ILWU members joined with other workers, community organizations and church groups on Saturday, February 25th at a union hall in Hayward, CA, where a training was held to prepare for immigration raids supported by President Trump. Those attending from Local 6 included Alejandra León, Mirella Jauregui, Pedro Sánchez, Delfina Casillas and Secretary-Treasurer Chris Castaing.
ILWU members and other union activists described how they have successfully fought raids and firings that targeted immigrants in the past. Workers used these experiences to enact dramatic “role plays” that illustrated how workers can defend themselves – in conjunction with legal advice and community support.
Following the dramatic “teatro” performance that featured four Local 6 recycling workers, everyone joined small groups that brainstormed various strategies for coordinating efforts between unions, churches and community groups.
Workplace raids and deportations are expected to increase under President Trump, who made immigrants a target of his presidential campaign and described them as “rapists and criminals who bring drugs and crime into America.” Scientific studies prove immigrants are less likely to be involved in those activities. “It’s important to remember the important role that immigrants have played by building unions in our country,” said Secretary-Treasurer Chris Castaing, who attended the training.
The immigrant Harry Bridges
Agustin Ramirez, Lead Organizer for Northern California, noted that ILWU co-founder Harry Bridges was accused of being an ‘illegal immigrant’ because he organized waterfront workers in the 1930’s – and was harassed for decades afterward due to his immigration status and advocacy for unions and working-class causes.
“Bridges successfully fought back with help from his co-workers and community groups, and we have to do the same today to protect our brothers and sisters on the shop floor and in their homes,” said Ramirez.
Recycling worker Mirella Jauregui said the time she spent at the workshop was worthwhile. “We got information that will be useful to help friends and families in our community,” she said.
Day without immigrants
Ten days before the training, on February 16, thousands of immigrants stayed home from work and many joined actions across the U.S.
Participants in the “Day Without Immigrants” included poultry workers in Arkansas, warehouse workers in Brooklyn, roofers in Minneapolis and students in dozens of cities including many on the West Coast.
Word spread quickly
The actions were organized quickly through social media, radio and television reports, the week after President Trump announced a new wave of immigration raids.
In Portland, Oregon, local Latino radio stations announced the strike and encouraged listeners to participate.
Several rallies resulted and some businesses closed, according to Romeo Sosa of the VOZ Workers Education Project, a Portland day laborer organization.
Retaliation & rehiring
Among the many thousands who stayed home, at least 100 workers were fired for participating in the strike, including 30 bricklayers in Colorado, 21 workers at a boat building company in Lexington, South Carolina, and 12 line cooks at a restaurant in Catoosa, Oklahoma. In some cases, worker centers and immigrant rights organizations were able to pressure employers into re-hiring workers who faced retaliation.
Actions everywhere With immigrants now working throughout the country, actions in some regions seemed to take residents by surprise. That may have been the case in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where so many students joined the strike that school district officials had to officially cancel the school day – in a city long considered a home of the Republican Party and conservatism. It is also the hometown of Amway heiress Betsy DeVos who now serves as Trump’s Secretary of Education.
A big step forward
Housekeeper Isabel Castillo who lives in the Grand Rapids area and belongs to the Worker Justice Center there kept her son home from school on February 16. When she brought him back the next day, she said “people were very emotional. We felt like human beings. We lost a day of work, but we took a big step forward.”