Thursday, January 19, 2017

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Janine Licausi

Robert Freeman reflects on the life and times of his comrade Janine Licausi.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's Janine and I were both working at the one of the largest and busiest hotels on the West coast.

With over a thousand employees and dozens of departments it was not unusual for people to work in the same place and yet have little or no contact with one another. But by late 1989-into-early-1990 our union was engaged in a heated battle with the Hotel to improve working conditions and wages across the workplace. By the time I would come into the negotiations, mid way through that process, Janine's reputation and persona had already preceded her.

Janine had come from housekeeping, one of the lowest paid, hardest working, and least respected departments of the Hotel. She had been chosen by her co-workers to speak for them and take their demands to hotel management. I can still see her with that stern and determined look standing outside the hotel, clipboard in hand signing up her co-workers for actions, marching outside, using a bull-horn (which she hardly needed) to rally the employees.

As I soon joined in, representing my department, and would have the privilege of working along side her, I would find out that, beyond that stern and determined look was one of the warmest, most generous personalities that someone would ever meet, and with one of the biggest laughs I had ever heard.

I was instantly impressed with Janine's determination, her fearlessness and single minded commitment to the concepts of justice, fairness, and respect that she was demanding for her co workers. She was relentless in this determination and when the contract negotiations came down to the final moments she would not bargain away the rights and gains she had demanded for her coworkers, and, ultimately she would win.

From that point on we were friends and co-activists. And I would learn very quickly that to join in the fight alongside Janine, one had to be prepared to be as single minded and determined. 

We would be on the phone almost every night discussing grievances and trying to resolve disputes. We would be at every meeting, every action, so many marches and demonstrations, whether for the members of our union, or to show solidarity with other unions, that I would sometimes need to ask, "Exactly who we were marching for today?"

Her uncompromising dedication to "do the right thing" would lead us to join in a movement to reform and bring democracy to the Union itself. And even though, by that time, she had been hired to work for the Union as a full time staff member, she did not hesitate to take on this battle which may have cost her the job she loved.

Once again, as friends and activists we found ourselves now leading a major Union, and making every effort to bring democracy and reform to that union for the benefit of its members. 

Once again, Janine was tireless in helping to lead the effort to involve the members and to help them fight their battles. 

Over a period of several years she dedicated herself to this end. But as often happens when activists become administrators, she and I would find ourselves at odds over tactics and direction. Janine would prove as formidable as opponent as she had been an ally. Even as we stood toe to toe in fierce opposition, both of us dedicated to our own take on the divisions between us, we still could find a moment to sneak away and have a cigarette, and I would get to hear that great big laugh of hers. 

I will always regret that we parted ways at that time, and for many years had no contact. 

And I will always treasure that when we did meet up again it was as friends, having been through the wars, who could now sit, have dinner, go to a movie and reminisce.

Of course it came as no surprise that as she had now gone on to work for Cal State Long Beach she was a major force in leading the workers there. Worker’s Rights was a cause she would take up until the very moment she became too ill go further.   

Throughout the years I have had the privilege to be friends with Janine, to be an ally with her in the all the struggles and campaigns, she would often battle very serious and disabling illnesses. Yet through it all she would continue to offer help to anyone and everyone around her, often to the detriment of her own health.

I can think of no single example of her spirit that speaks to her kindness and caring as when about 10 years ago she had become very gravely ill, Janine would keep me posted by email on her condition as she was unable to speak or receive visitors. In the meantime I had fallen and broken my arm, a minor inconvenience in comparison. One day the phone rang and for the first time in weeks I heard Janine's voice. The very first question she would ask from her hospital bed would be "What can I do for you?"

For me, and for countless others this was Janine. Caring, big hearted, fiercely devoted to her family and her friends and the ideals she believed in.

She asked for nothing in return except loyalty, because she was loyal; honesty , because she was honest; hard work because she was hardworking; dedication, because she was dedicated, and that we fight as hard as she did for the rights of others. To anyone of us who look for an example as to what it means to be the best person you can be, we can look to Janine. 

Janine did not live her life out on the larger stage that so many of the activists whom she admired did. She was not famous and she received no great accolades from world leaders. But in our world, she was famous, and in our hearts she has achieved the highest respect and recognition. We will not forget her, because we cannot. 

To Jeanie, Frank, Doreen, and Victor, she loved you with all her heart, and she loved you with as much devotion as she did the ideals you imparted to her. From her friends and for all those whose lives she impacted, and they are too many to name, we thank you for raising such a wonderful human being. I can think of no better way to close than to paraphrase the old Union song .. because Janine, you can truly sing this: 

"This little light of mine .. Man, did I let it shine."

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