North Texas Jobs with Justice and the Dallas AFL-CIO joined together to celebrate December 10, International Human Rights Day, at CWA 6215 Hall, 1408 N Washington in Dallas. One of the most diverse crowds ever assembled under Dallas labor's banner took part. Rosemarie Rieger did most of the organizing work, but the new Young Workers Director for the Dallas labor movement, Kooper Caraway, brought in the most exciting speakers.
Emmanuel Vinton (UNITE-HERE)
Rosemarie Rieger (North Texas Jobs with Justice)
Mark York (Dallas AFL-CIO)
The first speaker that Rieger introduced was Kooper Caraway. He explained that the national AFL-CIO convention of the past summer had mandated all units to develop youth and community outreach projects. He emphasized the importance of working together for both youth and labor. The bosses, he said, always try to divide young against old, but "We're not going to play your games any more. We see right through you. You're not going to divide us against each other!"
Young people will learn through working with others and through deliberate educational events, Caraway said. "They use our youthful optimism to exploit us. The only way we're going to end our exploitation is to join with the rest of the workers' movement!"
Kooper Caraway gave an enthusiastic presentation
Caraway talked about the importance of learning labor history. He compared the difficulty of union organizing in older days, when bayonets threatened strikers, to today when we have almost nothing to fear.
Caraway's friends, "The Rebels" -- a trio of militant African hip-hop performers, then began what was to be the most exciting part of the evening. Between speakers, they gave musical interpretations of just what the human rights struggle is all about. Although the short video doesn't do the evening justice, it may be viewed here.
After Caraway's talk, Rosemarie Rieger read relevant parts of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The simple and straightforward statements ring with veracity, yet everybody in the room knew of instances where these simple rights are denied in our own nation.
The next speaker was Christy Medrano, age 19 and head of Feminist Majority. She said that Latino women make 59 cents for every dollar that white men make doing the same work. This pay gap is the largest of all pay gaps, she said. She pointed out that 65% of all minimum wage earners are women, and that undocumented women fare far worse. Medrano talked about being among the 3,000 women who spontaneously gathered to defend women's rights during the last Texas Legislature and said, "The labor movement has a lot to learn from the reproductive rights movement." Through applause, the crowd agreed, because we were all learning through that evening.
Emanuel Vinton of UNITE-HERE was born in Liberia and thus contributed to the great diversity of the group. We had undocumented workers, Central Americans, one Mid-Easterner, several Africans, gays, straights, youth, union members, one political office-holder, and more females than males.
Vinton told us that his union will be starting a grass roots movement for airline food service workers. His union will also be working to get justice for a large number of hotel workers who were recently fired in a union-busting gambit.
Mark York talked about how his union (Transport Workers) protected women and gays from the bosses. "We've stood up for women in the workplace and made sure they had equal pay. We wouldn't stand for harrassment of gays!" York indicated that he would like to find workers from the LBGT community to help form a constituency group of the AFL-CIO, "Pride at Work!"
Colby Harris of OUR WALMART
Colby Harris is one of the most popular activists in North Texas because of his personal charm and his courage in standing up to the world's largest employer. He talked about the deficit of human rights suffered by Walmart employees and his own personal struggle against the corporation. At one time, he said, he was so desperate to keep his low-paying, uncertain hours, job that he rose at 2 AM and walked 15 miles to work! After he began to protest the ill treatment of Walmart employees, Harris was fired. A large number of Walmart employees are currently protesting firings through the National Labor Relations Board.
Colby Harris said, "Walmart has more oppressed people than some third world countries!"
Mia Dia, a youthful worker and activist originally from Jordan, talked about her inspiration in forming the Women's Alliance for Leadership. Like Christy Medrano, she had been inspired by the fight in Austin over women's rights. Dia said that she was impressed by the earlier presentations and the possibility of pulling together a long-lasting and effective coalition of diverse action groups with labor. That is surely what the rest of us were thinking, too!"
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