Justice for Janitors History Day

Rank and file activist Victoria Marquez shares her personal collection of newspapers, documents, t-shirts, hats, and buttons at a history gathering day.

The members of SEIU-USWW gathered at the union hall in May 2011 to share their stories, memories, photographs, clippings, and artifacts. Long-time union member Victoria Marquez brought an extensive collection of documents, buttons, t-shirts, and other items. Later, she shared her life story with Andrew Gomez as part of a UCLA Oral History Research Center project. You can listen and read along here.

Fast for USC Workers

Dolores Huerta, Jesse Jackson support USC workers.

In 1999, UNITE HERE leader Maria Elena Durazo led workers, clergy, and activists in a fast to protest the failure of the University of Southern California (USC) to negotiate with their workers. In an editorial printed in the Los Angeles Times, Durazo compared the fast to those of United Farm Worker leader Cesar Chavez. “How could I ask others to work harder in the labor movement, to take even greater risks for their children and their co-workers, unless I was willing to fast side by side with them?” she wrote in explanation of the fast.

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.

Jobs with Peace

Activists with the 1986 Los Angeles Jobs with Peace campaign hold signs for Proposition V outside the International Ladies Garment Workers union hall on MacArthur Park. The building is now the UCLA James M. Lawson, Jr. Worker Justice Center, home of the UCLA Labor Center.

How can progressive political movements win power in geographically expansive and multiracial cities like Los Angeles? The answer, according to the Los Angeles Jobs with Peace campaign was “coalition architecture,” an intentional strategy to link the interests of organized labor with the peace movement, the women’s movement, and the African American civil rights movement through the shared goal of creating good jobs for all by redirecting money from military to domestic spending. In 1984 and 1986, the campaign backed citywide ballot initiatives and built a network of supporters at the precinct level to turnout voters. The 1984 Proposition X called on the city to research and report on pension and contract funds that flowed to military contractors. It passed by a comfortable margin. Proposition V in 1986 would have established a commission to advise the city on how to redirect funds away from military contractors. Proposition V faced a well-funded opposition campaign from business interests and lost by a wide margin. Despite the defeat, the campaign built an effective get-out-the-vote operation at the precinct level that would be the basis of future progressive victories.

Continue reading “Jobs with Peace”

Somma waterbed workers win back pay, 1985

A group of men raise their fists and make victory signs. Some hold paper checks.
ILGWU organizer Miguel Machuca (center, wearing a tie) and Somma waterbed factory workers celebrate back-pay awards ordered by the NLRB after the company illegally fired union activists.

In 1984, workers at the Somma waterbed factory in East Los Angeles began organizing fellow workers at neighborhood soccer games and decide to join the ILGWU. Most of the workers were immigrants from Mexico and Central America, many without documentation. Their employer was Angel Echevarria, a prominent figure in the Latino community and in Los Angeles politics. In January 1985, Somma workers voted 117-48 for a union. The company refused to negotiate with the workers and illegally fired more than 20 key union activists.

The ILGWU and the fired Somma workers held continuous pickets outside the factory, joined by other workers on their lunch breaks and by community supporters. They also launched a boycott of Somma waterbeds to bring their employer to the bargaining table. When the company fired another group of organizers, workers walked out on strike and won their jobs back. After a long delay, the NLRB ordered the fired workers rehired with back pay and upheld the union election over the companies objections.

A flyer calling for supporters of striking workers to attend a solidarity rally for Somma Waterbed workers.
A flyer publicizing a rally in support of striking workers at the Somma mattress factory in Los Angeles, 1985. En Español.

Sources: ILGWU Photographs, Box 3, Folder 9, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives at the Cornell University Library. Rosalio Muñoz papers, Box 64, Folder 3, UCLA Library Department of Special Collections.