'The Power of Their Numbers,' Calendar
- 'The Power of Their Numbers'
By Harold Meyerson
March 3, 2006
This morning, for the first time in two months, it will
be a day with immigrants at the University of Miami. On
Monday the university's janitors -- almost all of them
immigrants, and the vast majority refugees from Fidel
Castro's Cuba -- won a nine-week battle with the
university and its janitorial contractor over their
right to be represented by a union. Today they report
back to work. When the Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) set out to organize the janitors, it
didn't anticipate its campaign would turn into the
struggle it eventually became. "Given who the president
of the university is," said Eliseo Medina, SEIU's
executive vice president, "we actually expected this to
go rather smoothly."
It seemed a reasonable expectation. The president of
the University of Miami is Donna Shalala, secretary of
health and human services in the Clinton administration
and a longtime proponent of greater equity for the
poor. Nonetheless, when the strike began, it was hard
to find Miamians much poorer than the university's
janitors. Maritza Paz, who was admitted to the United
States 13 years ago as a political refugee from Cuba,
hired on at the university 11 years ago at $4.35 an
hour. When the strike began, she had worked her way up
to a sumptuous $6.70 hourly wage with no benefits, for
which she cleaned 17 bathrooms and 20 offices every
But as weeks dragged into months, both the university
and its contractor refused to deal with the union.
Workers and students embarked on a hunger strike, and
SEIU enlisted the help of its numerous Democratic
allies. Behind the scenes, a number of Shalala's former
Clinton administration colleagues worked to mediate a
solution. A few weeks ago a Shalala-appointed
commission recommended raising wages and establishing
health benefits (recommendations that Shalala promptly
enacted), but it did so without ever having met with
any of the striking workers. Convinced that they still
had no channel to talk to management, the workers
stayed out. Medina embarked on a hunger strike that
ended only Monday, when the university agreed to a
procedure that enables the workers to get their union.
Coincidentally, Monday was also a landmark day in the
struggle for immigrant rights -- a struggle in which
Medina has long played a pivotal role. In 1999 Medina
led the successful fight to persuade the AFL-CIO to
reverse its historical opposition to immigrants and
embrace their cause. His union, SEIU, has been the
principal funder and logistical coordinator for many of
the recent legalization demonstrations. And Medina sees
the current tsunami of immigrant activism as a portent
not just of political change but of union growth.
"My guess is that 90 percent of the people in the
street have never done anything like this before," he
said. "Fear of taking part in public actions is now
less of a factor for them."
After Monday's job boycott, their fear of taking part
in job actions may be diminished as well. Perhaps the
most economically significant shutdown came at the
ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach -- combined, the
nation's largest harbor and its primary entry point for
Asian-made imports -- where roughly 90 percent of the
almost entirely immigrant workforce of truckers who
drive those imports all over the country stayed off the
The truckers' tale is one of the most appalling in
American labor. With trucking deregulated, neither the
trucking companies nor the shipping lines will claim
them as employees. Instead, the companies hire them as
"independent contractors," and on average, these
poverty-wage entrepreneurs clear about $20,000 a year.
Over the past decade, several campaigns to organize the
drivers have fallen flat, but now the Teamsters, with
the help of the new Change to Win Federation, to which
SEIU also belongs, are taking another run at it. This
time, though, the zeitgeist has changed. Immigrant
workers, Medina said, "are feeling for the first time
the power of their numbers."
Even a sea change among immigrant workers doesn't
necessarily mean that the dark days of American labor
could be coming to an end. In the growing high-end,
high-tech workforce, said union strategist Jim
Grossfeld, who with pollster Celinda Lake has
undertaken a study for the Center for American Progress
of professional and technical employees, "many workers
have a problem with the word 'union' and with the old
economic rules." Nonetheless, he points out, in a time
of rampant economic insecurity, such unions as the
Communications Workers of America have even managed to
But it's chiefly immigrant workers who are emerging
from the shadows to lead the next generation's battles
for economic equity. "Our victory," said Maritza Paz,
speaking of her struggle in Miami but also about this
transformative moment in American immigrant life,
"shows workers they can overcome their fears. It has
opened the doors."
Â© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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ANTHONY ARNOVE, author of "The Logic of Withdrawal" (forward by Howard
will be speaking in Los Angeles this week on Thursday and Friday nights!
This will be an excellent anti-war meeting. Anthony is also the co-editor,
with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People's History. Anthony also works with
Joel Andreas in getting ADDICTED To WAR published in other languages.
Thursday, May 4th at 7:00 PM
featuring Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal
Reading at Eso Won Books
3655 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles
Friday, May 5th at 7:00 PM
featuring Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal
Reading at Barnes and Noble Booksellers
3rd Street Promenade
1201 3rd Street, Santa Monica
The New Press is organizing the End The War Now Tour in conjunction with
dozens of national and local antiwar organizations working to end the war in
Iraq, to protect of young people through counter-recruitment organizing, to
defend the rights of conscience objectors, veterans and their families, and
to inform the American public about the war in Iraq and the antiwar movement
in the U.S. through independent, unfiltered journalism, book publishing,
art, and music.
I concur with the accolades below and regret I'll be away on
Sunday. Charlie's songs are very powerful, his music, beautiful -
a true gem that comes around only too rarely. Karen Brandow
would be a new treat for me, and for you.
You are Invited to a House Concert with the Fabulous
Charlie King & Karen Brandow
Sunday, May 7th at 7:00 PM
Frank , Jane and Emily Dorrel's
3967 Shedd Terrace (AKA Lauren Lane), Culver City 90232
Gather at 7:00 PM ~ Concert starts at 7:30 PM
$10 at the door
Dessert and Drinks Served
Call 310-838-8131 to RSVP or for directions
Charlie King and Karen Brandow are musical storytellers and political
satirists. Their repertoire covers a century and a half and four continents.
They perform with the sweet and precise harmonies of life partners. They
sing and write passionately about the extraordinary lives of ordinary
people. In addition to a full time career of concert touring, King and
Brandow have sung in support of numerous groups working for peace, human
rights, environmental sanity and alternatives to violence. Their central
vision as entertainers is to leave audiences with a sense of optimism and
possibility about the future. "We try to cover a broad emotional landscape
in our concerts. The stories we collect and the songs we write take the
listener on a journey of humor, heartache and hope. What we most value in a
song is the way it helps us see an old reality in a totally new light."
Charlie King has been at the heart of American folk music for over 40 years.
His songs have been recorded and sung by other performers such as Pete
Seeger, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, John McCutcheon, Arlo Guthrie, Peggy
Seeger, Chad Mitchell and Judy Small. Honors include an "Indie" award for
one of the top three folk recordings of 1984. In May of 1998 the War
Resisters League gave their Peacemaker Award to Charlie and to Odetta. Pete
Seeger nominated Charlie for the Sacco-Vanzetti Social Justice Award, which
he received in November 1999. Charlie has released a dozen solo albums since
1976. He has also released three albums with the touring ensemble Bright
Morning Star, and numerous compilation albums with other artists. Charlie
was born in 1947, and was raised in Brockton, MA. He cites as musical
influences the folk music revival of the 1960's, the civil rights movement
and the Vietnam War era.
Karen Brandow has been performing with Charlie King since 1998. While doing
human rights work in Guatemala from 1986-1994, Karen studied voice,
performance and classical guitar. She performed at political and cultural
events in that country as a soloist and was a founding member of the a
cappella singing group, the Non-Traditional Imports. Karen was born in 1954
in Philadelphia, PA. She began singing and playing guitar as a teenager.
While living in Central America, she broadened her repertoire to include
Latin American music of the "Nueva Canción" or New Song Movement. She
performs songs in English and Spanish.
What other's have said about Charlie and Karen
"Charlie is one of the finest singers and songwriters of our time." ~ Pete
"Two voices that complement each other beautifully & instrumentation that is
spare, acoustic & just right"
Victory Music Review ~
"If we had more Charlie Kings in the world I'd be less worried," ~ Peggy
"Karen's soft and simultaneously strong voice has the fluid sound of a
Latina.their harmony singing is a thing of rare beauty." - The Folknik,
"Exactly what a folk music recording should be: songs that make you think,
laugh, weep and dance."
Matt Watroba, Folk DJ WDET, Detroit MI. ~
"The music was nothing short of fantastic.If you have not done so yet, you
must see these artists on stage."
Activist San Diego concert Review ~
"I am so very excited and honored to have Charlie King and Karen Brandow
singing at our house this coming May 7th. Their music is very special.
Hearing them is something I recommend to all of my friends". ~ Frank Dorrel