“They embraced their cause 24 hours a day”

In the summer of 1992, immigrant construction workers across southern California launched a militant strike that surprised both their employers and the Anglo leaders of trade unions. Aided by the California Immigrant Workers Association (CIWA), the drywallers' strike succeeded in improving working conditions in residential construction across the region. This account is from CIWA organizer Jose De Paz. CIWA operated from 1989-1994 as an associate membership organization of the AFL-CIO.

Three main ingredients account for the success of the drywallers strike. First, the determination of the strikers. They were not doing “strike duty”. They embraced their cause 24 hours a day and everything else became secondary to the strike. Additionally, the strikers were aware that they were being oppressed not only as workers but also as Mexicans, which made their bond twice as strong. This came particularly handy when entire families were evicted from their homes for non-payment of rent and had to move in with one or more families in a single dwelling.

Second, organized labor’s considerable contribution to the independent drywall strike fund. In addition to individuals and community organizations, more than 21 AFL-CIO affiliated unions and six Central Labor Councils in California made significant donations to the fund.

Third, CIWA’s unique participation. Besides coordinating legal and immigration defense, CIWA served as a communication bridge between the strikers and police agencies. CIWA also functioned as the strikers’ spokesperson with the media (particularly the Spanish-language media) and as the coordinator of support from Latino community and labor organizations. CIWA’s unique com­ bination of skills and its dual credentials in the labor and Latino communities enabled it to convert the drywallers’ struggle from a localized labor dispute into a Latino workers movement.

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No peace without social justice, 1992

Members of SEIU local 399, CIWA, the ILGWU, and other organizations march in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest.

Marchers carry signs and banners from a variety of Los Angeles community organizations and unions, including one from Local 399 reading “No Hay Paz sin Justicia Social” (No Peace without Social Justice). A handwritten note on the back of the photograph appears to read “J for J Rent Protest 5/92” suggesting a connection to the civil unrest of April 29-May 4, 1992.

“L.A. unions and people who need them meet face to face”

LA Country Federation of Labor details the Labor Immigrant Assistance Program and the California Immigrant Workers Association.

Following the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Los Angeles unions became more involved in recruiting immigrant workers. An article in the L.A. County Federation of Labor Newsletter profiles the Labor Immigrant Assistance Project (LIAP) and the California Immigrant Workers Association (CIWA), both efforts by the labor movement to reach out to new immigrants. From The Federation News, January/February 1989, pp. 4-5.