In a keynote address to 350 on Oct. 12 at Just Harvest’s 22nd Annual Harvest Celebration Dinner, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker cast union support for Just Harvest’s continuing fight against hunger in our region.
Holt Baker thanked Just Harvest for coordinating “programs that help people to deal with the practical demands of relief agencies, while maintaining a focus on the greater social and political contexts.”
“It’s so critical that you combine the three key components of change: advocacy, organizing and service [because] behind every statistic is a person who deserves dignity and respect and a chance to improve his or her life,” she said.
Since 2007, and via a partnership with the Pennsylvania State Department of Welfare, Just Harvest has provided assistance to clients in the complex application process for food stamps.
“Social services can be confusing – or they can seem too remote,” said Holt Baker. She added that many of the recent callers to Just Harvest are new to social programs, “hard-working people who’ve been the victims of this hard economy.”
Those “victims,” she asserted, include public employees and the working poor upon whose backs “busted local budgets are being balanced,” through cuts to programs and services such as the planned public transit layoffs affecting nearly 600 area workers and bus service to 50 neighborhoods.
Holt Baker turned the focus to viable employment as a remedy for poverty and hunger – its prime symptom. Referring to statistics compiled by the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate Working America, she noted that 44 area companies exported jobs in the past few years, and 52 companies enacted layoffs due to trade deals gone sour.
“Here in Pittsburgh, in Allegheny County and across Pennsylvania, we need good jobs! Jobs aren’t the only answer to hunger and poverty, but we are not going to end hunger and poverty without them,” Holt Baker said.
As the recipient of the 2010 George Becker Memorial Award, jointly presented by Just Harvest and United Steel Workers, Holt Baker was one of two of the evening’s honorees.
Joni Rabinowitz, retired founding Director of Public Policy Advocacy for Just Harvest, received the organization’s 2010 Seeds of Change award. She was recognized for her lifetime of service toward the movements for peace, women’s rights, welfare rights, civil liberties, and organized labor.
In her acceptance speech, Rabinowitz highlighted roles in activism for all ages.
“Youth has been at the forefront of every revolution and movement for change,” she said. “Youth has the necessary vision, imagination and idealism – but [the older folks] will need to be up there with the historical perspective, ideas, advice and support.”
Many thanks to all who contributed—the Harvest Celebration Dinner netted over $20,000 for Just Harvest, and was sponsored by the Allegheny County Labor Council, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Community Services, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, First Commonwealth Bank and United Steelworkers.