After years of fighting deportation sweeps in Los Angeles, activists associated with the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo (CASA) formed special committee to address workplace raids by the INS and to advocate for the rights of undocumented workers generally. The Comité Obrero en Defensa de los Indocumentados en Lucha (CODIL, or in English the Workers Committee in Defense of the Undocumented in the Struggle) joined with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and a group of unions in an ad hoc Labor Immigration Action Center to coordinate immigrant organizing and legal defense.
On May 17, 1978 an election among over 700 workers at the Sbicca shoe factory in El Monte resulted in a narrow loss for the Retail Clerk’s union. The union filed objections contesting the result, but the next day immigration agents arrived at the plant and ordered the immediate deportation of 120 workers. CODIL charged the raid “was carried out in a selective manner looking principally for those who supported the union” and then pressuring workers to sign voluntary deportation orders even after they requested a lawyer. As the workers were aboard buses en route to the border, the union appealed for help from the Labor Immigration Action Center. Lawyers with the NLG filed suit in federal court and secured a temporary restraining order halting the deportation until the workers could have individual hearings. The legal victory energized immigrant worker advocates and encouraged progressive unionists. For a time, the number of factory raids and worker deportation dropped significantly.
Following the victory at Sbicca, CODIL activists recruited participants in workplace committees through regular meetings held at the Peoples College of Law near MacArthur Park. The committees aimed to organize nonunion workers and also to challenge existing unions to defend immigrant workers. CODIL identified their membership as those who “have been deported repeatedly because we have claimed our rights in front of the exploiting bosses.” CODIL trained workers to assert their constitutional rights during raids, and encouraged unions to write into their contracts protections against workplace raids and the right of workers to return to work after deportation.
CODIL Asemblea General, from the papers of CASA-HGT, Box 32, Folder 4. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.