Service and maintenance workers at Yale University, members of Local 35 Unite Here, have become the target of an anti-immigrant hate group seeking to create racial divisions and undermine the union leadership.
A flurry of petitions and fliers attacking the union showed up at work sites during a week long sign-up program on campus for the Elm City Resident Card. The card, which provides access to municipal services in New Haven, is available to city residents regardless of age or immigration status. The National League of Cities honored New Haven, the first city in the country to issue a residents card, for its efforts to integrate immigrants into the community.
The anti-immigrant Community Watchdog Project, whose web site features links to such right-wing groups as the Minutemen and the John Birch Society, came into New Haven to oppose the ID. They are now circulating anti-immigrant and anti-union fliers filled with misinformation and bigotry, calling upon union members to stop paying their dues because the union is “selling out the American worker” by supporting the rights of immigrants.
Mug shot style pictures of Local 35 President Bobby Proto, along with African American workers, including Vice President Mark Wilson, make the outrageous charge that the union along with the AFL-CIO and SEIU view immigrant workers as “a lucrative market for dues to keep the bureaucracy of organized labor humming.”
The unions at Yale participated in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride five years ago. When Local 35 members went on strike, immigrant workers, bused in as strike breakers, courageously walked off the job to join the picket line and helped win the strike. Their act of solidarity convinced Yale workers to support the ID card this year.
Playing on fear, the Watchdog attack fliers claim the union policy “condemns American workers to a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.” In fact the race to the bottom is caused by anti-union transnational corporations in search of maximum profits, backed up by U.S. trade and military policy.
The unions at Yale are mobilizing their members and community allies in preparation for contract negotiations. Outsourcing and subcontracting have eliminated many union jobs at Yale. Actions that pit African American, Latino and white workers against each other, as the Watchdog is attempting, serve the interest of the employer. It is by sticking together and sticking with the union that wages and working conditions for all workers can be raised.
Anti-immigrant bigotry appears on campus at the same time African American students are protesting racist graffiti, and clerical and technical workers in Local 34 are protesting an egregious incident of racial profiling against an African American library worker (see related story).
The pro-corporate, ultra-right Bush administration has fomented this ugly wave of racism. But from Yale to Jena, La., people are coming together to speak out for equality and justice. The most powerful voice for workers’ rights and equality will be to change the direction of our country in the 2008 elections.
Joelle Fishman (joelle.fishman @pobox.com) is the chair of the Connecticut Communist Party.