Written by Victoria Cepeda
It was 1966 when Mexican-American civil rights activist Jesus Salas et. al. founded “Obreros Unidos”, an independent farm labor union, in Wisconsin. Their objective was to improve working conditions for migrant farm workers that traveled from Texas to Wisconsin yearly. They knew of a Wisconsin state provision that protected agricultural workers which was non-existent at the federal government level.
Mexican-American migrants first started settling in Southeastern Wisconsin as early as the 1920s with Puerto Ricans following in the 1940s.
Did you know that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, back in 2008 Hispanics constitute a 5% of the state of Wisconsin’s population, 79% are of Mexican descent, 27% of them lack health insurance, their poverty rate is of 23%? Therefore, a case may be made that the current situation in Wisconsin could affect Latino families since unionized workers tend to originate from blue collar/poorer families.
Today, Winsconsin has about 50 unions of varied denominations and affiliations. What has remamined a constant from Salas’ days is that unions are representative of blue collar families. For example, let me name a few.
- ANA – American Nurses Association
- BCTGMI - The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grian Millers International Union
- CJA – The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
- GMP – Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics, & Allied Workers International Union
- IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- NATCA – National Air Traffic Controllers Association
- OPCMIA – Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association
- PAT – Professional Association of Teachers
- PPF - Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union
- TCU – Transportation Communications International Union
- SPFPA – International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America
- UAW – United Auto Workers
According to the WSJ, Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker (Rep.), “in an effort to cut spending and balance the state budget, would cut costs by cutting pension and health care benefits – and curtailing collective bargaining rights for the state’s 300,000 public employees. Protestors say the governor is using the budget battle to break the back of the unions in the state that was the first to give public workers collective bargaining rights 50 years ago.”
While an argument could be made against the lack of motivation that some unionized employees may display, preventing thousands from having a say in this discourse seems to me to violate the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This past Saturday, in Madison, WI close to 70,000 people rallied peacefully in an attempt to have their state government hear them. They were determined and undeterred by the 5,000 Tea-Party backed supporters of Gov. Walker that also converged at the state capital.
In the true spirit of Salas and Chavez, those rallying know their rights and the power of unity. Cutting spending cannot be achieved at all costs when the outcome would leave many families with less than they started with. At least, let collective bargaining back on the table. The point that I am trying to make is that if we are disputing Obama’s mandatory healthcare provision as anticonstitutional, then we should hold Walker to the same standards. In my opinion, all with a saying in this matter should sit and find a middle ground. Governor Walker and all elected officials in Wisconsin owe it to their constituents.
Defiant state governor vows he will not back down over budget repair bill as Wisconsin Capitol protests enter their sixth day
The Founding of a Migrant Farm Workers’ Union (1966)
Obreros Unidos, La Voz Mexicana, La Guardia, The Making of Milwaukee
Demographic Profile of Hispanics in Wisconsin, 2008
In Wisconsin, Thousands Protest Budget Cuts
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