Delegates voted to back actions for immigrant rights already called for the first week of September, around Labor Day weekend. They also approved a call for nationally coordinated actions September 30, before Congress adjourns prior to the November elections, to demand immediate legalization of undocumented immigrants. Delegates also agreed to press the demand for a moratorium on workplace raids and deportations at all the actions in September.
Representatives of immigrant rights coalitions from 25 states and other groups present also voted to form the National Alliance for Immigrant Rights to serve as a coordinating body for campaigns to press for legislation that would grant residency to the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
We reject any bill proposal that offers any less, said Nativo López, director of Hermandad Mexicana and president of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) in Los Angeles. He spoke as part of a panel at the opening of the convention, titled We are for legalization for all, nothing less!
The opening panel also included Joel Magallán, of Asociación Tepeyac in New York; Moisés Zavala, an organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 in Chicago; Margarita Klein, of the UNITE HERE Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board; and Jorge Mujica, of the March 10 Movement in Chicago.
A number of delegates gave reports on their experiences in organizing huge mobilizations for immigrant rights last spring. Groups such as MAPA and the March 10 Movement were at the center of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of working people in Los Angeles and Chicago between early March and May Day.
Many of the participants pointed to the effectiveness of the May 1 boycott, which became the first multicity general political strike in U.S. history.
On the first day of the conference, Nilda Flores-González, a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, read the results of a survey done during the May Day march in Chicago of more than half a million people. The survey showed that 73 percent of the demonstrators were either full-time or part-time workers and that 72 percent had missed work to be at the march, she said.
There is a new wave of immigrants coming from countries where they see marching in the streets as a form of political participation, who have a tradition of protesting, said Mujica. The Sensenbrenner bill was the drop that made the glass overflow, he said. Mujica was referring to House Resolution 4437, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, and passed by the House of Representatives last December. HR 4437 would criminalize all undocumented immigrants in the country and those who aid them.
Delegates also discussed plans for activities around the Labor Day weekend. Many focused their remarks on building large contingents at the Labor Day parades being organized by the union movement over the September 2-4 weekend.
Plans for such actions are already underway in Los Angeles; Chicago; St. Paul, Minnesota; New York City; Phoenix, Arizona; and other cities, participants reported. (See calendar on page 3 for details.)
Delegates also agreed to return to their regions and reach out to immigrant rights organizations, trade unions, groups in the Black community, and others that did not send representatives to this conference as part of broadly building the upcoming actions.
The proposal that was adopted for nationally coordinated local actions on Saturday, September 30, stated: Congress is set to adjourn on October 6. We propose the slogan, Congress: Dont Go Home Until the Rights of Immigrants Are Addressed. In addition to the demands of the immigrants rights movement, we should say no to enforcement only or enforcement-first legislationů. Labor Day rallies and immigrants rights events, as well as the Mexican Independence Day parades on September 16 can be used to promote the national day of actions.
Delegates resolved that in all the upcoming actions they will promote not only demands for legalization of immigrants but for a moratorium on immigration raids of factories and other workplaces and deportations of immigrant workers.
The convention backed Elvira Arellano, a former cleaner at Chicagos OHare airport, who was ordered to report for deportation on August 15. In her effort to fight the deportation, she accepted sanctuary at a local church (see photo story on page 4). During the last session, delegates suspended deliberations for a period to call and leave messages en masse with the two U.S. senators in Illinois, demanding that they make every effort to stop Arellanos deportation.
At one point during the conference, a dozen members of the rightist group Minutemen picketed outside the Holiday Inn in Hillside, Illinois, where the meeting was held.
Trade unionists representing union locals and other labor organizations in the Midwest attended the conference. They included delegations from UFCW Local 881 here and Local 789 in Minnesota, Laborers International Union, Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, the Midwest Joint Board of UNITE HERE, and Farm Labor Organizing Committee.
I came here to make more contact with other groups, to expand unity, said Nicolae Salgado, a 25-year-old factory worker from Cincinnati, and a member of the Ohio Immigrants Network, which was formed two years ago. Salgado said his group joined with day laborers and others to build the May 1 marches in that area.
Whats being discussed here is very important, Oscar Gutiérrez, a 25-year-old meat packer at Dakota Premium Foods in St. Paul, Minnesota, and member of UFCW Local 789, told the Militant. I hope it will be taken forward because we need immigrants to fight with us in the unions. We recently won a contract in our plant.
Trade unionists promoting the Justice for Smithfield campaign also attended. This is an effort led by the UFCW to win support for workers at the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, who are trying to unionize the worlds largest pork slaughterhouse and processing plant.
Three members of UNITE HERE on strike against Lechner and Sons, an industrial laundry in Mount Prospect, Illinois, attended as well. The strikers are demanding a contract and better job conditions. We are 25, mostly immigrants, on strike for one month against mistreatment from the company, Esperanza Muñoz, one of the strikers, told the Militant. They change our hours so sometimes we start at 5:00 a.m. and sometimes at noon. We have children. How can we work like this? The 11 drivers who are in the Teamsters are also striking to support us.
Juana Nievez, another striker, said she liked the conference. In terms of unions and immigrants maybe most of the workers who are on strike today and mistreated are immigrants, she said.
Ernest Mailhot is a meat packer in Chicago. Róger Calero, Rollande Girard, and Christian Castro contributed to this article.
Build actions for immigrant rights!
Day laborers in partnership with AFL-CIO
Elvira Arellano, former cleaner at Chicago airport, fights government order for her deportation
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