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Texans Stand Against Minutemen

HOUSTON - The Texas AFL-CIO held their 45th Convention at the luxurious new all-union Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston August 11-13. The labor leaders took dramatic stands in favor of immigrant rights and against racism - particularly against the "Minutemen" vigilantes that are threatening to carry out their program within the City of Houston in October.

One of the most important arguments for supporting immigrants' rights was the hotel itself. The city-owned downtown facility employs hundreds of new union members, many of whom are immigrants. The Houston AFL-CIO principal officer, Richard Shaw, spoke at length about the process by which labor and the city cooperated. The Hilton Americas is said to be only the second all-union hotel in the state!

The Houston Chronicle announced on August 12, during the AFL-CIO convention, that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had signed neutrality agreements with 5 major corporations that could bring as many as 8,000 janitors into the labor movement. Even though the SEIU left the AFL-CIO the month before, Houston leader Richard Shaw spoke very proudly of the labor council's cooperation in the "Justice for Janitors" campaign. According to the newspaper, the average wage for janitors prior to the organizing drive was only a dime more than the national minimum wage of $5.15! Shaw said that a large percentage of the new union members will be immigrants, and that the Houston developments proved the value of the fairly recent AFL-CIO support of immigrant's rights.

Resolutions from the Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) were presented by Texas President Jaime Martinez. LCLAA called for the Texas federation to take a "leading role in the protection of immigrants' rights." Martinez argued, "Our people are being scapegoated by all kinds of organizations, including the Minutemen." All of LCLAA's resolutions passed without criticism.

A dramatic occurred after the presentation of a long list of resolutions from the Resolutions Committee. Houston leader Richard Shaw rose to take issue with one of the committee's decisions. They had decided to refer a resolution concerning the Minutemen to the Executive Board rather than pass it at the convention. Later, one of the committee's members explained that they had felt that they had insufficient information.

Shaw, however, argued that the racist militia from Arizona was becoming a major threat in Texas. He said that they were no longer confining their activities to border patrols, but had begun to enter major urban areas to question people's citizenship. They video tape day laborers and actually stop people to demand proof of citizenship.

Another speaker backed Shaw up. He said that Minutemen had stopped him on a San Antonio street and asked him for "papers." "Go see my grandma about it," had been his response. After several more speakers stood with Richard Shaw's position, LCLAA President Jaime Martinez took the microphone to blast the armed Minutemen as "racist vigilantes," "terrorists," and "fascists."

The disputed resolution was written in a manner that could be easily adopted by other organizations. It read, ""Resolved, that the undersigned faith, business, and civic organizations hereby denounce the execution and enforcement of federal immigration laws by so-called civilian projects vigilantes and armed militias, and oppose the plans of the Minuteman Project for such purposes and hereby call upon the Mayor and members of the City Council of the City of Houston to adopt this resolution on behalf of the City of Houston and as their own; and, be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Governor of the State of Texas, calling upon him to adopt this resolution on behalf of the State of Texas and as his own; and, be it further resolved , that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to our community's elected federal officials calling upon them to adopt this resolution as their own."

After Richard Shaw, Jaime Martinez, and several other labor leaders had spoken, the resolution was unanimously approved by the Texas AFL-CIO convention.

In standing up for immigrants and other progressive decisions of the convention, the Texans showed that they intended to carry out the convention's slogan: "Building blocks for the future. Organize, Mobilize, Energize."

Top labor leaders and nearly all of the political office-holders spoke about the recent vote on the Central American "Free Trade Agreement." They made it extremely clear, a number of times, that union electoral activists consider it a priority to get rid of the three South Texas Democratic Congressmen who had voted with the Bush Administration. A particular target in the 2006 elections will be Congressman Henry Cuellar, who was charged with having been the first Democrat to declare himself on the George Bush side of the "free trade" argument.

Despite the anti-war resolution that the National AFL-CIO had passed, no resolutions on the war in Iraq were offered to the Texas convention. However, a number of speakers blasted the war. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and Richard Womack, Assistant to President John Sweeney of the National AFL-CIO, were particularly outspoken. When Womack asked the convention, "Did Bush tell the truth about the war in Iraq?" the crowd roared back, "No!"

The Texas meeting was the first big event that followed the historic national AFL-CIO convention in Chicago in July. Several speakers talked about finding ways to continue working with the Texas unionists whose national leaders had disaffiliated. Members of the disaffiliated United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) attended the Houston meeting, although they had no voting status. UFCW Vice President Willie Baker led one of the panel discussions.

Texas AFL-CIO leaders have made it clear in public that they hope to continue working with the entire labor movement on issues important to the state's workers. On political issues, and especially when the Texas Legislature is in session, the Texas federation has a long tradition of working with non-affiliated union representatives.

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