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Letters to the editor

June 8, 2001 | Page 4

Get your government out of my union!
Hollander strikers are an inspiration

Immigrant workers deserve amnesty

Dear Socialist Worker,

The recent shocking deaths of 14 Mexican workers trying to cross the desert in Arizona made clear to many people the horrible human cost of the absurd U.S. immigration laws.

Here at the University of Wisconsin (UW), more than 20 of my fellow union members were targeted by the UW administration because their names "sounded Latino." UW demanded that they provide documentation of their legal status, then fired them when the union--AFSCME Local 171--asked for an extension of the deadline.

The state of Wisconsin has had trouble filling many positions in recent years. Immigrant workers have taken up the slack and helped keep institutions like UW running. Yet when the state wants to claim a budget shortfall, immigrant workers are the first to be targeted!

Since the firings, UW has made it clear they plan on playing hardball. They have refused to help the union contact the workers, and rumors of more firings are circulating.

We need to put pressure on UW. Already, a May 5 rally drew more than 100 people to protest the firings.

This came not long after a rally at the capitol that drew together hundreds of state workers and students--to protest the state's pitiful offer of a 1 percent raise, the UW's plan to raise tuition and its failure to address the lack of diversity. This is the kind of solidarity we need to win justice for these workers.

But the events in Madison, as well as the incident in Arizona, show that we also need to support the AFL-CIO's call for a general amnesty for all immigrant workers. As long as workers live in fear of deportation, we'll see more injustices like these.

Mike McHugh, AFSCME Local 171, Madison, Wis.

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Get your government out of my union!

Dear Socialist Worker,

For the first time in modern New York City labor history, members of a union told the New York district attorney (DA) to get out of their business.

AFSCME District Council (DC) 37 Local 768 President Helen Greene was indicted for refusing to pay back $2,400 for charges on her union credit card she says are union expenses.

In response, members passed the following resolution: "The local goes on record as rejecting the interference of the District Attorney's office in the internal affairs of the local."

DA Robert Morgenthau--famed for hiring and training a prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani before he became mayor--has been indicting and jailing various officials of the 125,000-member DC 37 union for looting millions from union treasuries. The dispute over $2,400 is peculiarly small in comparison.

Union activists may be interested to know that the argument that carried the day simply expressed the deep anger and disgust felt by our members about a corrupt Supreme Court putting George Bush in office, a corrupt criminal injustice system turning loose the police who murdered Amadou Diallo, and complete hostility to the idea that the same court system that threatened to put New York City transit workers in jail for striking can kick out one of our union leaders. That was just common sense.

The public-sector union newspaper The Chief reported the motion I made, but it also made the larger case about what's wrong with government intervention in our unions. "Mr. Barton also questioned whether Ms. Greene was being prosecuted because she was one of only two prominent DC 37 local presidents who opposed the union's recent wage contract with the city because it included language allowing the Giuliani administration to implement a merit-pay program."

As city employees, we shouldn't allow a city agency to say who our leaders are. If we do, we give them the power to selectively prosecute leaders they don't like.

Thomas Barton, Local 768 DC 37, New York City

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Hollander strikers are an inspiration

Dear Socialist Worker,

When I got a chance to visit the celebration of the Hollander Home Fashions workers at the UNITE union hall after their victory, I was overcome by how important this strike could be for the labor movement.

More than 400 mostly immigrant workers in the huge LA garment industry held on for more than two months against a company that was gunning for them. The workers won a 401(k) retirement plan from Hollander--even after it had said that such a plan was "not negotiable."

The strikers won most of their demands, even though many people were skeptical about the possibilities for this kind of organizing in the low-wage garment industry.

The strike was won through solidarity with Hollander workers across the country. Though they came from different ethnic backgrounds, workers from LA were able to travel to Hollander plants in Georgia and Pennsylvania and help to start strikes there.

The workers--who make pillows, sheets and blankets that end up in places like J.C. Penney and Ikea--went back to work with higher expectations. They have elected union reps for each of their departments and are currently fighting management over workplace fairness issues.

The only unfortunate thing about this strike is that it has not been a lightning rod for other garment workers because it has received almost no attention. Immigrant workers can expect to be ignored by the mainstream media, but the LA labor movement also failed to publicize the strike in any large way.

The excitement, confidence and pride that we saw when we visited the picket line should be an inspiration to all of us.

Sarah Knopp, Los Angeles

Workers may be available to speak about their experiences. Contact Christina Vasquez at UNITE at 213-380-5498.

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