T.O. Weekly 22 – Legalization for All Undocumented Immigrants, Eliminate the Filibuster!
The ORGANIZER WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
Issue No. 22 — March 26, 2021
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
IN THIS ISSUE:
• Legalization for All Undocumented Immigrants! Eliminate the Filibuster! – by E.J. Esperanza
• Connie White Announcement of Intent to Run for City Council Representative of District 7 in the City of Long Beach, California
Update on the Struggle to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal: Message from ICCFFMAJ and Message of Thanks from Mumia – Also attached Special IWC Newsletter with report on international campaign to free Mumia
• Tribute to Al Rojas: A Dossier – (a) Statement by Socialist Organizer, (b) Rojas Family Letter to Mexican President López Obrador, and (3) Article by Al Rojas on the Fight to Stop NAFTA and for Legalization for All Undocumented Immigrants
• Commemorating International Women’s Day (Part 2 of March 7 forum sponsored by The Organizer) — greetings by Rubina Jamil and presentations by Mya Shone, Andrea Williams-Muhamad, two members in exile of the Rwanda National Congress Women’s League, Desirèe Rojas, Betty Davis, and Millie Phillips
• The Relevance Today of the Paris Commune – by Daniel Gluckstein
* * * * * * * * * *
Legalization for All Undocumented Immigrants! Eliminate the Filibuster!
• Clean Legalization for Dreamers, TPS holders, and farmworkers!
• Eliminate the filibuster! No concessions to the Republicans for more deportations, more detentions, or more militarization of the border!
• No to “Guest-Worker” programs that exploit immigrant farm workers!
By E.J. Esperanza
A response by an undocumented member of the Movimiento de Papeles Para Todos to the Democratic Party’s proposed legalization for Dreamers, TPS holders, and agricultural workers
On March 18, 2021, the Democratic Party passed two immigration bills in the House of Representatives that have been lauded and applauded by immigrant rights’ organizations far and wide: The Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) and the Agricultural Worker Modernization Act (HR 1603). These two bills would provide a path to citizenship to approximately 3 million immigrants, namely Dreamers, TPS holders, and some agricultural workers – to the exclusion of the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.
First, we must be clear that these partial reforms constitute yet another retreat by the Democratic Party. Let us not forget that on Inauguration Day, and to much fanfare, President Biden introduced the Citizenship Act (H.R. 1177), which purported to give legalization to the 11 million undocumented workers living in the country. But what’s happened to the Citizenship Act? Why has the Democratic Party failed to bring it to a vote? Why was it bypassed, and a bill intended to benefit only Dreamers and TPS holders advanced instead?
The answer is simple: The Democratic Party has no intention of legalizing all 11 million undocumented workers. The Citizenship Act was but a ploy to pacify and co-opt an immigrant rights movement that had grown increasingly bold under the Trump administration in its demands to abolish ICE and to abolish all immigration detention centers and border camps. The choice of the House Democrats to proceed with a bill that would provide legalization for only 3 million instead of 11 million undocumented workers only confirms the Democratic Party’s priorities.
Second, despite the limitations of these reforms, we in the immigrant rights movement must not abstain from the struggle of Dreamers and TPS holders, lest we abandon the political terrain to the Democratic Party. Instead, we must warn Dreamers and TPS holders that even these partial reforms are not guaranteed in the hands of the Democratic Party.
One need only remember the blow that the Democratic Party dealt to a young and inexperienced Dreamer movement in 2010. Then, the Democratic Party voted down the DREAM Act despite having a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate; the Democrats betrayed their promise to undocumented youth.
Today, the Democratic Party has fewer votes in the Senate than it did in 2010 – ten fewer to be exact. More than ever, Dreamers and TPS holders will need to heed those lessons and mobilize our forces independently of the Democratic Party, in larger numbers, with our own aims and strategies, if there’s going to be any reforms. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, will have to be forced to enact reforms through mass and independent mobilizations from below. We must have no illusions about that.
Third, our movement must have an independent strategy, one that judges reforms by whether they advance, instead of hamper, the fight to win legalization for all. In our assessment, we must not confuse the aims of the Democratic Party for ours, lest we repeat the defeats and legislative failures of the past. The question of independent strategy is of central importance now that these reforms for Dreamers and TPS holders are headed to the Senate, where the real battle will begin.
In the Senate, the Democratic Party and Republican Party each have 50 votes – with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote. Without getting around the Senate’s filibuster – which requires a 60-vote majority to enact most legislation – all progressive reforms will become their opposite as a result of the negotiations needed to obtain votes from the Republican Party. The filibuster is a reactionary and anti-democratic rule that must be done away with. In the context of immigration reform, the filibuster can only mean concessions to the Republican Party for more enforcement, more detentions, more deportations, and more border militarization – concessions that the Democratic Party is more than willing to grant.
We must oppose all provisions for enforcement. Let us remember that in 2017, when the Democratic Party agreed to negotiate more enforcement with the Trump administration in exchange for the Dream Act, undocumented youth refused to be used as bargaining chips. Instead, undocumented youth raised the independent demand for a “Clean Dream Act” with no enforcement. The refusal of undocumented youth to sacrifice their parents in exchange for their own legalization is a lesson that must be heeded today. It would be a backward step for the immigrant rights movement to have held out against the Trump administration on this exact question only to cave into the Democratic Party now.
The immigrant rights movement must continue to demand a clean legislation that does not sacrifice the vast majority of undocumented workers through more immigration enforcement.
Specifically, we must be clear that a clean legalization for Dreamers and TPS holders is only possible (1) through the Senate’s budget reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes, or (2) through the elimination of the filibuster, which also only requires 51 votes. In the Senate, only these two options can deliver clean legalization without concessions for enforcement. Only under these circumstances can a partial reform for Dreamers and TPS holders today advance the struggle for all 11 million undocumented workers tomorrow. This is perfectly within the grasp of the Democratic Party to do. Whether they’ll be moved to do it will depend on the ability of the major immigrant rights’ organizations – together with the trade union movement and all movements of the oppressed – to mobilize independently of the Democratic Party, and against it when needed.
To this end, El Movimiento de Papeles Para Todos and organizations like Cosecha are calling for a national day of action on May 1, 2021 to protest President Biden’s first 100 days in office and demand legalization for all, no more deportations, and a closure of all detention centers.
All out on international workers’ day! Eliminate the filibuster! No concessions for immigration enforcement! Legalization for all now!
* * * * * * * * *
Connie White Announcement of Intent to Run for City Council Representative of District 7 in the City of Long Beach, California
I have been a resident of Long Beach, California since 1990, living mostly in the Bixby Knolls/Bixby Heights area of District 7. In the 2022 election, I am running for City Council District 7 representative.
When I came to live in Long Beach, it was after being raised in Los Angeles. At that time, the City of Long Beach was still growing and considered – at least by Los Angeles County residents – a “suburb” of the City of Los Angeles, the second most populous metropolitan area next to New York City. The City of Long Beach offers residents a beach-community environment without the burden of the property price tag of, say, Newport Beach or other beach cities in Southeast Los Angeles County.
However, Long Beach struggles with acknowledging its growth and, therefore, its government has not grown with its population. The most pressing issue in Long Beach today is what is pressing on cities all over the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area – housing insecurity for its residents. As a member of the Long Beach City Council, I want to impact the implementation of social housing to assist the forgotten residents of the City of Long Beach who have been ignored for decades – the seniors, working poor and low income who share the experience of housing insecurity. We need to fix this!
For decades, I have been an advocate of an independent, working-class political party. My candidacy for Long Beach City Council District 7 is predicated upon the belief that we need independent, working-class representatives in our governing bodies – like city councils and U.S. Congress.
The necessity to build a U.S. labor party based in labor-community coalitions and assemblies is of paramount importance in order to have representatives advocating in our interests and promoting legislation that will fix some of the worst problems that we have in our cities today – issues such as poor schools for our children and police on the campuses of our secondary schools, housing insecurity for our residents, low wages and poverty for essential workers, lack of medical care and hunger for our most vulnerable, just to name a few. Without having labor party representatives in our governing bodies, we will continue to have more of the same – that is, our important issues will remain ignored, and solutions deferred in favor of the wealthy class that influences government and legislation in its interest.
Long Beach has developed as a working-class city with a strong union presence and history with the ILWU working the docks of the Port of Long Beach.We need to build a Long Beach labor-community assembly that is based on the Long Beach working poor and the exploited and oppressed communities. Residents of the City of Long Beach should be respected for the productive human beings that they are. Our youth and our seniors are not throwaways to push into the streets. We need to create housing security by developing affordable social housing for all residents of the City of Long Beach.
* * * * * * * * *
Update on the Struggle to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
We are publishing below two important updates on the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. The first is an update, dated March 20, from the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICCFFMAJ). The second is a message of thanks from Mumia (transcribed from Prison Nation) to all the supporters of the recent campaign demanding the immediate release of Mumia and all other imprisoned political prisoners.
As you will read, thanks to the letter-writing campaign waged internationally by the International Workers Committee (IWC) and many other organizations,
prison authorities were obligated to test Mumia for COVID-19 and provide some medical care. Mumia no longer needs hospitalization, at least not for now, and is back in the general population of the prison, so the ICCFFMAJ campaign organizers are asking supporters to focus on the demand: “The Only Treatment Is Freedom!”
You also will find attached a pdf of the recent weekly newsletter of the International Workers Committee, with a full report on the endorsements obtained thus far in many countries in support of the demands put forth initially by the Philadelphia organizers. No doubt this broad-based international campaign contributed to the authorities’ decision to release Mumia into the general population, the reason for Mumia’s effusive thank-you message. IWC newsletters are available in French and Spanish on demand.
* * *
(a) Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Health Emergency: The Only Treatment is Freedom
Saturday, March 20, 2021
A Very Important Health Emergency Update from Dr. Ricardo Alvarez
Mumia does not currently require hospitalization, so we are asking supporters to keep taking action, but to please remove “hospitalization” from your list of demands.
Thanks to worldwide support, Mumia is relatively stable, but we remain vigilant as to the monitoring of his care.
The only true treatment can be freedom. He continues to suffer from his conditions of incarceration: liver cirrhosis from Hepatitis C, Congestive Heart Failure, a severe debilitating skin condition, hypertension, and diabetes. He will continue to need monitoring, and his prognosis is guarded.
* * *
(b) Message of Thanks from Mumia
Dear sisters, brothers, comrades, friends, and family, On the Move. How can I thank you? These, my words, can hardly measure the flood of love that you have raised on my behalf. I am almost, almost, without words, but I’ll try. Thank you Wadida, thank you Pam Africa. Your support from Philadelphia to France, from points across the nation, and literally around the globe, have pulled me from a prison cell and placed me in a hospital room, to be treated for a condition I didn’t know I had.
In the age of pandemic, now, as a January 2021 over 300,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. Imagine that, in a cell, trying to breathe with a weight pressing on your chest. Imagine an elder man, or woman, or even a young person, because, yes, we are also in an age of mass incarceration, which day by day, increases this infliction upon the elderly, who struggle unsuccessfully to breathe, to walk, to be.
I thank you all for reaching out, and I urge you all. Let our mission be abolition. I love you all. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. From imprisoned nation. This is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
* * * * * * * * * *
Al Rojas, Fighter for Workers’ Rights Until His Last Breath
Statement by Socialist Organizer
Our friend and comrade Al Rojas — a tireless fighter for the rights of workers and all the oppressed — passed away on March 20 at the age of 82. In the letter sent to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador [see below], the Rojas family recounts many salient features of the life of Al Rojas, underscoring why he was a “giant” in their eyes. He was a “giant” in our eyes, too.
Though he was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union in 1966, together with Cesar Chávez, Al never received the accolades or recognition that Chávez received. And there was a reason: Al spoke his mind at all times, refusing top-down directives that would hinder rank-and-file empowerment, organizing, and independence in relation to the twin parties of capitalism, the Democrats and Republicans. Al eventually was shunned and cast aside because he would not accept the UFW’s subordination to the Democratic Party. In all the glowing tributes, from full-length movies to California state holidays honoring Cesar Chávez, Al Rojas was air-brushed out of the picture and official UFW history.
This did not deter Al one bit. He kept organizing farmworkers, “guest-workers,” undocumented immigrants, youth, public-sector workers — and he always linked the struggle for workers’ rights in the fields and workplaces all over the United States to the fight across the border against the NAFTA and CAFTA “free trade” agreements [see article by Al Rojas below]. Al understood deeply that the capitalist system and U.S. imperialism were ultimately responsible for the destruction of the national economies south of the Rio Bravo that fueled the forced migration to Northern Mexico and into the United States.
This is what Al wrote in 2018 in support of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), of which he was a Continuations Committee member:
“The Democratic Party is a full accomplice in the attacks on immigrant workers and their families, as it (1) authored and promoted the NAFTA and CAFTA trade agreements, which deepened the poverty in Mexico and Central America, forcing millions to flee their lands and communities, and (2) it promoted the militarization of the U.S. border and the mass deportation of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. The Democratic Party majority voted to allocate $4.6 billion for ‘border security,’ including huge sums going to for-profit prisons and detention centers.
“Having a ‘D’ next to your name does not give you a free pass. Working people are organizing outside the Democratic Party — and the movement is growing. Change is coming — so that we can elect independent working-class candidates who genuinely represent working people. Building such an independent movement, and such an independent political party, is the task before us.
“After 50 years of activism, I feel there is no better time to move forward and build a solid independent labor movement that fights for our rights. There is no better time to build a new independent labor-based political party in alliance with our Black and Brown communities. Both struggles must go hand in hand. The task is urgent!”
Al was a close friend of Socialist Organizer and The Organizer newspaper. He received monthly bundles of our newspaper, which he distributed to activists in Sacramento, and he was a regular supporter of our fund drives and international campaigns. He was a comrade and a brother.
Socialist Organizer extends our most profound condolences to Desirèe Rojas, Fatima Garcia, Shalom Rojas and the rest of Al’s family. All of us are at your side in this moment of grief; we, too, feel keenly the loss of a pillar of our movement.
We will honor his memory by redoubling our efforts to support the farmworkers in San Quintin, and to fight for the legalization of all undocumented immigrants in the United States, the repeal of NAFTA 2.0 and the shameful “Immigration Pact” — and for a Labor Party based on the trade unions and oppressed communities.
Farewell, dear comrade,
Al Rojas, Presente!
* * * * * * * * * *
Letter from the Rojas Family to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
March 25, 2021
Honorable Andrés Manuel López Obrador
President of Mexico,
Mexico City, Mexico
Dear Honorable President,
I write you this letter to inform you, if you have not already heard, that our father, Albert “Al” Rojas, passed away on March 20th in Sacramento, California. I write you this letter because our father was also a longtime friend of yours, going back to the days of the first presidential campaign of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas — a campaign that laid the groundwork, decades later, for your successful election campaign in 2018.
We as a family would like to tell you in our own words what our father meant to us. His story is the story of millions of migrant families from Mexico, but it is also the story of an exceptional individual— a true rank-and-file labor and community leader — who shunned the spotlight, always promoting los de abajo, the downtrodden ones, to be the protagonists of the struggle for justice.
Our father came from a family of many generations of farmworkers; many of whom were forced to migrate to the United States. They traveled up and down the California coast, or throughout the Central Valley, following the harvest through the seasons and saving their money to get by through the winters.
Albert Joseph Medrano Rojas was born on July 31, 1938 in Tagus Ranch, in Tulare County, California. His mother’s name was Gabriela Medrano; she was from Chihuahua. His father was Rafael Anguiano Rojas; he was from Briseñas, Michoacán. Our father’s cradle was a peach crate made of pine wood with a peach label on the outside.
Our father started working in the fields as a little boy, living and understanding the reality of indentured servitude. His father — my grand-father — was often attacked by swarms of wasps when picking fruit. Though still a child, our father was taught that when this happened his job was to haul 1-gallon tin buckets up a 20-foot ladder to hand to his father so that he could rinse his arms to ease the pain from the bites. My grandfather’s body would get all bitten up and bleed profusely. This is just one of the countless stories that our father used to tell us.
Our father never forgot all the cuts and wounds on his father’s hands. As the years went by, my father’s hands began to resemble his own father’s hands.
Years later our father became a farmworker organizer under the tutelage of John Soria and Peter Lauwerys of Oxnard, California. He understood deep down in his soul that the suffering of farmworkers, especially children farmworkers, had to come to an end.
While living in Oxnard, he and my mother, Elena Bates Rojas, decided to raise a family. Together they had four children: Debra, Albert Jr., Desirèe, and Shalom. Our father devoted his life to working with unions, initially in the U.S., but later also in Mexico (particularly with the Mexican Electrical Workers Union, SME). His love for Mexico grew into a 40+ year organizing and solidarity effort.
Al Rojas was a founder of the United Farm Workers Independent Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (UFW-IBT), based in San Jose, California. Led by Oscar Gonzalez, from1961 to 1963 they organized committees throughout California, specifically in the coastal areas from Northern California down to the Mexican border. It was during that time, in 1966, that the UFW-IBT merged with the National Farm Workers Association (a non-profit organization) led by César Chávez and others, and with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, led by Larry Dulay Itliong. The merged union became the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), AFL-CIO.
Our father was a co-founder of the UFW with Larry Dulay Itliong and César Chavez. This has made our family very proud. All of us children were raised to be activists and organizers. In the UFW’s Malcriado newspaper, my mother refers to her “little activists” as strike (huelga) organizers because we all passed out leaflets at the side of our parents.
Our father went on to become a lead organizer in California and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of the UFW Grape Boycott. In fact, the Pittsburgh Boycott committee (1968 to 1970) was one of the most successful in the country. He championed every labor and community struggle for basic democratic rights and justice — from the lettuce strike, to the drivers’ license for immigrants (so that they could get to work), to the right of Mexicans living in the United States to be able to vote in Mexican elections, to the fight to end guest-worker programs, to the fight for legalization of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Papeles Para Todos) — and so much more.
He also was one of the founders of SEIU Local 1000 through an intense organizing campaign waged by the Caucus for a Democratic Union, which won the election to incorporate with national SEIU, with Eliseo Medina as president. He later went on to serve as Deputy Labor Commissioner of the state of California.
Our father was tireless and fearless; he knew who he was: a farmworker and son of a farmworker.
Our father’s focus was always on Mexico. He fought tooth and nail for the right – and ability — of Mexican families, particularly the youth, not to be forced to migrate to the United States – Por el Derecho a No Emigrar!
He fought for a Mexico that would serve all its people, especially the working class, the campesinos, and the poor. It broke his heart to see the Triquis community in Oaxaca — as well as other indigenous communities across Mexico — dismantled because of the NAFTA “free trade” agreement, with families forced to flee to Northern Mexico, or to the United States, in search of jobs, just so they could survive, while leaving their loved ones behind as he experienced in his own family — the separation of families.
“The real issue,” he wrote in a 2018 contribution to the discussion bulletin of the Binational Conference Against NAFTA and the Wall of Shame, “is organizing and representing workers and the workers’ right to negotiate a union contract. The real issue is legalization for all immigrants who are in the United States to work because their home economies are being devastated by ‘free trade’ agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA.”
That is why he championed with such fervor the struggle that began March 17, 2015, in San Quintin, Baja California, of close to 80,000 farmworkers (many of them indigenous people from Oaxaca) who were seeking nothing more than an independent union and a contract with giant Driscoll’s and Andrew & Williamson corporations. These workers, as you know, Mr. President are toiling in sweatshop conditions and have been denied a contract that would improve their wages and working conditions.
That is why our family calls upon you and your administration to extend your fullest support to these farmworkers and insist, with the full backing of Mexico’s new federal labor law, that Driscoll’s and Andrew & Williamson must allow the workers to form the union of their choice, with a contract that contains a living wage and all other protections on the job, thereby putting an end to the “protection contracts” with the company unions. This is what our father wanted more than anything else. The is what he organized to achieve daily till the end of his life.
Our family believes that our father deserves to be recognized for all his work on behalf of workers’ rights and democracy in Mexico. He was a giant in the eyes of everyone in our family, but he was also a giant in the eyes of the tens and tens of thousands of workers and youth who stood at his side in the fight for justice, both in Mexico and the United States.
We also feel strongly that one of the best ways to honor his memory is for your administration, Mr. President, to take a stand squarely in support of the San Quintin farmworkers. We thank you for your attention to our message and plea for justice in San Quintin.
We wish you and your family the very best,
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement Sacramento Chapter
AFL-CIO, and Change to Win
* * * * * * * * * *
Stop NAFTA 2.0 – Legalization for All Undocumented Immigrants! Labor Rights for All!
“Legalization for All Who Are Here to Work Because Their Home Economies Are Being Devastated by ‘Free Trade’ Agreements Like NAFTA and CAFTA”
By AL ROJAS
[Note: The following article was submitted by Al Rojas to the discussion at the Binational Conference Against NAFTA 2.0, the Wall of Shame and Deportations, held in Carson, Calif. in December 2017.]
My family and many others spent well over 25 years organizing and eventually founding the United Farm Workers Independent Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, based in San Jose, Calif. Led by Oscar Gonzalez, from 1961 to 1983, we were able to organize committees throughout California, specifically in the coastal areas from Northern California down to the Mexican border.
It was during that time, in 1966, that the UFW, IBT merged with the National Farm Workers association led by César E. Chávez and others and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, thereafter becoming the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
Having worked alongside “braceros” in the vegetable industry in Oxnard, Calif., in the early 1960s, I was able to understand the issues involved in foreign contract labor then embodied in the Bracero Program. At that time people like the Hon. Dr. Ernesto Galarza, César E. Chávez, Gilbert Padilla, John Soria and others opposed this inhumane system of indentured servitude, which did not allow workers protections, the right to decent wages, or the right to decide whether to have a union of their choosing represent their interests.
Although the Bracero Program was abolished through the efforts of Galarza, Chávez, Padilla and others, it has now resurfaced as the “guest worker” program.
Turning its back on its proud history, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez came out in support of proposed federal legislation called Ag-Jobs. In essence, Ag-Jobs would allow the recruitment of foreign workers from countries like Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam to labor in U.S. fields as “guest workers.”
In coming out in support of Ag-Jobs, ironically the UFW is taking on a contradictory role, being a union in defense of farm workers’ rights and now acting as agents in the recruitment of foreign agricultural workers for the U.S. corporate agri-business-industry.
Ag-Jobs was heavily supported by the National Farm Bureau, California Nisei League, Western Growers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and then-President Barack Obama.
The need for an overhaul of our immigration laws is not in question here. The issue is that at a time when unemployment is estimated at between 18 percent and 21 percent in California’s Central Valley and there are over 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., it is a complete farce to mislead the public by promoting and pushing for importing cheap foreign labor through a guest-worker (Ag-Jobs) program.
What we need are decent wages and working conditions and humane immigration reform.
The real issue is organizing and representing workers and the workers’ right to negotiate a union contract. The real issue is legalization for all immigrants who are here to work because their home economies are being devastated by free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA.
The real issue is the millions of U.S. workers who are unemployed and struggling to feed their families, while the White House and Congress bail out Wall Street to the tune of billions of dollars.
I, and others, believe that the UFW needs to concentrate on organizing and representing workers. The real issue is decent wages, benefits, safety protections, and the right to unionize, NOT more guest-worker programs that exploit workers who are not free to unionize and who are completely in the hands of the employer, who is free to hire and fire at will.
If agricultural growers paid a decent wage, U.S. workers would apply for those jobs and there would be no need for guest workers.
 The Bracero Program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated on August 4, 1942, when the United States signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico. It was terminated in 1964. Mexican workers were promised 30 cents an hour, but part of their wages were to be put into a private savings account in Mexico. To this day, an estimated US$95 million in promised wages were never paid to the bracero farmworkers or their families.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Commemorating International Women’s Day (Part 2)
On March 7, The Organizer Weekly newsletter sponsored a digital commemoration of International Women’s Day in the framework of the call for an International Conference of Working Women issued by Rubina Jamil, general secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF), and Christel Keiser, national secretary of the Democratic Independent Workers’ Party (POID) of France. The event was co-chaired by Mya Shone and Coral Wheeler, members of the Editorial Board of The Organizer.
Last week, in Issue No. 21 of The Organizer Weekly newsletter, we published the presentations of the first six speakers. In this issue (No. 22), we are publishing the presentations of the second and final group of speakers. They are:
• Greetings from Rubina Jamil – general secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF)
• Mya Shone – The Organizer
• Andrea Williams-Muhamad – Nzuri Malkia Birth Cooperative; Reproductive Health Equity Alliance, Maryland
• A member, Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in exile)
• Another member, Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in exile)
• Desirèe Rojas – Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Sacramento
• Betty Davis – New Abolitionist Movement; Black is Back Coalition
• Millie Phillips – Labor Fightback Network
* * *
Greetings from Rubina Jamil
Dear comrades and sisters.
A red salute to all the brave and militant women struggling to end discrimination and violence against women and gender inequality around the world.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, I appreciate women workers for their efforts to hold seminar meetings and assemblies in other countries. We, women workers in Pakistan, will be holding a women workers’ march and assembly to pay great tribute to all women bravely fighting against violence, inequality, and for social justice. In Pakistan, women are victims of domestic violence and gender discrimination in the nation’s workplaces.
Mostly women face problems because of traditional and social norms — kidnapping, rape incidents, and acid throwing at women goes on. On this day, we are putting pressure on the government with loud women workers voices saying, “Enough is Enough.” We will not allow anyone to discriminate against us. So, together with our international friends we will be able to defeat patriarchy and discrimination against women in our society and all over the world.
Thank you. Long live the working class!
Long live international solidarity!
Long live women workers solidarity!
* * * * * * * * * *
Nearly one in four women in the United States will have an abortion in their lifetime, with the greatest concentration among poor women. Yet 90% of U.S. counties have no clinics providing abortions. (Clinics performing abortion procedures available in only 301 of the 3,006 counties). More than one in three women of reproductive age live in these counties and would have to travel – many for great distances – to obtain an abortion.
Emma Goldman, the renowned anarchist and feminist, insisted always that birth control had to be viewed in the context of capitalism. Women would suffer a double yoke of oppression from ruling class social, economic and political forces until they win control over their reproductive choices. By 1915, Margaret Sanger, whom Goldman had mentored, joined her in building a mass movement for birth control.
Seventy-seven years later, on April 5, 1992, 700,000 people streamed into Washington, D.C. to march and rally in support of abortion rights. It was the largest protest in the nation’s capital up to that time. They mobilized to send a forceful message to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was set to consider the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania state law placing substantial restrictions on access to abortion.
The struggle continues now more than ever with increasing urgency. There is no substitute for women and men mobilizing to demand their rights. These mass actions, along with our efforts to build a labor- and community-based independent working-class party, show our affirmation that reproductive rights are inherent to our well-being and emancipation.
* * * * * * * * *
• Andrea Williams-Muhammad
[Introduction: Our next speaker is Andrea Williams-Muhammad, director of the Nzuri Malkia Birth Cooperative and co-lead of the Reproductive Health Equity Alliance of Maryland who will address the crucial issue of health equity. The United States has the widest disparity in health outcomes in the industrialized world – especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health. According to the Center for Disease Control, maternal mortality for Black women in the United States is three to four times the rate of white mothers. Black women also are 71% more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women.]
Good evening everyone and thank you for allowing me to be counted in the number of these glorious speakers and women who have led the path for me in my life. I usually start off with a quote from Claudia Rankine, which pretty much tells how I live and operate my life — and the quote is: “How do you keep the Black female body present, and how do you own value for something that society won’t give value to?”
It is a question I try to answer through my own life, and that is also a question I try to live out every day in my life — just as Miss Rankine has put forth. I center my life on reproductive justice and reproductive rights, along all spectrums, that includes as Mya alluded to — not alluded to, but bravely stated, that Black women in this country are dying at a rate three times as much as our white counterparts. I try to counter that by educating women to take ownership of their bodies. I teach them body autonomy in this world in which we operate – especially working-class women, in which our bodies are not often honored, not often cared for, and not often respected — whether it be at the hands of the medical white establishment or at the hands of our own partners within our own homes.
I also teach along a spectrum that reproductive health does not end the moment I have my child. It carries on throughout the life of myself and as long as my child is living, and that I should be afforded the opportunity to provide quality daycare if I choose to go to work. It also means that if I decide to have a child that I should have adequate employment that will allow me to sustain myself, my child and my family.
I also believe that that also goes to being able to live and work and enjoy my community and not have to worry about my sons and daughters being stripped off the streets, whether by violence from folks that we know, but especially by police violence that is running rampant on our streets. I believe that in order for our communities to continue to grow and to strive, it begins not only with the woman, but it begins with the family – because you cannot have community without individual family units.
And I also educate people that family is however you decide to frame it, and however you decide to define it — whether you are a single mother of one, a single mother of 12, or partnered living happily and lovingly with your husband and you have one child or whether or not you have 20. I believe that you should have that right to be able to define and grow and nurture your family as you so choose.
I stand with all my fellow comrades in this great venture that we are setting out. As you do every year to recognize and honor women, I just take the time to not only honor women but to honor the womb — the womb that birthed me, the womb that I have birthed children, and the womb of the children that I have birthed who will give rise to the next generations. So, I thank you, and I thank you.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two Presentations by Members of the Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in Exile)
Introduction by Mya Shone
According to the United Nations, nearly 80 million women, children, and men around the world today have been forced from their homes as refugees or internally displaced people. This figure, however, does not include undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and many others throughout the world who have had no choice but to uproot themselves and flee — forced into exile. They are counted as migrants. The accelerated decay of capitalism is evidenced by the rise in these numbers. Since 2000, the total number of international migrants has increased by almost 50% reaching a level of 258 million people worldwide.
Our next two speakers, whose names are being withheld for reasons you will understand, had professional lives and families in Rwanda, One of our speakers was an executive assistant in government for 23 years and the other was a public administrator working at one point for the U.N. Their lives at risk from the authoritarian government that came to power, each made the decision that they had no choice but to leave, settle in the U.S. with their families, learn a new language, and build a new life and career. They brought with them their political resolve and commitment to other women. They are members of the Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in exile) and assist and fight for women both here in the U.S. and Rwanda.
* * * *
A Brief Presentation on Women’s Conditions in Rwanda
It is a great pleasure to meet everyone today, to celebrate international women’s day, to recognize our power as women, and to appreciate our human values and to decide a promising change in the world in general, and in the lives of women in particular.
What does International Women’s Day mean for a Rwandan woman today?
Rwanda is a small but beautiful country in East Africa with a population of 12 million amongst whom 53 percent are women.
The conditions of women in Rwanda can be mainly determined by three factors: (1) Rwanda tradition, (2) impact of 1994 genocide and (3) the system of government.
(1) Rwanda, like many other countries in the world, is based on patriarchal traditions. In Rwanda, all social structures support unequal power relations between men and women, boys and girls. This inequality is translated into male dominance and women’s subordination. In Rwanda tradition, the best wife in society is the one who treats her husband like a king, who is submissive and never complains even when she is physically abused. This patriarchal mindset is the root cause of domestic violence, sexual abuse against females and a high rate of women’s poverty.
Despite the good policies established by the government, gender-based violence has never been punished. We note a lack of enforced policy to protect women.
For example, in Rwanda, men seem to have the right to beat their wives and no one, not the civil society, can denounce that as a crime! When the wife complains to her mother, she would tell her “niko zubakwa”. (It is ok my daughter, be patient, all women are beaten.) In cases where the woman goes to make a report to local administration, she is humiliated and sent back home.
For that reason, violence against women is considered acceptable. Women live in resignation, and most domestic violence and sexual abuse cases are never reported.
Why does the government support that impunity related to gender abuse?
Because most of authors of those crimes are the men who hold the social, economic, and political powerful positions.
The patriarchal belief in Rwanda constitutes a big barrier to women’s emancipation and handicaps her social and economic development.
For example: according to the recent general census of population, among 53% of women, 62% of them live below the poverty line. This poverty rate results from the way the women are treated in society.
Example: Traditionally, Rwandan women do not have rights to property; she does not inherit from parents like her brother, she does not participate in decision-making in her family; she is not eligible for loans from banks to start a business without authorization from her husband. The worst of that, women are conditioned by men to sell their bodies to get jobs because most of the management positions are held by men.
(2) Apart from patriarchal mindset, the Rwandan woman has been deeply shaken by the 1994 genocide. During the war, women’s bodies became a battleground over which opposing forces struggled. Some Rwandan women experienced rape, sexual torture, and they now live with traumatic health issues.
(3) In addition to her emotional health, the Rwanda genocide has reversed the Rwandan woman’s way of life. She suddenly found herself alone; a widow with orphans or childless, with no property or no job to survive.
As government support is no longer sufficient, the Rwandan woman tries to find her own way to survive by creating informal small business. Unfortunately, instead of supporting those good initiatives to fight poverty, the government is the one to hunt and stop informal businesses. It is hurtful to watch a video in which Rwanda police are beating these miserable women after looting their items. Some of those ambulatory businesswomen get beaten to death or imprisoned leaving their children alone.
How does the incumbent system of government promote gender equality in Rwanda?
While Rwanda is officially known as a democratic country, the truth may be the opposite.
Rwanda is a dictatorship characterized by two parallel forms of government: the formal government and the informal government. The formal government reflects the clear democratic structures. Those structured institutions serve for public relations to manipulate donors and international communities for support.
The dictatorial government is translated through “informal” structures made of exclusively militaries who control the population from the lowest to the highest level of administration.
This system of governance has negative impact on all Rwandans and on women in particular.
One of dictator’s tactics is using “big lies” to convince the world that they are powerful through fabricated success stories. That is the pure reality for Rwanda.
Example: Rwanda is said to have attained a real gender equality between men and women. Yes, Women in Rwanda make up 60 percent of the lawmakers, 50 percent of the cabinet and half of the supreme court judges. But how much influence does this translate into?
Those women (and men as well) in parliament do NOT represent the population because (first) they are not elected; they are rather appointed by the ruling party in power. Instead of being accountable to their respective constituencies, they report to the ruling party. The truth is that the women in parliament are hired by the ruling party to defend its interest of remaining in power. That is one of the reasons they prefer to keep quiet like puppets to avoid challenging their employer (ruling party’s). Gender equality is not numeric. Effective gender equality should be both qualitative and quantitative.
For that reason, the world should not be deceived by the high number of women in parliament of Rwanda to conclude a real gender equality achievement.
If the numbers were not for publicity, we should be expecting from parliamentarian women the most influential decisions specifically impacting women and children.
Examples of paradoxical cases:
• In 2015: Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire, claimed to register her political party to run for president in 2017. The ruling party used fabricated allegations against her to prevent her from registering her party. She was later sentenced to 15 years and served eight. Her party has never been admitted for registration.
• In 2017, Ms Diane Rwigara tried also to run for presidential office. The electoral commission did not accept her candidacy. She was accused of forging the signatures required for her candidacy, tax evasion, and also of calling for the overthrow of the government.
• Again, recently in February this year, Mrs. Idamange Y. Iryamugwiza decided to express her freedom of speech by denouncing injustice prevailing in Rwanda, specifically against women whose houses were destroyed by the government without expropriation cost. This brave lady, a mother of 4, has been incarcerated and is currently being tortured.
These cases and many more demonstrate the paradox of Rwanda’s gender equality narrative. Even though the influence of women grows, they still have to act within the limits of the authoritarian system.
That is why, the Rwanda National Congress Women’s League was created to challenge the patriarchal society by educating Rwandan women and mobilizing them to fight for effective equal rights between men and women.
However, in a developing country like Rwanda, where women’s poverty defines their dependent relationship with men, and where submission becomes a must, we believe that the process of change may be longer, and the roadmap may be challenging.
That is why, in the name of Rwanda Women’s League in exile, we need your hand.
Thank you everyone for your cooperation; we are extremely excited to join the international women’s struggle to make positive change happen in the world.
* * * * * *
We Need Your Help!
By a member of the Rwanda National Congress Women’s League (in Exile)
Life of Rwandan women is no different from other immigrants from different parts of the world. The exception is that the majority did not choose nor plan a peaceful exit from Rwanda. They had to leave abruptly, under death threats during wars and under human rights repression that could cost their lives because of the Rwandan authoritarian regime. The majority of Rwanda women in diaspora are widows, left behind incarcerated husbands, or forced to leave their families to save their own lives. From housewives they become heads of households and main bread-winners.
The first challenge Rwandan women face is landing in countries with non-existent immigration laws. The majority of African countries don’t favor immigration; for that reason they are left wandering around to find places to settle without legal residence and absolutely no basic rights.
We still have families wandering in the forests of central Africa, moving from The Democratic Republic of Congo, to Uganda, or towards the western side to the Republic of Central Africa, or to Angola, where they can cross naturally open borders. In these countries, women earn a living working as home aids, farm hands or as other workers on the land.
In other African countries, immigrants are kept in refugee camps under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees supervision where the lucky ones gain resettlement in countries such as France, Belgium, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavian countries.
Like women around the world, Rwandan women are strong and resilient when facing a variety of challenges that are imposed by immigration. The cultural shock is one of the first challenges all humans face during migration, learning a new language to start with. Here, it is important to remember that among immigrants, a good number are not educated and therefore did not know how to read and write. On the other hand, the educated have to go backwards to manual labor work losing dignity and academic consideration.
Whether in Africa, or in western countries, being an immigrant places women in a very vulnerable position where the majority have undesirable jobs, are overworked and under paid.
Inspired by the Rwanda National Congress’s mission to deliver peace, freedom and prosperity to all Rwandans, women members of the RNC decided to start a league, a space where Rwandan women in exile focus on their own particular struggle.
RNC Women’s League believes that the Rwanda political regime has to change; however, a positive and durable change can only be achieved if women are part of it; therefore, women need civil rights education, women’s rights education, and leadership formation skills.
On an international level, women work to coordinate online meetings and training in areas of women’s rights, emancipation, and civil rights education. Also, the Women’s League uses broadcast radio and YouTube to send messages of change to members and non-members of the Women’s League.
To respond to local needs, Women’s League created chapters around the world where women gather and work locally on their particular agenda. Furthermore, in the effort to assist women to gain financial independence, the RNC Women’s League coordinates financial aid to support small projects from members in developed countries to underserved women scattered in Africa.
The RNC Women’s League joins forces using other platforms to denounce human rights violations particularly in Rwanda, by sending letters to different stakeholders, by writing, supporting petition drives, radio interviews, etc.
The Rwandan regime spends a fortune to polish its public image so please do not hesitate to contact us with any question about what’s going on there. We need your help to change Rwanda for the better.
Thank you for your undivided attention, I am very grateful for this initiative and very excited to join forces with you.
* * * * * * * * * *
[Introduction: Daughter of United Farmworkers union co-founders Al and Elena Rojas, Desirèe Rojas has been walking picket lines or involved in community actions since she was three years old. Now president of the Sacramento chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO, Desirèe works tirelessly on behalf of farmworkers in the United States and Mexico as well as homecare workers in Yolo County. Desirèe is on the steering committee of the Bi-National Conference Against NAFTA 2.0, the Wall of Shame and Deportations.]
I’d like to begin by thanking the International Workers Committee, and everyone present today. I feel like I am at a family reunion with all of you — organizers, activists, mujeres, all comrades who are on the front lines fighting for justice for women all around the world. Liliana, the previous speaker, brought tears to my eyes with her report, and all the other speaker’s reports have been amazing.
It is true, I have been on the front line, ever since I was three years old. But this is due to having the great privilege of watching my mother who served as an example of what it means to be an organizer. In my youth, she was organizing with the United Farm Workers. She was dynamic and amazing. Our experiences come from a lot of pain and hardship, a lot of tears. That is to be expected given our vocation of caring about the well-being of working women, be it in their families, their communities, or their workplaces (especially the women farmworkers). It is to be expected given our belief that all working-class women, all working people, deserve justice. Am I not right?
This work is no easy endeavor, but we are committed to it; in fact, we care about issues all over the world. So, as observing the week devoted to highlighting the resilience of women, I again say thanks to the other sisters who spoke from Haiti, Mexico and Rwanda. The time is now for us to take action to organize workers and those who work in our communities at home and abroad.
We had great fortune in our Sacramento chapter when it came to helping the homecare workers in Yolo County get to the negotiating table. The primary reason we became aggressively involved in that movement was because in Yolo County 3,000 jobs were at stake. These were predominantly women — Filipino and Mexican women. We found systemic injustice within a lot of the federal programs and toward IHSS workers.
Too often the contracts that women are fighting for are the last contracts to be negotiated and settled. This is because these unions are made mostly of people of color. Unfortunately, even in our unions, women of color must face racism. When you do your homework, in all the counties across the nation, you will find that unions that are predominantly composed of white unionists are first to get their contracts signed at the negotiating table. This exposes the systemic racism within the labor movement and within the partnerships of those at the county level who negotiate federal programs and contracts with unions. We must be on guard and pay attention in our communities when negotiating contracts with our women workers — especially women of color and the most marginalized. We must make sure that women are not an afterthought, that they are deserving of equal respect.
So, we are extremely proud that we helped to push and alleviate that injustice in Yolo County.
Two other prominent issues we pursued were the Driscoll’s boycott and the binational campaign to oppose the NAFTA 2.0 so-called “free trade” agreement. Both issues are the result of forced migration. We should all be paying attention to the perils of forced migration and what it means in Mexico and Central America to the indigenous people, to women, and to families, who are forced to upend their lives to migrate to neighboring states and countries to find life-sustaining work.
The destruction of the national economies south of the border intensifies the violence against women and children. They become victims of a class war and the drive for profit; their only option is to work in squalid conditions and for little pay while harvesting fruits and vegetables. Make no mistake: These conditions do not come out of thin air. Fomenting these conditions is the very intent of NAFTA 2.0 and CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement].
Privatization is responsible, too. I.C.E. [Immigration Custom and Enforcement] prisons in the U.S. right now, today, are concentration camps built by federal contracts and given the stamp of law to operate. We need to shut them down. In World War II, we supposedly fought to shut down fascism. But today we have these fascist-like prisons in our country, where human rights are trampled upon. We must end I.C.E. completely and end the inhumane imprisonment of those who engage in no crime other than the “crime” of wanting to exist with dignity for themselves and their families.
* * * * * * * * * *
[Introduction: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 abolishing segregation in public schools, but the reality of unequal education and opportunities persists to this day. Becoming involved in the struggle for community control of education during the 1968 New York City] school strike over 50 years ago, Betty has since devoted her life to fighting for Black students and political prisoners first as a social worker, then educator, school principal, college teacher and most of all a consummate activist and organizer. Our next speaker is Betty Davis of the New Abolitionist Movement and Black is Back Coalition.]
First of all, I want to thank Mya for getting me into some more good trouble. I recognize many of the struggles that have been presented here —and I commend all of you for being able to get up every morning, push that rock of Sisyphus up the hill, and get back and see that you have to fight for the same territory that you fought for 50 years ago. I know how that feels: I’m going through it now.
One of the main struggles I’m involved with is the Concerned Parents and Educators group which is fighting against mayoral control. An interesting thing about mayoral control: You only find it, for the most part, in the largest Black states in the United States and in the largest Black cities in those states. So can you spell colonialism 2021?
And I want to commend Sister Carol Magloire. I belong to an organization of Haitian revolutionaries in New York City, and they spent a good deal of time in front of Hillary Clinton’s office when she was running, saying we will not tolerate you as president or any kind of officer in the United States. They held her accountable for her horrendous acts in Haiti, one of which was to keep the minimum wage down to – I think it was a $1.18 an hour – in factories, while the whole time, she was denying our children here an education, the right to claim bankruptcy for college debt, and calling our children social predators. So, my latest activity has been to join some of the progressive socialist teachers’ groups who are saying: Tax the rich!
I want to deal with what made me a teacher, because this is what keeps me going. I was fortunate because my dad was in the Navy to get into a housing project. For those of you who don’t know what that is: that’s public housing in America for the poor. And in that public housing, I came across a first-grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Hart, an ex-nun, an Irish lady, a stereotypical elderly white woman with a white bun. She made me love teaching, and all I wanted to do when I got home was to line up my dolls and teach just the way she taught, and, to this day, I am so grateful to her because she didn’t see color. She didn’t see class. She just saw children, and like those strict Irish Catholic nuns, you better learn, there was no such thing as you not learning to read.
So I always testify for her because it is possible to teach the oppressed. As Paulo Freire said, you work with them. Education should be about solutions. Education should be about transformation.
And I have to really salute Desirèe Rojas. Thank you for telling the truth. I got into the struggle, more good trouble, with Ralph Poynter and Lynne Stewart, who later was someone who Sister Shone and I fought to free from the death camps of America because Lynne Stewart was the people’s lawyer, as many of you know.
But what floored me was when I came into the school system believing in the union and I ended up in the UFT with somebody called Al Shanker.* I kept saying this can’t be real. It was like a nightmare. Of course, we founded another caucus, the Teachers Freedom Party, and I want to give a shout-out to all those teachers, those white, Black, and Latinx teachers in the Teachers Freedom Party for their struggle. I got educated about the movement: Karl Marx, Mao, everything was discussed and debated, and that was a recipe for somebody coming straight out of college into the movement to learn from people who were not only reading it but doing it.
We had to take on the UFT because 80% of the U-ratings [unsatisfactory] in New York City were for people of color. So as soon as the peoples in the South and all over America struggled for civil rights – human rights – including the struggle for the right to quality education and the right for children to be taught by people who look like them, the system created this wonderful loop where a teacher could be U-rated if she coughed on a Tuesday. Literally that’s what was so arbitrary and capricious.
I found out that it’s one rule for us. It’s another rule for the ones who run the colony and even the unions were not exempt from that taint. That is why when you struggle, you struggle with the people. I will always say if you give people a chance to fight, they will fight. If you give people correct information about how the institutions, these capitalist vicious institutions, work and don’t work, you will have your allies.
Again, Paulo Freire is right: We all have internalized our oppressors, but the movement is a wonderful mirror to be held up to you. Anytime you get discouraged, there is always the comrade who will hold up a portrait no matter what the oppressor is telling you about who you are. That comrade will say: this is who you are, and this wonderful Zoom conference that we’re having today is proof of just that.
I thank you for letting me be a part of it. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. I look forward to seeing you on the front lines or behind the bars.
One last message – I am a member of a group that is supporting what the sister spoke about earlier in terms of the number of missing Black children. Our children are one percent of the youth population of America but 33% of the missing. Even though we have all these Black District Attorneys there is no special bureau investigating what is happening to the disappeared African-American children in this country.
*Albert Shanker was president of the United Federation of Teachers from 1964 to 1985.
* * * * * * * * * *
[Introduction: Millie Phillips was involved in the feminist movement of the 1970s and has been active in the labor and socialist movements for 45 years. Millie helped break barriers for women in traditionally male employment, getting her first of several unionized blue-collar jobs after filing a discrimination claim and later working 17 years as a power plant operator. She served two terms as chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, AFL-CIO. Millie is on the steering committee today of the Labor Fightback Network and the organizing committee for Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP).]
Thank you all of you for such wonderful comments. I was asked to address sex discrimination specifically.
Supposedly, equal pay for equal work has been the law in the US since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, when, on the average, women made only 59 cents to a man’s dollar. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced, primarily to fight discrimination against African Americans, opponents added language including women, believing that this would prevent the act from being passed. To their surprise, it passed anyway. Before 1964, it was entirely legal to refuse to hire women in any job. Many jobs open to women, such as caregiving, cleaning, agricultural labor and food processing, and food service often required as much and often more skill and physical labor than traditional men’s jobs, but were much lower paid and less likely to be unionized. Women were excluded, in practice, from many professions, and mostly barred from unionized skilled labor on the false grounds of lacking abilities or to prevent displacing men who supposedly needed such jobs more.
Later laws outlawed pregnancy discrimination and established family and medical leave, albeit unpaid, making it somewhat easier for women to be fully in the workplace, but still with many obstacles, so evident during the pandemic.
Though the passage of these laws was a victory, it didn’t prevent discrimination. Even now, women make an average of 79 cents per men’s dollar, with women of color much less than white women. Women who sought unionized blue collar work in the 1970s and later, such as myself, faced discriminatory height and weight requirements, or fake physical tests not given to men, often made up on the spot. For example, I once was asked to lift something labeled as half its weight, and when I couldn’t was told I failed a physical test requiring lifting the correct weight, which I could.
While outright hiring discrimination in academia and professions has declined – women law students now exceed men, for example – women are routinely still treated as lesser than men in most careers, and working class women, especially women of color, are still forced into the lowest paid jobs. As well-paid unionized work has declined in the US, many such jobs are no longer available to anyone, and without a union, it is virtually impossible to fight discrimination on the job. Only 1% of sex discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission actually result in legal action for the claimant. Early on, some employers were scared into settling directly – I got a job that way once – but today, they know better.
This lack of enforcement is one reason why it’s so important for women to be organized in unions. As someone who faced a good deal of gender-based harassment and discrimination, such as being denied pay raises, only having a union contract and grievance procedure, despite labor’s limitations, allowed me to fight back and win. This is also why all of us need a militant political voice independent of the ruling class parties, which, though often giving lip service to women’s rights, have no interest in making their capitalist masters spend the money it would take to make employment or anything else genuinely equitable. For all the reasons shared today, let us keep organizing together for victory in the future.
* * * * * * * * * *
La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune) Issue no. 280 – March 10, 2021 – Editorial
The Relevance Today of the Paris Commune
By Daniel Gluckstein
March 18, 2021, will mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Paris Commune, the first workers’ government in history.
As far as the (reactionary) historian Pierre Nora is concerned, there is no need to commemorate the Paris Commune insofar as “revolutionary inspiration has long been absent from the memory of workers’ achievements”.
So the Paris Commune is supposedly not relevant today, when during the 72 days of its short existence, among other things it requisitioned factories that had been abandoned by their bosses, banned night-work for categories of work that did not fundamentally require it, requisitioned vacant accommodation for workers’ families who had lost theirs, cancelled rental arrears, limited the working day to eight hours, introduced secular public education, guaranteed equal rights under the law, and set a ceiling for allowances paid to elected representatives at the level of a worker’s wage.
For her part, Ms. Hidalgo, the (“socialist”) mayor of Paris, is arranging the setting-up of “50 life-size silhouettes of Communards” and putting up plaques in their honor. But what about the Commune’s relevance today? On March 9, hundreds of workers employed by the Paris city council protested outside her window together with their trade unions, having mobilized against her project to extend working time by eight hours per year, applying decisions taken by Macron. “Not one minute more!”, the workers chanted.
Where does the Paris Commune feature in the reduction of working time or in its extension?
As we know, Ms. Hidalgo has presidential ambitions. She respects the institutions of the Fifth Republic which concentrate power in the hands of the President, because the officeholder must in all circumstances act as the clerk of the capitalist class. Sarkozy a while ago, Hollande after him, Macron today… Hidalgo soon?
Will anyone dare to remind Ms Hidalgo what the Paris Commune represented in terms of its social and democratic content?
The Hungarian worker Leo Frankel, who was elected a Commune Delegate, said: “We are here to carry out social reforms (…). The only mandate I need to accept here is to defend the working class.” On March 22, 1871, the poster convening the election to the Paris municipal council declared: “The members of the municipal assembly will be continuously held accountable, monitored and evaluated by public opinion. They are subject to recall, accountable and held responsible.”
The Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) supports mandated democracy. By marching on March 20 to the Wall of the Communards [in Père Lachaise cemetery], where the last of the Communards fell, we will affirm the relevance today of the Paris Commune. In other words, the relevance today of a workers’ government which, in the near future, will requisition the factories and ban lay-offs and job-cuts, and will confiscate the hundreds of billions of euros handed out to the capitalists by Macron (and the unanimous National Assembly) in order to fund the emergency measures for defending the working class and the youth.
This is not about history; it is about the struggle of the working class today for democracy and for winning back its rights. Let us meet up on March 20!