Panel connects fight for safety, union, immigrants
BY NORTON SANDLER
LOS ANGELES—Three workers involved in interrelated struggles of job safety, union organizing and immigrants' rights spoke March 3 at the Militant Labor Forum here.
Jason Madera, a member of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13, talked about the death of fellow ILWU member Steve Saggiani, who was killed Jan. 19 while working on a ship's deck at the Long Beach port. "The crane operator tried to communicate [with Saggiani] but the equipment didn't work," he said. "We deal with overcrowding in the yards, speed-ups, productivity pushes from supervisors. The pressure from on top creates situations for disasters to happen."
Also speaking were Christian Torres, 25, a cook and one of 17 cafeteria workers fired by Pomona College after they began to organize a union, and Remberto Martínez, a port truck driver active in the fight to organize the Teamsters union at the Toll Group shipping company in San Pedro. The program was chaired by Arlene Rubinstein, from the Los Angeles branch of the Socialist Workers Party.
Torres and the other workers were fired in December 2011 after Pomona College conducted its own "audit" of workers' immigration status. The workers had been trying for two years to organize a union in response to speedup and increasingly dangerous conditions.
"As an immigrant worker I am not going to stand and take this quietly," said Torres.
After the firings the workers began reaching out for support. They have had rallies attracting students, faculty, trade unions and religious groups. Torres urged participants to join a March 30 "Banquet in the Streets" in Pomona.
Martínez has been driving a truck for 25 years, three years for Toll Group. "For any little thing that might happen to the truck, a scratch, anything, we would get sent to the doctor to be drug tested," he said. "But when I fell from a truck on my back, the company safety boss scolded and insulted me. I had to get myself to the doctor."
"We started to talk about organizing ourselves into a union," said Martínez. "I was scared. We all have families. But I decided to fight. That's why I am here to speak to you about the capitalist bosses. They say they give us benefits. But we are the ones who create them."
The first speaker in the discussion was David Herrera, a leader of the fight by some 200 workers fired in recent months at Pacific Steel Casting Co. in Berkeley, California. The workers were fired following a government-ordered audit of their I-9 immigration forms, often referred to as a silent raid. On Feb. 17, more than 400 workers and their supporters held a protest march. Last year the workers went on strike and pushed back the company's effort to cut their health care and other benefits.
"We are here to meet and support other workers in struggle," said Herrera.
Other participants included a packinghouse worker, a worker from a local car wash, and a warehouse worker.
"Everyone here is no stranger to what we working people face," said chairperson Rubinstein, a production worker in a United Auto Workers-organized factory. "The bosses are trying to shore up their profits by exploiting us more. They call it increasing productivity, which means making us work harder for less.
"Spreading impoverishment, widespread unemployment, broken trade unions, large-scale imprisonment of working people, especially African-Americans—this is what is in store for us. A revolutionary, political solution is at the heart of what is needed. That road lies ahead, and it is up to us to make."