Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rudy Lozano: "his footprints show us the way in today's historic struggles"

by John Bachtell
Chicago-“The great thing about people who lead great lives is they inspire others years later to stand up for what is good and just,” declared Rev. Calvin Morris. “Rudy Lozano’s footprints show us the way for activism in today’s historic struggles.”

Morris, Director of the Community Renewal Society opened a June 22 gathering of over 250 people paying tribute to the remarkable life of Rudy Lozano, cut short by an assassin’s bullet 25 years ago.

Speaker after speaker illustrated how the seeds sown by Lozano and his fellow activists in countless struggles have blossomed into today’s mass people’s upsurge cresting in the electoral arena. A short video included remarks by Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Cesar Chavez and several of today’s young activists.

Richard Barnett, an aide to Mayor Washington captured Lozano’s political legacy in a Chicago Tribune quote. “It was people like Lozano who built the foundation for Barack Obama's historic run for the presidency.

"You have to have the grass-roots grunt work done, then you can have Barack Obama," Barnett said. "That grunt work was done by Rudy and other folks of that era. If you want something, you have to fight for it, and that was Rudy," said Barnett.

Lozano emerged as a leading force in the Mexican American community in the late 1960s as a student. He organized a movement demanding a new high school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and a curriculum that respected the contributions of Mexicans to history. That struggle eventually led to the construction of Benito Juarez High School.

“There are three pillars to the essence of Rudy Lozano, observed Jesus Garcia, Director of Little Village Economic Development Corporation and a close friend and co-worker. Garcia said Lozano was a man of action, believed in the power of organized labor and multi-racial unity and fought for involvement of the Mexican American community in the electoral process and building of political independence.

Lozano was instrumental in building a multi-racial coalition around the historic mayoral campaign of Harold Washington in 1983. Lozano helped bring the Mexican American community into the winning alliance while running for alderman against an entrenched machine candidate. He lost by 17 votes and was killed before he was to appointed vice mayor by Washington.

Lozano’s widow and co-worker, Lupe Lozano spoke about the struggle led by Lozano, Garcia, she and others to found the 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization, which remains on the forefront of political independence in city politics. 22nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Munoz told the crowd he couldn’t take on Mayor Daley without the IPO’s strength and support.

Lupe Lozano said despite losing the first aldermanic election “we won the founding of a multi-racial coalition and the election of Harold Washington. Rudy saw a bigger vision – victory for people of all of Chicago. Rudy represented a symbol of unity,” she said.

Garcia won an aldermanic election shortly after Rudy’s death and then became the first Mexican American elected to the state legislature. The movement continues to grow, he said, and elected a block of independent labor-backed alderman in Chicago last year.

Lozano became the Midwest Organizing Director for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the precursor of Unite Here! He was organizing tortilla workers when he died. Those behind the murder remain a mystery.

The keynote speaker was Joel Ochoa, a Lozano friend, organizer for IAM Local Lodge 727N and California Immigrant Workers Association. Ochoa said the movement Lozano helped create along with Burt Corona and others put the whole discussion of amnesty for undocumented workers in the center of public debate.

“The AFL-CIO has completely changed its position and millions have taken to the streets. For that I can say thanks Rudy Lozano and Burt Corona. The fight was and is about political power. They realized the Mexican American community needed to unite with other communities and needed to create coalitions,” he said.

The event ended when the next generation of Lozano’s took the stage. Sons Rudy, jr., Pepe and David are all deeply involved in the progressive political life of the city carrying forth their father’s mighty vision.

Pepe Lozano implored the crowd to become engaged in the 2008 elections. “This is a history making process, and we will be missing it if we don’t do all we can to elect Barack Obama president," he said

Monday, June 16, 2008

Celebrating 30 years of the Puerto Rican People's Parade

Chicago - The 30th Annual Puerto Rican People's Parade was held on June 14. The theme of this year's parade was "Aesthetics as resistance - the act of community building." The theme seeks to highlight the continuing fight against the gentrification of the community which is driving many Puerto Rican families out.

Everyone was anticipating the presence of Lolita Lebron, as the Grand Marshall, but she wasn't able to make it.

The Parade traveled past throngs down Paseo Boricua on Division Street in the heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community and past the annual festival in Humboldt Park.

Among the Puerto Rican flags, parade floats and contingents were the Communist Party of Illinois! After helping register voters with other election activists during the morning, CPUSA members joined the Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, Puerto Rican Cultural Center, many other community groups including those protesting ongoing gentrification, motorcyclists, decorated cars and others.

The People's Parade was conceived because the official parade was downtown, away from the Humboldt Park community. The People's Parade was established to address the social issues of the community.

The Festival went on into the night to the beat of Son and Salsa music from various stages and tents of traditional foods and Pina Coladas. It's always an enjoyable event for the entire community.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Congress Hotel strike: From small picketline to mass outpouring

By John Wojcik
People's Weekly World
June 13, 2008

CHICAGO – 60 workers who have, for five years, been taking turns to march the picket line in front of the Congress Hotel here could not conceal their joy June 11 as thousands of trade union and community activists joined their ranks. The first to arrive took the picket signs from the strikers and told them to rest on chairs they set up near a makeshift podium.

As the weary workers rested they watched wave after wave of trade union and community supporters arriving on foot, by car, by bus and by train fill first the sidewalks in front of the hotel and then the sidewalks of the entire city block on which the structure sits.

They watched as the band from the musician’s union disembarked from its van and as an 18 wheeler from the Teamsters pulled up along Michigan Ave., blowing its horn in support.

They watched and listened as the endless trail of city buses passing added the honking of their horns to the sounds of the musicians and the Teamsters.

Maria Contreras has been out on that picket line through five cold winters and five blazing hot summers. Wiping away a few tears, she said, “This makes it all worth it. We will do this. We will win this.”

Jose Sanchez, another five year veteran of the longest lasting strike in America, said, “With all this I can go on forever.”

The strike began five years ago when the Congress Hotel cut wages by seven percent to less than $8 an hour, slashed health benefits and hiked mandated employee contributions to the health care plan.

The hotel has refused to talk to the union since last August. Workers inside the hotel say they are getting only $7.50 an hour. The hotel claims it is paying $8. The prevailing wage for similar hotel jobs in Chicago is $13 an hour.

The striking union, Unite Here, says it will continue the fight to boost wages and working conditions to levels it has won at other city hotels and says the strike at the Congress Hotel has benefited other workers all over Chicago.

Mike Ortiz, who was among the thousands marching around the hotel, said that, for him, it was a “coming home” experience.

He had worked 15 years at the hotel before the strike and has since had numerous low paid jobs from which he has been laid off because of company cutbacks. He’s been out of work almost half a year and his unemployment benefits are about to run out. “I have some deep troubles and I get depressed,” he said, “But I had to come out here today to support this strike. This crowd fills my heart up with joy.”

The hotel and some Internet travel sites say the strike has little or no effect on hotel profits or customer service.

A current hotel worker leaving the building after his shift said that for a year now the hotel has rarely been more than one-third full. Most hotel managers consider a 33 percent occupancy rate to be well below what they need to maintain an acceptable profit level.

Many guests at the Congress complain about customer service.

The World found unsanitary and even dangerous conditions at the hotel in June 2007 when it inspected several floors – including no electricity or lighting on the 7th floor which was fully accessible to customers by both elevator and stairs.

Nine months later, on March 15, a hotel guest submitted an entry to the Unite Here Web site which said, “There was no lighting on the 7th floor. It was very scary. There was a crack in the ceiling of our room and mold in the shower.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The History of "Red Chicago"

"Red Chicago" author Randi Storch was interviewed June 12 on Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ), Eight-Forty-Eight program. According to the website:

"Labor activism has deep roots in Chicago. A new book chronicles a particularly lively period – the years of the Great Depression – when the American Communist Party was gathering strength. It’s called Red Chicago: American Communism at its Grassroots, 1928-1935. Author Randi Storch is an associate professor of history at the State University of New York, Cortland. She says Chicago was a natural choice when she was deciding where to focus her research."

It's a wonderful interview. Listen in:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Worst jobless stats in 20 years only the tip of the iceberg

By John Wojcik
People's Weekly World
June 10, 2008

The announcement June 6 that the jump in the unemployment rate is the worst in more than a generation resulted in a few corporate analysts admitting we are now in an economy that has probably “stalled.” Workers know that what Wall Street apologists are describing as a stall is nothing less than a disaster.

Jobs fell by 49,000 in May after a 28,000 drop in April, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The unemployment rate increased to 5.5 percent, the fifth straight month in a row that jobs decreased. Keep in mind that it takes 130,000 or more new jobs a month just to absorb new people into the labor market.

The government figures admit to 7,626,000 “unemployed.” That’s where they get the 5.5 percent figure. They don’t include in that percentage the 5,220,000 they admit are “underemployed,” the 1,414,000 they admit are “discouraged” and no longer seeking jobs or the 6,634,000 who are underemployed, discouraged and out of the pool of those eligible for unemployment insurance. That brings the total unemployment figure to 14,260,000 according to figures compiled by the House Ways and Means Committee. Even the 14 million plus figure doesn’t tell the real story because there are many millions who have never found a first job and are not included in any of the above categories.

Among African Americans, unemployment rates are even worse. There is one job for every two people who are seeking work. Again, that figure only applies to all those who are still eleigible to collect unemployment insurance.

The corporate analysts might be able to get away with describing the disaster as only a “stall” in the economy if jobs was the only issue involved. In reality it is only one of the more visible aspects of the crisis workers face.

The second part of the disaster is that for 30 years wages have been evaporating. They have not kept pace with productivity. “Salaries continued to shrink in May,” the New York Times reported, “after adjusting for inflation.”

The third part of the disaster is the out-of-control increases in everyday costs of everything from basic foodstuffs to fuel.

The fourth part of the disaster, as if tanking jobs, shrinking wages, and spiraling costs were not enough, is the home equity and affordable housing and mortgage crisis. That worsens daily. Is this a temporary “stall” or is this a “disaster?”

Republican presidential candidate John McCain answered the question this way on June 6: “I have a great belief that the fundamentals of the economy are very strong. Very strong.”

He said this despite the fact that only a day earlier the Federal Reserve said home equity dropped to 46.2 percent in the first quarter of this year, a level not seen since World War II. While this is going on, homeowner mortgage debt is rising through the ceiling.

The Associated Press reported last week that homeowners have lost almost half-a-trillion dollars in home equity over the last quarter and that this has been going on for four quarters. Mortgage debt has risen by coorespondingly similar amounts.

While the Republicans would like us to believe all of this is due to “cyclical” or “random” events workers know better.

The upsurge we see around the elections is because millions understand the disaster is the result of failed policies by the Bush administration obeying its corporate bosses and funders – the very same people who are telling McCain what to do and who are funding his campaign.

Millions of workers understand that since Bush took office the country has lost 3.3 million manufacturing jobs. It would have taken the addition of 10 million jobs just to keep pace with the growing workforce.

Millions of workers understand that since the late 1990’s incomes fell by 2.5 percent for those in the bottom fifth of the income scale and rose almost 10 percent for those in the top fifth. Meanwhile, the rich in the top 1 percent got half of the overall economic growth between 1993 and 2006. (AFL-CIO figures)

Still, after all this, McCain is offering only the following two part economic plan: First, he wants a massive corporate tax cut from 35 percent to 25 percent, with 58 percent of the benefits going to the top 1 percent of taxpayers – an even larger tax cut for the rich than Bush gave them. Second, he proposes to tax health care benefits received by workers. Its almost as if he lives on another planet and needs a reality check.

For him, the reality check should come in November.