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Boyle Fellow Blog: Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast 2023

*Authored by the Labor Guild’s 2023 Boyle Fellow, Bruce Tran*

On September 1st, 2023, I attended the Labor Day breakfast event at the Boston Park Plaza. I had arrived early expecting it to be crowded and busy with security checks as there were to be many attendees who were powerful politicians. To my surprise, there were none of those things. I had the freedom to just wander around and observe the hotel staff workers perform their duties in preparation for the event an hour later. People were busy bussing around food, drinks, cutlery at breakneck speed to make sure everything goes as planned.

As the attendees started showing up, I met up with Labor Guild President Lisa Field to gather the flyers for the Labor Guild fall semester courses to distribute to all the tables that the attendees would be sitting at. To my surprise, I ran out of flyers after placing them on half of the tables in the room. Still, it was not a cause for concern, Lisa had told me not to worry about that and that let me focus on the intent of my attendance at the event.

I went around speaking to people who were not preoccupied with other guests. Here I further experienced the extent of influence that the Labor Guild’s courses have when I ran into a few more students from the spring semester classes that I had assisted in running. Of course, this being at 7:30 am meant that I had embarrassingly not recognized them at first since I was half awake, on “auto-pilot” as it were and had not yet partaken in drinking the free coffee offered in the room. After the reminder that they were in the Drafting Contract Language class proctored by Arbitrator Michael Loconto, I briefly made small talk before the event speakers made their way to the podium at the front of the room. As I made my way to my seat with the awesome members of IBEW 104 at table 58, the first speakers were various students from different schools and legislative aides that went up to discuss their experiences and their current progress of unionizing. The mantra of the SAG-AFTRA strikes came up again in this event: “When we fight, we win” a speaker chanted.

These speakers were around my age: millennials or younger (Gen Z and Gen Alpha). Despite the generational divide between the younger and the older group when it comes to socioeconomic factors, I could not help but feel a slight bit of pride as an individual to know that the new generation and my own have an overwhelmingly popular support and empathy for unions and other workers and laborers making ends meet. I quickly shoved those feelings aside to focus on the speaker, who by this point was former Massachusetts state senator and AFL-CIO president Steve Tolman. He spoke of the accomplishments of the labor movement and his own involvement of which I was not aware of in my previous meetings with him. As it turns out, he would be retiring from his position as AFL-CIO president to “make way for the next generation” as he put it, younger generations that are more in tune and are directly affected by labor politics.

He was followed by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who made speeches about Boston’s support for unions and striking workers and actors. Clearly showing staunch support for them and their fight against being replaced by artificial intelligence or A.I. “It’s about wages but it’s also about the future of work and whether computers steal your work and get away with it,” Senator Warren said. As I reflect on those words, I was reminded of how written books made by A.I are being published under writers’ names despite having no affiliation with them. Thus, they did not get any royalties for those books, but they also come under scrutiny for whatever was published in their name. By this point, I was thinking to myself not only is A.I affecting people’s livelihood but also can be used for the already problematic issue of identity theft. So, what can be done about the role of A.I and their relationship with people who use and interact with them? A rule of ethics for A.I use and integration into society is needed. So, I was drawn to the ideas of the three laws of robotics that pop up in science fiction works with influences of science fiction writer Issac Asimov. Those laws are:

The First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

The Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

The Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence if it does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Of course, I believe that these theoretical laws should be updated to reflect the material conditions of modern society and the people’s needs. What that would be could also change in the future based on social norms and values. But I digress, with my mind coming back to the event, I listened to Darlene Lombos of the Greater Boston Labor Council’s words. “We are on the rise with strikes happening all across the country and even here in Boston, so we wanted to show our solidarity. That is what the labor movement is really all about,” she said. Boston City Councilor Erin Murphy was also at the breakfast event. “It’s about supporting each other and showing up and rallying when we need to raise our voices, so I think it is important to be here today,” said Darlene Lombos.

Indeed, while I was there for my job as a Boyle Fellow for the Labor Guild, I was also interested in its implications it can have on industries that have labor unions as various strikes continue to pop up over the United States in the last few years. The symbolism of having this event on Labor Day was not by chance. With the interests in and support of unions by the American workforce increasing by the day due to economic problems since the 2008 recessions, management will be hard pressed to find a balance between appeasing and supporting their workers while making a larger return in profits, especially if people cannot buy their products if they cannot afford them due to stagnation of wages versus inflation.

“My friends it is solidarity we want. We do not want to find faults with each other but solidify our forces and say to each other: We must be together; our masters are joining together, and we must do the same thing.” -Mother Jones

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