Wisconsin’s Struggle Important To Latino Workers, Unions

[Editor’s Note: This is a repost from Pa’lante Latino and was written by Victoria Cepeda]

It was 1966 when Mexican-American civil rights activist Jesús 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 constituted  5% of Wisconsin’s population, 79% of Mexican descent, 27% of them lack health insurance, their poverty rate is of 23%? Therefore, you can make the case 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.

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is trying to balance the state budget on teh backs of union members by cutting pension and health care benefits, asking union members to contribute more towards these benefits, and trying to take away collective bargaining rights for the state’s 300,000 public workers.

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 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 Chávez, 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.

[Photo by vaxomatic]

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