Living Legacies: Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta

By Ken Burt

Seventy-seven years ago, in March 1939, Juan Fabian Fernandez of New Mexico opened a session of El Congreso de los Pueblos Mexicanos e Hispanos Americano de los Estados Unidos (National Congress of the Mexican and Spanish-Speaking Peoples of the United States) in downtown Los Angeles. He stood out as the only Latino state legislator present, but he was not the only politico there. Seeking to bring the New Deal to California, Latinos, labor and the left had banded together the previous year to elect a slate of progressives, led by California Governor Culbert Olson.
Members of El Congreso cheered when the new lieutenant governor, Ellis Patterson, addressed them: “I pledge to you that President Roosevelt and the present administration in California is sincerely fighting to bring real democracy into being!”
Author and Olson administration official Carey McWilliams also spoke about the anti-immigrant bills in Congress, then being championed by representatives from the segregated Deep South. Elements of this California New Deal coalition clearly supported El Congreso. Sponsors included actor Melvyn Douglas and his wife Helen Gahagan Douglas, a future California Congresswoman.
Politics in California, then as now, was to the left of New Mexico’s. However, voters in New Mexico had done a much better job of electing Spanish-speaking elected officials, beginning with Dennis Chavez, who was then serving in the U.S. Senate. Continue reading

Texas Farm Workers March for Justice – 1966

In Southern Texas in 1966, the UFW supported the fruit workers strike in Starr County, Texas, and this led a march to the capitol in Austin, in support of UFW farm workers’ rights. Starr County farm workers who had led the strike in the melon fields in the summer of 1966, and marched 400 miles beginning on July 4 from the Rio Grande City in Texas, to Austin, arriving at the Capitol on Labor Day 1966. When they arrived, 10,000 people joined them to walk the last 4 miles from St. Edward’s University to the Capitol. Their struggle for economic justice sparked the Chicano movement in Texas. Governor John Connally refused to welcome them to Austin and denied their request for minimum wage.

The 1966 historical event should therefore be remembered, commemorated, and celebrated. This event laid the foundation in the fight for justice that continues today in the struggles for a living wage, for immigrant rights, for civil rights and for environmental justice. The marchers walked from the valley in Texas to the state capitol in Austin, seeking a livable wage for agricultural laborers. The marchers stayed at St. Edward’s University the last night of their journey. On the next day, September 5, Labor Day, they joined thousands of supporters for the final march down Congress Avenue to the capitol. Continue reading

Labor Day and Farm Workers

Arturo

Arturo Rodriguez,
This Labor Day the American worker has reason to be optimistic.

While a few short years ago a $15 minimum wage seemed like a moonshot, today municipalities and states across the country are standing with workers and adopting a minimum wage that will ultimately lift 35 million hard-working American families out of poverty.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration expanded overtime pay protections to more than 4 million working Americans.

And in California we are on the cusp on progress that builds on what the President has accomplished and paves the way for reforms that have the potential to put millions of working Americans on a pathway to the middle class.

Last week, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.

Right now – in 2016 – a Jim Crow-era federal law excludes professions like farm workers, maids and domestic workers from overtime. Professions almost exclusively held by people of color. The fact that 78 years later that law is still on the books, prohibiting farm workers from earning a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, is reprehensible.

In 1938, it was passed to discriminate against people of color and all these years later it still discriminates, now predominately against Latino farm workers.

While we haven’t been able to change that law on the federal level due to Congressional inaction, states have the right to expand benefits. After decades of fighting to correct this injustice, we are close to righting an historic wrong.

The bill sponsored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that recently passed would gradually raise overtime pay for farm workers, requiring time-and-a-half for more than 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week. Farm workers who work more than 12 hours a day would get double pay.

It means a hard working mother or father who rises before dawn in the summer heat or on a freezing winter’s day and gets home well after the kids are asleep will finally get the pay they deserve but have been denied.

This isn’t controversial – it’s just fair.

The legislation didn’t pass on its own. Hillary Clinton was the first national leader to advocate for the change, Obama Administration officials, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have stood with us, as has Senator Dianne Feinstein and a diverse coalition of labor, immigrant, civil rights and social organizations.

Now the only remaining hurdle we have to clear to level the playing field for farm workers is Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. Ed. note; Governor Brown signed the bill on September 12.

If we can do it in California – the largest agriculture producer in the nation and the state that produces more than half of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts- it would be the latest example of the Golden State leading the nation in workers’ rights. It will yet again be a model for other states to follow.

Today, I’m proud to see our efforts bear fruit. As we celebrate Labor Day, farm workers in California rejoice the passing of this historic legislation. We’re almost there.

Together, we will continue to fight alongside our brothers and sisters as we work to open up a path to the middle class for farm workers and their families.

Follow Arturo S. Rodríguez on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ufwupdates
President, UFW.
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Kent State: Review of a New History by a Participant in the Struggle

by Paul Garver

grace on kent state

Thomas Grace.  Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.  Univ. of Massachusetts Press, Amherst and Boston, 2016, 384pp.

Tom Grace was one of the nine Kent State University students seriously wounded by a fusillade of gunshots from the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, when he joined a student rally after leaving his university classroom.

Four other students were killed, two of whom were not even attending the protest rally.

In the aftermath of the shooting, numerous student leaders were prosecuted and imprisoned.  None of the officers who had issued order for the guardsmen to fire and even themselves joined in the shooting were ever prosecuted for their arguably criminal actions.

More than forty years later Tom Grace authored this temperate, well considered, and thoroughly researched history of the Kent State struggle.  It is  much more than a personal memoir.   A succinct account of how he came to be shot on that day is included in a prologue and in sidebars to the description of the day of the shootings, but this is not why he wrote this history.

Grace writes with commitment or passion, but with remarkable equanimity.  Neither he nor his fellow student activists appear as victims, but rather as combatants in a desperate struggle.  Their adversaries are not portrayed as villains, but as combatants on the other side with their own views and goals.

Tom Grace conducted interviews with some 47 Ohio student activists, meticulously scoured the campus and local newspapers, and placed their stories in the context of the national student antiwar movement.   He also compiled portraits of dozens of individual national guardsmen and officers involved in the shooting, drawing on records of their testimony before various investigative panels and tribunals.

Eighty pages of endnotes show how thoroughly Grace pored over the decades of local activist struggle and repression, while firmly situating it in the history of the national antiwar movement and its organizational structures.

The result of Grace’s study is a systematic deconstruction of many media-generated myths that were immediately projected onto the Kent State shootings and persist as a battle over the memory and meaning of May 4 that continues to the present day.  The events were not a tragic anomaly but were grounded in a tradition of student political activism that extended back to Ohio’s labor battles of the 1950s and to a decade of antiwar and black liberation struggles in the nation and on the campus itself.

As a public university in the American heartland, far from the coastal epicenters often associated with the 1960s movement,  Kent State proves in Grace’s account to be a microcosm of the national student antiwar movement of the “long sixties.”

The expansion of the university after World War II brought in growing numbers of working-class students from the industrial centers of northeast Ohio. Most of the Kent State activists  retained many of the core labor and New Deal values of their parents, despite disagreements about the Vietnam War.  They came from the same generational cohort as the American combat forces in Vietnam and the Ohio national guardsmen.

As the war’s rising costs came to be felt acutely in the home communities of Kent’s students, the growing antiwar movement on campus faced repression from the university administration and the political conservatives who dominated Portage County and the Ohio state government.

The deadly effort to suppress antiwar activism by gunfire on the campus was a logical stage of the cycle of radicalization and repression that began earlier in the 1960s and continued  well into the 1970s at Kent State. In the years that followed the shootings, contrary to myth, the antiwar movement continued to strengthen on campus, bolstered by an influx of returning Vietnam veterans.

One of the most original and useful features of this history  Grace provides us are updates on the life histories of the Kent State activists he studied. The vast majority of Kent State New Left activists remained actively committed to the social causes of their movement and incorporated these into their future life paths and careers.

Being somewhat older member of the same New Left generation as Thomas Grace, I appreciate how his detailed history focused on Kent State brings alive our shared history while demolishing many of the distortions perpetrated upon it.  It is no accident that many from our activist generation are helping to organize the Sanders democratic socialist candidacy that is proving attractive to  young people today.

Thomas M. Grace is adjunct professor of history at Erie Community College. A 1972 graduate of Kent State University, he earned a PhD in history from SUNY Buffalo after many years as a social worker and union representative.

 

 

Labor Movement’s May Day Promise

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1MAY06 -  Copyright David Bacon

LOS ANGELES, CA – 1MAY06 –
Copyright David Bacon

Erica Smiley May 1, 2016
The American Prospect

Some cast the labor movement as dying or even dead, but even amid attacks on collective bargaining workers are finding innovative ways to organize.

General view of the great crowds of organized and unorganized workers who took part in the May Day demonstration in Union Square, New York, May 1, 1929. , AP,

On May 1, 1886, hundreds of thousands of railroad, mine, and factory workers in the United States put their livelihoods on the line and participated in a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. They were attacked by strikebreakers and police, but their uprising led to the creation of a holiday to honor workers—May Day—now known as International Workers Memorial Day in many countries around the world. Continue reading

Several Large NY Unions Stop Funding Working Families Party

Big N.Y. Unions Stop Funding Working Families Party — a Backer of Bernie Sanders

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-big-n-y-unions-stop-funding-working-families-party-article-1.2604723
Kenneth Lovett, Daily News

The Working Families Party, which is supporting Bernie Sanders for president, has lost the financial backing of several of the state’s biggest unions.

The rifts mostly began in 2014 over disagreements regarding Gov. Cuomo’s reelection and have continued through this year’s presidential primaries. Most of the state’s big unions are supporting Hillary Clinton.

“There were breaks that happened in the relationship between the unions and the WFP that still have not been repaired,” said one Democratic activist.

Many of the unions kept their disinvestment from the Working Families Party quiet for more than a year.

The powerful Service Employees International Union Local 1199 withdrew its funding and membership in late 2014. Continue reading

Verizon and Sanders: Bernie’s Remarks

iowa-berniesander_600x400Bernie Sanders for President
Yesterday the CEO of Verizon said that I was “contemptible.” He doesn’t like that yesterday I walked the picket line with striking Verizon workers, or that I think Verizon needs to pay its fair share in taxes.

Verizon’s attack reminded me of what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in New York City in 1936:

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Like FDR, I welcome the contempt of Verizon’s CEO. I welcome the hatred and contempt of every Wall Street banker, hedge fund manager, pharmaceutical lobbyist and fracking executive trying to stop our campaign.