The Miami Workers Center (MWC) was founded in Liberty City in 1999 by former labor organizers Gihan Perera and Tony Romano and residents from the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami. Building on contacts from labor organizing Gihan and Tony decided to investigate how people were dealing with exploitation not just on the job but in the community.
After initially organizing members around welfare reform, public housing residents demanded the MWC take on the issue of saving public housing from demolition. The MWC organized residents of Scott-Carver Homes and Liberty Square, also known as the Pork 'n Beans, to fight against attempts by Miami-Dade County to demolish the two public housing complexes and replace them with 'mixed income' housing. While we were not able to save Scott-Carver homes, our long term campaign successfully prevented the demolition of Liberty Square and the displacement of residents.
The efforts at Scott-Carver and Liberty Square were powerful campaigns that brought to the fore numerous women into positions of community leadership. Following those campaigns the Workers Center attempted to expand our scope organizing across different communities and sectors. While there were some significant moments, overall the campaigns did not carry the same weight as the previous housing efforts and the MWC lost its identity. There was a difficult period of transition, including a lack of adequate funding and vision for the organization that demanded a full re-evaluation of the contributions of the MWC to the social justice movement in general and to South Florida in particular.
The MWC engaged in a year long strategic planning process that revealed some hard truths and, in the process, lit the way forward.
Even though most of the organization's members and leaders were women, we continued to frame our work strictly in terms of race or class. The strategic planning process helped us recognize the centrality of gender in each of the struggles we took on- housing, child care, community recreation, immigration, etc. With Marcia Olivo leading the strategic planning process, members and staff made the decision to build on the legacy of women leaders and intentionally deploy a gender lense to the issues of racial and economic justice.
Heads of households in public housing are disproportionately women. Childcare providers and customers are primarily women. Domestic workers are overwhelmingly women. The list goes on.
The use of a gender lense was formalized in 2016 with the Femme Agenda, a conference for women, girls and femmes to deepen their understanding of the feminization of poverty and to craft a program to end the way poverty disproportionately impacts women. The result is the Femme Agenda, a framework for understanding a way to end the feminization of poverty, along with campaigns and program.
With the new found vision and focus, Marcia Olivo rebuilt the MWC staff from the ground up, identified funding sources and began the process of rebuilding membership and the power center of the organization. The MWC began organizing domestic workers, refocused the housing campaign, began fighting for access to healthcare for all, centering the experiences of women and launched the Power Leadership Institute to provide political education and leadership development for the next generation of Femme Leaders.
Today, the Miami Workers Center is back to building powerful campaigns that impact the lives of low-income Black and brown women, girls and femmes.