Blackness, more pointedly, is very much cemented in all the other -isms that we face as a human species.”
Turner said that the organization would be funded by a combination of grassroots and institutional donors and that it would prioritize disbursing money to workers organizing with minimal institutional support, such as Amazon workers.
Beyond its primary goal of supporting striking workers, the organization is also advocating for the passage of three pending congressional bills: the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act; the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would empower private- and public-sector employees to organize; and the For the People Act, a wide-ranging voting rights and government ethics bill.
The organization’s partners include Stuart Appelbaum (president of the 100,000-strong Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union), Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls, former Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, former Ohio Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, and American historian Dr. Harvey Kaye, according to its prospectus.
“There are people also out there doing the work to bring justice to bear,” Turner said. “When you’re bumping up against a machine, a system of this kind of corrupt capitalism or excessive greed, you need all hands on deck.”
Smalls, who led a historic inaugural Amazon union drive in Staten Island, New York, said that the partnership represents deepening class solidarity in the progressive movement. “To the corporate elite bent on denying us fair wages, a dignified retirement, and respect both within and outside the workplace, I say: Know that we are united, vigilant, and determined to end your insatiable corporate greed.”