Answer: Frank J. Weber

820fb2d7-76ec-47a6-a9fb-897bfc2a8cbeANSWER TO QUIZ IN AUG. 2017 NEWSLETTER:

Frank J. Weber (August 7, 1849 – February 4, 1942) was well-known and effective as both a labor leader and Wisconsin politician.

After leaving school, he completed an apprenticeship and became an able seaman working on ships that sailed the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean.  In 1869, he joined the Lake Seamen’s Union and soon became active in the Knights of Labor.  Weber helped to organize the Milwaukee Federated Trades Council in 1887, becoming its secretary in 1902, holding the position until in retirement in 1934.  He was effective as a labor organizer and in 1888 organized the ship cargo handlers (later the International Longshoreman’s Union) and the Carpenters’ Union in Milwaukee.

He became the first president of the Wisconsin State Federation of Labor in 1893, refusing to accept the title of President, preferring to be known as General Organizer.  He held the office until 1917, during which time he sought to align the state unions with the goals and principles of the Social Democratic Party.

His political career was also notable, having served five nonconsecutive terms from 1906 to 1926 as a State Assemblyman from Milwaukee, helping to pass a number of progressive laws.  He was instrumental in putting together a coalition of Socialists and members of the Republican Progressives of Robert LaFollette to pass legislation developed with John R. Commons of the University of Wisconsin to establish the Wisconsin Industrial Commission, the nation’s first lasting workmen’s compensation law, a state system of vocational education and other actions that favored working families.

In his retirement, he continued to lobby for labor.  At his death in 1943, he was known as “the grand old man of Wisconsin labor.”

  • By Ken Germanson

Clarence Darrow

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How Well Do You Know Your Labor History?

ANSWER to identity of person in QUIZ in July 2017 online edition of Wisconsin Labor History Society newsletter:

Who was this man?

He kept three labor union leaders out of jail after they were charged with conspiracy after an 1898 strike in Oshkosh. He argued on behalf of science in the “Trial of the Century” in 1920. He had a lifetime of support for workers and the down-trodden.

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Clarence Darrow

ANSWER

Clarence Darrow (April 18, 1857 – March 13, 1938)

Often considered one of the nation’s first “labor lawyers,” Darrow was also one of the nation’s highest profile defense attorneys. His career began as a corporate lawyer for the old Chicago & Northwestern Railroad that served much of Wisconsin. It was then he found greater sympathy with the workers in the 1894 Pullman Strike, and he quit the railroad firm to defend Eugene V. Debs, the head of the American Railway Union who led the strike and had been charged with contempt of court for his actions in the strike.

After a ten-week strike in 1898 by workers at the major millwork shops in Oshkosh, Darrow came into that city to defend three strike leaders who had been charged with “conspiracy,” a typical tactic of management in that era to stifle union organizing and strikes. Darrow’s daylong eloquent final statement was credited with acquittal of the three.

In 1905, Darrow defended “Big Bill” Haywood, the leader of the Industrial Workers of the World and the militant Western Federation of Miners, against the charge of murdering former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg during the days of organizing miners in the mountain states. Haywood was acquitted.

Darrow also played a controversial role in the 1912 trial of John and James McNamara, Irish trade unionists who were active in organizing efforts of the Ironworkers Union. They had been charged with the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910 that killed at least 20 persons (the exact number has never been verified). Trade unionists throughout the world, including the leaders of the American Federation of Labor, rallied to the cause of the McNamara brothers, claiming they had been railroaded because of their union activity. Darrow was hired to come to their defense, but when he learned that the evidence against them was too convincing he urged a plea bargain that saved their lives by avoiding execution in favor of life imprisonment. Many supporters of the McNamaras accused Darrow of selling out; to this day, some believe the brothers were innocent scapegoats. (For a complete summary of this incident, go to https://revolvy.com/topic/McNamara%20brothers&item_type=topic.)

Perhaps the trial that brought Darrow the greatest renown was when he defended John T. Scopes, a public high-school teacher accused of teaching evolutionary theory in violation of Tennessee state law. Owing to simmering national controversy over the origins of homo sapiens, the trial attracted widespread notoriety. The prosecuting attorney was William Jennings Bryan, onetime friend and Democratic presidential candidate who believed strongly in literal translations of the Bible. While Darrow was credited with outshining Bryan at the trial, Scopes lost.

Darrow was also in the national spotlight in the famous 1924 trial of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, two college students who killed a 14-year-old boy for the “thrill of it.” Darrow’s two-hour defense summary was credited with persuading the jury to spare the lives of the two in exchange for life imprisonment.

COFFEE CHATTER: Convincing Albert about labor history

(Imaging a possible conversation between friends.  More conversations to follow)

I ran into my always skeptical friend, Albert, the other morning.  A bunch of old guys like myself gather most mornings in a back corner of the neighborhood burger joint (you know, the one with the arches).

Albert (he wanted to be ‘Albert,’ never just plain ‘Al’) was seated next to me on the bench.  While the other guys argued about how badly our Brewers would do in the National League this year, Albert chose to chide me about my big obsession: labor history.

“See you got you big shindig next Saturday, that labor history group of yours.*  Seems like a waste of time to me,” he said.  There was a distinct derisive tone in the question.  I knew he was baiting me.

“I like history, so what?” I answered, hoping he’d go away.

“Hell, unions are just about dead anyway.  What good is studying their history doing?”

“Unions are not dead, Albert,” I said emphatically.  “And history can tell us lots about how unions can bounce back.”

“You’re dreaming, Kenny,” he said, laughing.

“Unions have been facing times like these in the past, and they came back bigger and stronger than ever,” I argued.

“Hah!” he laughed, so loud that the rest of the guys stopped talking baseball and turned their ears toward us.

“Albert, you better not wish the unions would die,” piped up Jorge Jimenez, who retired recently after 30 years as a city sanitation crew worker.  “Just ‘cause you work in that nonunion shop, doesn’t mean that you didn’t benefit from my union or Kenny’s or Charlie’s here.  You only got raises when we did, and how are you doing now?”

Albert looked at Jorge for minute, considering how to answer.  “I’m doing OK.  Mr. Hollingsworth looks after us.”

“I bet,” Jorge said, a touch of irony in his voice.  “When did you get a raise last?”

Albert grew red.  We all knew he hadn’t had a raise in several years because he’d been complaining about every little increase in the price of coffee and danish pastry.

Jorge, of course, was no dummy.  He liked answers, too.

“Albert’s question still is worth answering Kenny,” Jorge said.  “What good is studying history?”

“History can tell us lots,” I replied.  “First of all, back in the 1920s, a time they called the ‘Roaring 20s.’  It was only ‘roaring’ for the rich and the bosses.  Workers were sucking hind teat and unions had been beaten back badly.”

Jorge nodded, saying, “My grandpa told me about those days.  He came to this country from Mexico then, looking for work and all he could do was grunt work in the fields at starvation pay.”

“Well workers got their backs up by 1930 with the start of the Depression and they marched and rallied and went on strike,” I said.  “And they got involved in politics, too, helping to elect Franklin D. Roosevelt and lots of Democrats and we got the New Deal.

“Because of all the solidarity among workers, FDR realized he’d have to give us a chance to air our grievances and win equality.  So he and the Democrats gave us the Wagner Act, or the National Labor Relations Act, that gave working people the right to get together and bargain collectively as a union for better pay and benefits.”

Albert was not to be convinced.  “So what,” he said.  “That was then. Now is now and times are different.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “Times are different, but we can still learn from how workers got together and created a better life for all.”

“I think it came because of the solidarity of workers then,” Jorge said.

“Right you are,” I replied.  “When workers can stick together, there’s no telling what we can do, particularly with a union.”

“You guys are dreaming,” Albert said.

“Believe what you want, Al,” I said, deliberately using the nickname he hated.  “You can continue to labor away in your ignorance at pay that doesn’t really equal what you’re worth.”

“I’m not ignorant,” he protested.

“I wouldn’t know about that,” I said.  “Bye guys, I need to go.  Lawn needs to be fertilized today.”  — Ken Germanson

  • The big shindig mentioned is the 36th Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Labor History Society to be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 8, at the Madison Labor Temple, Madison WI.  The topic is: “Building Workers’ Power:  When Labor’s Under Attack, How Do We Fight Back?”  For information about the conference and to register, click here.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND LABOR UNIONS

(Reprinted from American Labor Studies email message, January 2017)

On March 29, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the black sanitary public works employees, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.

Then, at 6:01 p.m., April 4, 1968, a shot rang out as King stood on the motel’s second floor balcony. King died while defending union workers.

Today, workers and their unions are under a relentless attack from those who would destroy a worker’s fundamental right to organize and bargain to help their families achieve a better life.

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Martin Luther King with UAW’s Walter Reuther at 1963 March on Washington.  The UAW helped make the famous march possible.

Teachers can have their students explore the writings and actions of Dr. King to help them understand the striking parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and the Labor Movement and their efforts to seek economic and social justice for all.

Perhaps the best single resource is the new book All Labor Has Dignity: Martin Luther Kings, Jrs. Fight for Economic Justice edited and introduced by Michael K. Honey. A November 9, 2011 Atlantic magazine articleby Joe Fassler is an excellent review of the work.

Thomas Geoghegan’s “King Was Really a Labor Leader, Too”in Bloomberg is an excellent outline of King and labor.

series of quotations from King’s speeches to unions can be found in “What Martin Luther King Said About Unions, Unemployment and Economic Justice.”

For a broader discussion of the link between labor and civil rights, see “7 Ways Labor Rights and civil Rights are Forever Intertwined.” Also, “Workers’ Rights are Civil Rights.
Other teacher resources include theAFL-CIO’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Friend of Labor , AFSCME’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Labor,and Dick Meister’s LaborNet article “Martin Luther King: A Champion of Labor”

In his December 11, 1961 speech to the AFL-CIO convention, King said, “By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them…the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

Additional related resources can be found on the ALSC web site.

 

Tell us your views on labor after 2016 election!

In our November 22, 2016 online newsletter, we provided links to a number of articles, commenting on the impact of the 2016 election, labor’s role in that election and the future for workers and their unions.

Now, it’s your turn to express your views.  We’ll accept the views of any and all as long as they are not personally offensive to any single person or groups of persons.  Of course, keep your comments to the general standards of good taste.

Otherwise you’re free to fire away.

These articles were provided in the online newsletter:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the Election.   The labor federation leader, who led labor’s effort to election Democrat Hillary Clinton announced on the day after the vote that the U.S. is a democratic nation and that the voters have spoken.  Labor must accept Trump’s election but to be vigilant as the new administration takes office.  Read More.

Think it’s tough on labor now?  Wait until Trump takes over.  A bleak assessment of what the Trump Administration plans for workers and their unions is offered in this comment by Moshe Z. Marvit, an attorney and a Century Foundation fellow.  Read More.

Some reasons why Wisconsin turned to Trump. Since 1984, voters in Wisconsin have reliably voted for Democratic candidates for President.  In 2016, in spite of all polls that showed Hillary Clinton ahead, the state voted for Trump.  The margin was a slim 27,000 votes.  WLHS President Emeritus Ken Germanson lists various reasons for the switch.  Read More.

Will  Trump’s appeal to workers lift wages?  Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, argues that the new president must divorce itself from the Republican Party’s agenda of tax cuts and less regulation in order to fulfill his promise to improve worker’s lives.  Read more.

Labor leaders must share blame for election results.  A columnist for In These Times said organized labor’s leadership were partly responsible because of their blind support for Hillary Clinton, instead of listening to their members, many of whom support an anti-Wall Street and union-supporting populist like Bernie Sanders.  Micah Uetricht is a regular columnist for several publications and a former union organizer.  Read More.

PLEASE TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!  COMMENT BELOW.

Labor and Religion: Shared Values

The right to organize and bargain collectively is not only a human and legal right but a moral imperative supported by virtually all major religions.

Most people of faith immediately recognize the natural connection between religious creeds and the mission of organized labor. Both religion and labor celebrate the dignity and worth of the individual and are committed to the concept of economic and social justice. Historically, religious writings have defended the right of workers to form unions that work to improve their lives and their communities.

The National Council of Churches policy states its conviction “that not only has labor a right to organize, but also that it is socially desirable that is do so because of the need for collective action in the maintenance of standards of living.”

The Catholic Church, both in its encyclicals on labor and other statements of doctrine, has clearly defined policy on the issue. The Church’s position: “Labor can have no effective voice as long as it is unorganized. To protect its rights it must be free to bargain collectively through its own chosen representatives.”

Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1986 states, “…The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate….No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably seen in this country, to break existing unions or prevent workers from organizing.”

A comprehensive document on Catholic social teaching, including major sections on work and labor can be found in Pope John Paul II’s Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine and Pope Francis’ recent Evangelii Gaudium.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis write, “Workers have the same inalienable right to organize according to their own plan for their common good and to bargain collectively with their employers through such honorable means as they may choose.”

A Methodist Church document states, “Collective bargaining, in its mature phase, is democracy applied to industrial relations. It is representative government and reasoned compromise taking the place of authoritarian rule by force in the economic sphere. In its highest form, it is the Christian ideal of brotherhood translated into the machinery of daily life.”

In 1996, national religious leaders passionate about justice for workers, founded Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) and called for core religious tenets and traditions in support of worker rights. Today, IWJ includes a national network of more than 70 local interfaith groups, workers centers and student groups working to strengthen the religious community involvement in issues of workplace justice. IWJ has a number of excellent free downloadable resources on a variety of social and worker justice issues.

Historical Highlights of the Religion-Labor Movement provides background on specific people and events.

Other resources on on the topic can be found on the American Labor Studies Center’s web site.

At a time when the labor movement in the United States, it is important to recognize that those who are attacking unions are also attacking a fundamental human, labor and religious principles.

National History Day: Great way to involve students in labor history

By Carmen Clark

Back in the day, there was Science Fair.  High school and maybe middle school students were encouraged to ask a question, develop an experiment, make an exhibit about their project and compete locally and nationally.

Meanwhile, back in that same day,  history became the grand story of American lore, from Columbus sailing the ocean blue through Indian hospitality to deserving Pilgrims.  Kids nhd-2015-winnerrecited the Gettysburg Address and skimmed over the 20th Century’s valiant Yankee troops and iconic presidents.

High school history courses have gotten better and today there is also National History Day, a vital counterpart to science fair.

Thanks to History Professor David Van Tassell of Case Western Reserve, National History Day came into being in 1974 with 129 Cleveland-area students.  It has mushroomed ever since, to involve more than a half-million 6th-12th graders throughout the USA. They develop individual or group history projects in one of five categories-Documentary video, Exhibit, Paper, Performance or Website. Students in early spring and winning projects move from their schools to regional, state and National Contest in June.  (Photo above right shows one of the many projects in a past contest celebrating Cesar Chavez.)

National History Day aims to give students opportunities to learn about history and develop research, thinking and communication skills, enhancing teaching of history in the process.  Each year, the contest features a particular theme.  This year’s is “Taking a Stand in History.”  Read here how to adapt this theme to a potential NHD project.

The Wisconsin Labor History Society and its friends worked hard for legislative approval of labor history in the schools as part of core curriculum standards.  Now we need it implemented against the pushback of school administrators who gleefully said goodbye to teachers unions and activists likely to know the most and care the most about labor history.

Through the enthusiasm of several board members, including Jim Reiland and Laurie Wermter, WLHS began to offer cash prizes for superior NHD projects involving labor history.  WLHS members have gotten involved in judging winning projects for our cash projects.  Wisconsin History Day has continued to grow and WLHS now awards up to $1,000 in cash prizes each year at regional and state levels to deserving projects in junior and senior competitions.

Because labor history is generally not included in textbooks and standard curriculum, and because teachers are not always comfortable teaching labor history through lack of knowledge or lack of support, it is vital that the labor movement, labor historians, and the WLHS expand our involvement in NHD and support for the project.  We need resources for students in starting quality projects in labor history, since many students have little idea of what labor history is even about, let alone the milestones in labor struggles, the role of unions in American history and social change, or lessons to learn from labor history or the history of working people for today’s challenges.

We need your support and participation to be a resource in getting students started with their projects and helping them identify what and how to develop their research, judging at regional and state levels, and helping raise matching prize money from local unions, labor councils, and other friends of labor, and in coordinating our efforts and our assistance to the excellent state NHD administrators in Madison.  We need teachers to reach out to teachers statewide, we need creative new ways to educate and support teachers in teaching labor history or hosting guest speakers in their classrooms, and familiarizing them with the many resources available to them involving Wisconsin Labor History.

WLHS is expanding to younger generations, partly from our enthusiastic participation in National History Day.  We have begun a fund to ally costs of attending national competition for needy and deserving students, funded in great part by donations in Jim Reiland’s memory.  There is so much more that can be done, most requiring your participation rather than your money.  more information and to get involved with WLHS’s National History Day activities.  Volunteering to be a general judge for NHD is not the same as volunteering to be a judge for our special prizes.  Please consider helping us in one of the following ways:

  • Become a volunteer judge at one of the ten regional conferences in the state.
  • Encourage middle and high schools students you know to submit entries and assist in providing them with resources.
  • Make a donation to our Labor History in the Schools Fund that helps to cover the cost of our cash prizes.

For more information, click here.

See brochure on National History Day.

Please contact us to show your interest in this project at info@wisconsinlaborhistory.org

Readers favor keeping state flag; it features labor’s heritage

The idea that Wisconsin’s state flag should be junked found little favor in an online survey conducted by the Wisconsin Labor History Society.

Only one out of the 33 persons who replied to the survey agreed with the view of a column in Madison’s Isthmus newspaper (July 4, 2016) that Wisconsin’s long-standing state flag was too cluttered and should be changed for a more appealing, modern design.

Wisconsin-Flag-06302016Most respondents (27 or 82%) agreed with the statement that “the current flag should stay because it displays the contributions of working people” to the state’s history.  Three others preferred to keep the current flags because of its historic tradition, while two said that they were “not sure” whether a change should be made.

What attracted most respondents to the current flag was that it incorporates the State Seal, created in 1851 by the state’s first governor, Nelson Dewey.  The seal portrays a sailor and a miner flanking a coat of arms that includes symbols of the tools of farmer, miner, blacksmith and sailor, all four trades that were significant in Wisconsin’s early development.

Several comments submitted by respondents displayed their thinking: “It reflects the history of labor workers in Wisconsin, in fact it brings history to life. One of the problems with today’s society is that too many people don’t care about history anymore. Here is a chance to keep that image on the flag, and as we all know, images can spark curiosity and imagination. Even the drawing itself is done in an old world style. It is quite beautiful and the colors are brilliant. . .”

“ . . . Wisconsin has the only flag with people on it, and it IS the people who count. We are not taking the flag onto a battlefield. The abstraction wipes out that which might not be so wise to forget. Why trade our roots for eye candy?”

“The flag represents all of the people that worked to build this State. Many died because of it. The flag is rich in tradition. The flag represents all of the people that worked to build this State. Many died because of it. The flag is rich in tradition.”

One respondent said the flag needs to be changed: “A new flag that incorporates working class history in Wisconsin is a fine idea, but the current flag is cluttered, ugly, and not effective as a symbol of Wisconsin or labor pride. We need a new flag.”

Pleas to change the flag due to its artistic shortcomings have come occasionally in newspaper columns, such as from July 1, 2015, Wausau Record Herald and the Isthmus.  Thus far, no official action has been instituted to make any changes.

Unions need to involve immigrant workers in order to thrive

REPORT OF 35TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE

The future growth of the labor movement depends heavily upon the nation’s more than 42 million immigrants.

That theme emerged again and again during discussions at the 35th Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Labor History Society held May 21 at UAW Local 72 in Kenosha.  The more than 100 persons attending gained insight into the struggles recent immigrants face in this country, learned about labor’s “checkered history” with immigrants and discovered what unions currently are doing to assure all workers are properly represented.

The topic was “especially timely,” commented WLHS President Steve Cupery who said he hoped the discussion may provide unionists with a “new understanding as to how to talk wiith fellow workers that may be tempted by the demagoguery of Donald Trump.”  He said it’s our obligation to challenge such thinking.

UNIONS HAVE ‘CHECKERED’ HISTORY ON IMMIGRATION

Immigrants are a growing part of our population, now totaling 13%, an increase in Wisconsin from 2.5% in 1990 to 5% in 2014, commented Sergio Gonzalez, a doctoral student in history from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Gonzalez is also co-president of the Teaching Assistants Association at the university and a Latino leader.  He spoke in place of Immanuel Ness, an activist and professor of sociology at New York University who cancelled due to illness.

“For decades, there has been strength within the immigrant community, strength to mobilize and fight back,” he said.  “For the majority of our movement’s history, however, labor has either failed to acknowledge and welcomed that strength or worse, has pushed against it.”

It wasn’t that way at first, when immigrant populations in Milwaukee made up most of the labor movement, often forming unions based largely upon their ethnicity, Gonzalez said. In the early 20th Century, however, the Wisconsin labor movement became “more reactionary toward growing immigration,” reflecting the changes in attitudes in unions throughout the nation, he said.  Gonzalez cited numerous examples of union activities that were hostile toward immigration, ranging from a 1917 American Federation of Labor resolution to bar Chinese labor (calling it “coolie labor”) to supporting a 1924 act to limit immigration by southern and eastern Europeans and Asians.

A real shift in policy came in the 1980s when labor supported the Immigration Reform Act of 1986, he said.  Meanwhile unions began active campaigns that involved organizing immigrants, such as SEIU’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign,” he added.

“In 2000, AFL-CIO leadership finally disavowed a one-hundred-year tradition of restriction and fear by openly calling for amnesty and full labor protections for all immigrant workers, regardless of their legal status,” he said.

Labor unions need to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal, state and local level, Gonzalez argued; such reform should “work for workers and not legislation that bends to the whims of employers looking for cheap, controllable and deportable labor.”

“It is among immigrants, who daily face seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their workplaces that the House of Labor will find the next generation to push our movement forward.”

LABOR AND IMMIGRATION ADVOCATES NEED EACH OTHER

Following up on Sergio Gonzalez theme, Michael Rosen, economics professor at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, declared that the labor movement and the immigrant rights movement need each other.

Labor, even in its diminish state, has resources and important contacts, he said, while the immigrant movement has numbers (of people), passion, courage and militancy.  He reflected that the labor movement has lost the militancy that marked its early years, but that the infusion of the immigrant workforce could revitalize it. Labor needs to stop its decline and immigrant workers need to be organized, creating a mutually compatible combination.

The influx of immigrants into Milwaukee, he said, has been critical in keeping the city from losing population.  While the city’s population grew less than one percent since 2000, its Latino numbers have swelled by 51% from 71,000 to 108,000.  Without the influx of Latinos into the city, the population would have fallen dramatically.

Immigrant voters have an important role to play in the 2016 elections, Rosen noted, particularly in “swing states” like Wisconsin, New Mexico and Colorado.  “The Latino vote in this election will be a determinant into who will become the President of the United States,” he declared.

FIVE NEW WORKERS TO U.S. TELL THEIR EXPERIENCES

WLHS Board Member Luz Sosa led two panel discussions that examined the experiences of immigrant workers and what labor and other organizations are doing to organize within immigrate communities.

The courage of immigrant workers was demonstrated in the testimonies of five who made up a panel discussion at the conference.

After hearing the presentations by the workers, one member of the audience summed it up perfectly, noting that workers in this country should learn from the inspiring examples, shown by the five speakers, several of whom had their remarks translated from Spanish to English.  He said while many U.S. workers may be afraid to stand up to their bosses and join in walkouts or other job actions, the stories of workers showed that “immigrants have courage.”

All of the panelists reflected that upon entering the United States, they found it necessary to “work, work, work,” leaving little time to think about forming unions or seeking a better life through organizing.  Most came to this country without an understanding of how important unions could be for them.

Ramon Munoz, came from his native Mexico, where he said unions were much stronger where you can’t be easily fired from a job.  The father of nine children, he and his family has been in the United States since the early 1980s.  Munoz said he was surprised to get fired recently after he went to the boss in his nonunion shop to ask for a raise for all the workers.

Another native of Mexico, Mauricio Galicia, told of his struggles to find work after arriving as an undocumented person in Los Angeles.  Most of the jobs he found were short-term, a few days or weeks in length, and he traded the warm climate for Milwaukee, where jobs were easier to find.

The lack of knowledge about U.S. labor laws and unions was common.  Mai McCarthy, a first generation Vietnamese immigrant, said her family came as refugees from that war-torn country in 1979.  She said her father fought with the U.S. troops and had to swim the Mekong River with two of her young siblings on his back to escape to safety.  The family, she said, had come from a culture of “hunters-gatherers” and were strange to the customs of the U.S.  Thus, her father worked constantly, “too scared to protest” about job issues and never got involved in unions.

Walid Abdalla, a native of Palestine, came to the United States from Jordan, leaving his family behind; often, he said, he faced homelessness, largely because he had trouble finding a job, even though he had experience as an auto mechanic.  Too busy trying to find shelter, he said he was “just working to survive,” thus finding little inclination to consider unionism.  He has been able to enroll at MATC to study engineering.

Gotofredo Meraz, however, has had extensive experience with unions, which he said he found to be “sweet and sour.”    His first became a member of a Steelworkers local union, where he found himself “drafted” to be on the bargaining committee.  That experience, he said, was positive in that the union was able to negotiate a three-year contract that provided for a narrowing of the gap in a two-tier wage system.  His second experience while working in a foundry under a different union was not successful, largely because the workforce was divided.  He became chairman of the committee, but because of the lack of support and a difficult employer their success was not great.

Nonetheless, Meraz stressed: Immigrant workers need a union. “We need to stick together.  I know that unions can help the Latinos, or the immigrant workers, and without the unions we may be in trouble.  I know that the unions may be in trouble without the immigrant workers, too.”

LABOR AND IMMIGRATION GROUPS WORK TOGETHER

While labor unions historically have often been neglectful of immigrant workers – and even hostile – efforts are being made to involve immigrant workers into unions, both to strengthen the labor movement and to assist in the battle for immigrant rights.

That was stated over and over in an afternoon panel discussion on labor’s response to immigration.

Neidi Dominguez, of Washington D.C., is a leader of the new AFL-CIO initiatives and said that immigration is more than a policy issue; it is also about worker rights.

Dominquez, who is director of the Workers Centers Partnerships and deputy director of Community Engagement for the AFL-CIO, said the labor federation is developing training programs for organizers who are able to handle both workplace and immigrant rights issues.  She said the program has field organizers available to assist communities in such strategies, including creating workers centers.

One such workers center is run by Voces de La Frontera in Milwaukee.  Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the center, another panelist, noted the close relationship the center has with many unions in the state.  Such centers, she said, have grown to provide direct service to workers for workplace issues as well as to supporting workers in organizing unions.  The centers also work on immigration issues.

For years the National AFL-CIO’s Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) has been a leader in supporting Latino workers, both union and nonunion. Another panelist, Joseph “Pepe” Oulahan, a leader of the Wisconsin Chapter, said that LCLAA’s goal is to connect Latino workers to unions.

He noted the challenges faced in involving Latinos, stating that many Latinos are union members but don’t come to meetings or are active.  They view unions only as “those are the people who take my money every payday.”

“It’s a horrible shame and it’s hurting the union movement,” he added.   LCLAA is seeking to overcome some of those issues, Oulahan said.

A special thank you to Luz Sosa from AFT 212 for her inspiration, boundless energy and hard work in making this one of our most memorable conferences – a leader extraordinaire.

— A full report will be published in the Wisconsin Labor History Society’s quarterly newsletter to be printed and distributed in July.

 

 

The Genesis of Anti-Unionism in Wisconsin

(Prepared by Ken Germanson, president emeritus of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, for the North American Labor History Conference, Oct. 24, 2015)

Executive Summary

It was tragically ironic: the year 2011 marked the 100th Anniversary of the passage in Wisconsin of pioneering, progressive, pro-worker legislation; it also became the year in which one of the most regressive, anti-labor laws would be passed – the infamous Act 10 that virtually ended the right of public employees to collectively bargain. Four years later, in March of 2015, the Wisconsin Legislature passed the so-called right-to-work law, followed by cutting back on the protections of the state’s David-Bacon Act covering construction trades unions.

This paper will seek to put some perspective on how that change occurred; it will seek to explain how a state that passed the nation’s first, lasting workers compensation law in 1911 and also passed the first full-fledged public employee collective bargaining law in 1959 would in 2011 and 2015 take away basic worker rights that would likely result in robbing them of much hope for a rewarding life of work.

Wisconsin had been viewed as a beacon of progressive laws, such as being one of the first to provide for election-day voter registration.  National pundits have declared it a so-called Blue State that had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.   We will look at how Wisconsin has joined the once-union-strong Rust Belt states like Michigan to become “open shop” states.

There are five basic reasons for the State’s abrupt turn against workers and unions:

First, the state has a split political personality; historically most of the counties in the state have voted Republican while the more urban, industrial areas have been Democratic. The split has always been there, even though the nature of the two parties has changed through the years.

Secondly, the flight of industry to the South and later out of the country took away the state’s heavy concentrations of manufacturing bringing about the loss of union membership.

Thirdly, the mobilization of antiunion efforts by big business has grown more intense and effective in recent years, both in their handling of workers and in public education campaigns.

Fourthly, the stealth campaign waged by Governor Walker hid his true anti-worker agenda, making it possible to spring the damaging legislation on an unsuspecting public and labor movement.

Finally, the failure of the state’s labor unions throughout the years to mount an effective campaign to counter the growing antiunionism.

Wisconsin labor, however, is more determined than ever to rebound; its leaders are open to new ideas to make it happen.  As one said, “We are awakened. We are like roaches: we will come back.”

Paper available at http://www.kagermanson.com/app/download/761941265/Paper+for+Oct+conference.pdf