TEXAS & MINORITIES
Texas Labor Help the Poor?
The Texas Observer
Antonio, January 21, 1966)
Something new appears to be happening in organized labor
in Texas. Texas AFL-CIO President Hank Brown's repeated
declarations that the organized workers have a duty to organize
those who are poor and divided, even though doing so will cost
union money and will require some of the organizing zeal of the
thirties, led to a new kind of labor meeting in San Antonio
early this month. Here were the assembled brass of Texas labor
and representatives of many of the international unions,
standing and wildly applauding a Catholic priest who had just
told them to get out of town and stay out if they didn't
organize the poor into unions.
The internationals are to organized labor what the great
national companies are to U.S. business; the state labor offices
are to labor what the state manufacturers' associations are to
business. Only if the internationals commit their treasure and
their men to a labor project can it really have substance.
Repeated declarations by Texas AFL-CIO that the poor Mexicano
and Negro workers must be organized could have no effect unless
and until the big internationals decided to go to work on the
Thus it mattered that during a recent labor meeting in
San Francisco, representatives of ten internationals met with
Brown and listened to his appeal for the commitment and
wherewithal to organize the Latin-American workers in San
Antonio and in the toes of Texas, the lower Valley. This month's
meeting in San Antonio was intended to convince staffers of the
internationals who were present to go back to their bosses and
sell them on committing the internationals to the project. Brown
wants a quarter of a million dollars and at least ten
internationals involved in a two-year drive. He said in San
Antonio that seven internationals have already said yes, but
their names were not given out.
Apart from the fact that the real power in labor lies
with the internationals, "organizing the unorganized"
in Texas has two other kinds of preliminary difficulties: the
union men themselves have lost much of their crusading zeal, so
that not many volunteers can be mustered for pioneering in the
unorganized fields; and in Texas, the poorest, most underpaid,
most numerous unorganized workers are Negroes and
Mexican-Americans, which weakens organized labor's zeal for
organizing them to whatever extent racial hostilities persist
among Texas union men.
Kermit Davison, Huntsville, has been put on Texas
AFL-CIO's staff as a public information officer for labor in
East Texas. Father of one of the student leaders in the
Huntsville civil rights movement, (who Davison says is now in
college in Huntsville, giving most of his time to his studies,
not to civil rights,) the elder Davison's work now consists of
encouraging Negroes to pay their poll taxes. Where, the Observer
asked him, would he start, organizing the unorganized workers of
East Texas? He said in the wood industry--lumber, pulp wood. The
two big companies, he said, are Champion Paper and fiber Co. and
International Paper co. In addition, he said, there are a number
of sawmills; he specified Temple Industries, L&M, Park,
Batcher Lumber Co. Wages for the thousands of workers, many of
them Negroes, in this industry, Davison said, run as low as 50
or 75 cents an hour, and on the average are perhaps $1.25.
Brown began the conference in San Antonio with the fact
that the industrial wage average in San Antonio is $79 a week,
the lowest of any U.S. city with a quarter million people or
more. J. Elro Brown, international oilworkers' staffer, says
unorganized workers in the Valley make 50 cents an hour up to
$1.90 an our, to. Only eight out of 100 workers in San Antonio
belong to unions, Brown said. Challenging racial discrimination
in clear words--as he and his secretary-treasurer, Roy Evans,
have done since they took over the Texas AFL-CIO, carrying on
the traditions of their immediate predecessors, Jerry Holleman
and Fred Schmidt--Brown said any union member who was guilty of
racial discrimination would be cast out as "unworthy of
It appeared, from the round of self-introductions that
then followed, that representatives of the international unions
of the brickworkers, meatcutters, oilworkers, ironworkers,
bookbinders, and communications workers were present. In
addition, local representatives, any of whom might have been
commissioned to represent their internationals at the meeting,
were present from the operating engineers, rubber workers,
painters, carpenters, pipefitters, electrical workers, cement
workers, stone masons, machinists, transit workers, rubber
workers, auto workers, retail clerks, brewery workers, federal
Lester Graham, regional director of labor for the state
of Texas, said that with three and a half million workers, Texas
has fewer than half a million in unions. But he discussed the
problem of volunteers for organizing with candor. "We do
not have many more volunteer workers, not too many," he
allowed. "They don't have time, and they have to make a
living. It costs money to organize. But it's just like bread on
the water, it comes back in the form of cake." National
labor, he said, would provide a coordinator and as much manpower
as other duties permitted, if the relevant union authorities
The Industrial Union Department (IUD) of the national
AFL-CIO is in effect the old CIO; Walter Reuther is the IUD
president. Its national director of organizing is a fiery, pudgy
orator named Nick Zonarich, who came out of the mines in
Pennsylvania and was formerly president of the aluminum workers.
Zonarich had a number of his staffers present in San Antonio,
and his message was plain: IUD is ready now to start a drive in
Brownsville and didn't need to wait until March (when Brown had
another meeting of the internationals and get started in
The most impressive characteristic of the San Antonio
meeting was the way the speakers felt moved to say the truth
that the labor movement, (implicitly as compared with the civil
rights movement) has gone soft. "Many of us have attended
many meetings about the organizing of the unorganized,"
Zonarich said. "It's true of all our conventions--we're
talking and passing resolutions and it seems we get very little
action out of it." But IUD has been doing the work for
"the past couple of years now," and is in "the
business of organizing the unorganized," he said.
(Elections have been going labor's way in Texas the past couple
of months; the day before, Steve Williams, IUD's coordinator in
Texas, had won an election involving 500 workers at the Dallas
Automotive Parts Shop, Zonarich said.)
"Texas needs a strong and powerful labor
movement," he said. "You can only get your rights with
a labor union. They employ you for whatever they can hire you
for, except for minimum wage standards. Another reason is a
great gentleman that comes from the State of Texas."
Texas< Zonarich said, is "a barefoot
economy" from El Paso to Brownsville, and IUD is prepared
to go into the "Brownsville area" with money and
manpower, calling on all the local unions there now to help.
"The climate is ripe now to hit this area of organizing
Texas," Zonarich said. "If the President announced to
the world that his Administration has declared war on poverty, I
don't know of a better place for the labor unions to start than
The internationals, Zonarich said, "have the dough.
Don't be mistaken--there's money in the labor movement. All we
need to do is convince them of what the believe."
The voice of the next speaker, Gerald Brown, executive
secretary of the State Building Trades Council and spokesman for
the counterpart national council, came from a network of
concerns quite different from Zonarich's.
The United Mineworkers, who are not members of national
AFL-CIO, are raiding the construction trades in the area along
the coast from Beaumont-Port Arthur to Corpus Christi. "We
got news from 'em--we're gonna out-organize 'em," Brown
said. He said the mineworkers "like to ruin us all" in
Oakland, Cal., and Baton Rouge, La. "They're trying to
price us out of business, is what it amounts to," he said.
"They are not excluding anyone. They're hittin' everyplace,
Gerald Brown gave the example of the construction of a
hospital in the coast area. The standard building trades had a
contract for the job. "District N. 50," the
mineworkers, wrote the contractor, saying that while the
building trades would use six journeymen plumbers and six
apprentices, the mineworkers would use one journeyman and six
apprentices and save them 60% of their labor costs;
"which," Brown said, "--they were right, and they
woulda done it." Brown said in effect the mineworkers give
the contractors whatever contract terms they want, as long as
the mineworkers get the work and the members. The mineworkers'
pay scales on construction work vary from $1 to $3 an hour,
Brown said. Texas AFL-CIO is backing up the established trades.
In open discussion, before the "buzz sessions"
that were closed to the two reporters present, (one from the San
Antonio Express, the other the Observer) Elro Brown of the
oilworkers asked Zonarich what had happened to an idea that the
initial union dues for the unorganized poor be very low,
Zonarich said that couldn't be settled for the internationals at
once; that each would have to make its own decisions on it. This
led to informed speculation later that George Meany or those
close to him may have nixed the idea.
How much money would be involved? Zonarich said if ten
internationals took part, the cost might be $100,000, $10,000
for each international on the average, and this could be kicked
in with organizers, figured at the rate of $1,200 per man per
month, or in cash. There would be an area coordinating
committee, with the target companies selected in advance. Brown
said a coordinating drive in San Antonio alone, not counting
manpower, would cost $10,000.
Zonarich said of the mineworkers' organizing in the
crafts on the Gulf Coast, "believe me, the only reason
District 50 has been raiding is because we haven't been working
at it." With coordination, he said, the mineworkers might
be told, "You take some plants and we'll take some."
Brown said Texas AFL-CIO's resolution to set up a
broad-based organizing drive on its own if the internationals
won't do it has caused displeasure in national labor, with some
talk even of putting Texas AFL-CIO "in trusteeship,"
but he meant it anyway. "We've got to organize this town
come hell or high water," he said. "I'm gonna scream
and holler and lie and cheat until we get this town
organized!" The president of the San Antonio labor council
backed him up, noting that the industrial wage in San Antonio is
$42 a week lower than in Houston.
The last speaker was also the roughest -- Father Sherrill
Smith, director of the social action department of the Catholic
diocese of San Antonio.
"Labor this part of the country ought to put up or
shut up," he said. "If you don't I don't want to see
you back in this place. I don't want to see you around any more,
I don't want to pray for you any more--I'm too busy praying for
the slaves around here.
"If you can't do the job--if you can't work out your
jurisdictional difficulties, then you haven't achieved the point
of maturity--if you can't do it, then in a way you're a failure.
You have your own little group, you're fat, and you don't give a
damn about the others."
He had earned his credentials on many picket lines,
Father Smith said; he had been to the labor conventions and
heard the oratory. "The chips are down as far as I'm
concerned, in San Antonio and the Valley. I wonder why only ten
internationals are aimed at--why not twenty? If this thing has
to be done--why not twenty?" Send organizers, some of whom
could and would speak some Spanish, he pleaded.
He wanted to see, the priest concluded, "if all
these hi-faluti' words here will be turned into actions."
Something in his manner--insulting, furious, heedless, and
slightly profane--got to these salaried bureaucrats of the
working men, and they stood up and applauded with passion; were
they younger they'd have cheered.
One of them turned to a reporter and said, "Those
are words, too."
But since then, the words have begun to become action.
The IUD has begun interviewing in the lower Valley for the
hiring of ten organizers from among Valley people, Evans told
the Observer. Hank Brown has announced that Steve Williams will
direct expanded IUD operations in South Texas beginning March 1,
and Lester Graham will head the San Antonio drive. And this time
the additional words from Brown--that "Far too long, we
have talked of organizing South Texas. The time for action is at
hand. Labor must meet its responsibilities and raise the
standards of one-half million poverty stricken workers in
Texas"--had the quieter sound that words have sometimes.
* * *
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. —
* * * *
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posted 24 July 2008