Day Without Immigrants: The New Workers’ May Day

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

Food Production

The buzz about a Day without Immigrants on May 1, 2017 is growing. Spanish radio is already churning with calls for strikes, rallies and demonstrations on May 1. This movement recalls the giant mobilizations of May 1, 2006 that occurred in response to proposed draconian anti-immigrant federal legislation called the Sensenbrenner Immigration Bill.

May Day has its historic origins in the nineteenth century struggle for the eight-hour day. In many cities on May Day in 2006, the marches and rallies proved to be the largest in history. Industries that relied on immigrant labor were paralyzed as millions of workers responded to the call for a Day without Latinos (also called the Great American Boycott). Labor participated unevenly in these rallies and mostly in places where the membership in service unions was predominately Latino. This year, in the turmoil surrounding the Trump Presidency, May 1 could be a great opportunity for the labor movement to flex its muscles and build its future.

Labor’s participation is important to the future of American politics. For example, look at the history of politics in California. Turn back the clock 23 years to 1994 when then Republican Governor Pete Wilson faced a fierce re-election battle. He launched a “Trump-like” assault on “illegal” immigration replete with videos of masses of Mexicans streaming across the border and threatening California. It was a brazen racist ploy called Proposition 187, introduced to bolster his reelection bid. Union leaders in California faced a critical decision about whether to participate in the massive Los Angeles mobilization against Prop 187.

In a meeting of labor leadership, some union leaders argued that it was important not to participate in the Los Angeles’ May 1 march so as not to alienate “Encino Man” — the Reagan Democrats of the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere. In the midst of a heated discussion, AFL-CIO Regional Director David Sickler made a dramatic plea to Los Angeles’ trade unionists:

“If we don’t march with these Latin workers, we will lose the confidence and trust of whole generation of Latinos.”

Sickler’s argument won the day, and Los Angeles’ labor turned out for the march. That action, and many others, solidified the labor/Latino nexus. In one generation, California went from “Reagan-land” to solid Blue Democratic.

Again the same challenge faces labor, however now it’s on a national scale. And the opportunity for the labor movement is equally huge. Supporting the upcoming May 1 protests, strikes and other actions will clearly demonstrate that unions are ready to be a champion of the rising Latino demographic. Conversely, sitting on the sidelines will mark us as bystanders to racist repression.

Recently building trades labor leaders blindly and naively embraced Trump’s agenda by meeting with him at the White House just days after his inauguration and lauding his commitment to build infrastructure and oil pipelines — but with no commitment to pro-labor codes like prevailing wage or project labor agreements. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka — usually a strong voice for racial justice — recently embraced Trump’s talk of immigration reform after his speech to a joint session of Congress. Again, a major labor leader is blindly and naively playing into Trump’s racist rhetoric. These actions by the building trades and the leader of the AFL-CIO undermine the U.S. labor movement’s need to squarely be on the side of immigrants battling Trump’s racist rhetoric, executive orders and travel bans.

There are many possible levels of participation for labor and unions on May 1. Each union must determine what’s the most appropriate way to participate based on its members needs and consciousness. In California, SEIU’s United Service Workers West, representing over 60,000 janitors, security guards and airport service workers has announced on Facebook its support for a May 1 strike. The United Food and Commercial Workers, representing supermarket workers in Southern California and the hotel workers union (UNITE HERE) are both assessing their actions in California. California is fertile ground for these protests with a sympathetic and supportive political infrastructure and a demographic tidal wave that means that Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in the state — out numbering Anglos 39 to 38 percent.

These calls for strikes may snowball. On the hastily organized February 17 “Day without Immigrants,” tens of thousands of mostly Latin service workers in many cities and towns stayed home (in many cases with the support of their employers). Earlier in February, Comcast employees at the company’s headquarters walked out to march and rally against Trump’s immigration policies. There is no reason not to expect similar dramatic actions on May Day. The social fervor is such that strikes in certain sectors and workplaces are very possible and possible with relative impunity.

With the prospect of large rallies and marches on May 1, some other unions are talking about participating in an organized way — even if it means after work or on off shifts. Just visibly marching with banners and signs in support of immigrant rights would be important and impactful to the thousands of immigrants who will brave deportation to hit the streets. Unions at the national and local level have an opportunity to speak with one voice in defense of immigrants. In specific locations like Los Angeles, these unions and others may hold joint press conferences and public events. Equally important will be actions in the “heartland” where immigrants may feel more politically and organizationally isolated than on the coasts.

Some unions have already begun “Know Your Rights” solidarity trainings to prepare workers for Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) raids that could take place in the community and the workplace. Union halls could become “Sanctuary Sites” for the undocumented. And now is a timely moment for always appreciated contributions of money, materials and office space to immigrant rights groups.

In addition to SEIU’s United Service Workers West, several national political and immigrants’ rights groups are organizing for the May 1 Day Without Immigrants including: Solid (an open-source project offered by Brandworkers), Strike Core, Cosecha, and the Beyond the Moment March.

May 1 is the traditional international day of working class solidarity, a holiday born of the U.S. struggle for the eight-hour day. It can be reclaimed with gusto this year as a focused attack on the anti-immigrant policies of Trump. But more than that, it is a day to cement the alliance between labor and the immigrant working class.

Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the Legacy

Celebrate Labor History

Chavez

“When we are really  honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us.  So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. ..I am convinced that the truest act of courage..is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.”
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

by Duane Campbell

On March 31, 2017, Eleven states and numerous cities will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino leader Cesar Chavez.

Conferences, marches and celebrations will occur in numerous cities and particularly in rural areas of the nation. A recent film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta presents important parts of this union story.

The current UFW leadership, as well as former UFW leaders and current DSA Honorary Chairs Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta are recognized leaders in the ongoing efforts to achieve real  immigration reform in the nation.

UFW President Arturo Rodriquez says, “We urge Republicans to abandon their political games that hurt millions of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants and their families, and help us finish the job by passing legislation such as the comprehensive reform bill that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013,” Rodriguez said. “The UFW will not rest until the President’s deferred relief is enacted and a permanent immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, is signed into law.” http://www.UFW.org

Let us be clear. Chavez was religious, but he was not a saint. Neither were the growers, their Teamster collaborators, nor corporate agribusiness saints. Celebrations should not be about hero worship or uncritical praise, nor should we ignore the present oppression of farm workers in the U.S. Continue reading

Lump of Coal – Unions

There is a fine essay on labor history and the current problems of labor on our Democratic Left blog.  here. http://www.dsausa.org/lump_of_coal_dl

Also see   “How Dwindling Union Power Helped Usher In Trump”

Alan Draper  American Prospect. http://prospect.org/article/how-dwindling-union-power-helped-usher-trump

Donald Trump swept the Rust Belt in part because labor unions are in retreat, a trend that started long before Election Day.

SEIU and the Standing Rock Conflict

SEIU Statement on Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access Pipeline

indiancountrytodayWASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Service Employees International Union issued the following statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux’s efforts to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from disturbing their sacred lands and burial grounds and to avoid the threat of contaminating the Missouri River which provides the Tribes’ drinking water.

“The two million members of SEIU stand beside the Standing River Sioux Tribe in their fight to protect their sacred lands and burial grounds from being dug up if the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is allowed to continue as planned.

“This instance of disregard for the Standing Rock Sioux and the potential impact to their lives and livelihoods from a potentially hazardous crude oil pipeline is unfortunately not an isolated incidence. Over the last three years there have been over 200 known pipeline leaks in the United States. We call on the government to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe immediately and find a solution that will not pose risk to the Tribe, their water sources or their sacred grounds.

“The history, culture and lives of Tribal people, the first Americans, should be respected and protected. SEIU stands with them in assuring that what remains of their precious and sacred lands and resources are not be taken away from them once again.

“Historical disregard for low income communities and communities of color, including those where many SEIU members live and work, has subjected them to toxic air pollution and contaminated waterways for decades. In these communities, asthma and other respiratory ailments caused by toxic air and poisonous toxins such as lead in the water supply, affect our children’s health and ability to thrive. As the nation’s largest healthcare union, we stand with the growing movement of environmental organizations, businesses, students, parents and others demanding cleaner air and water and to address the growing threat of climate change for the health and safety of our families and communities. Continue reading

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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