Tucson’s Salt of the Earth Labor College celebrates its 30th Anniversary
Abortion rights protesters in Arizona. This Fall the Salt of the Earth Labor College will host a meeting to organize in favor of a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. | Ross D. Franklin/AP

Tucson’s Salt of the Earth Labor College is celebrating its 30th anniversary amid growing working class militancy both nationally and locally.  The school held its first class in September 1993 in a house left by Felix Padilla and Arvilla Jackson who wanted their home turned into a workers’ school.

The first meetings were held in one small room, but within a few years walls were removed, creating space with seating for about sixty people. The main advocates for the school were Lorenzo Torrez who was Arizona CPUSA Organizer, and his wife and comrade Anita.

For thirty years Salt of the Earth Labor College has offered lectures, seminars, forums, workshops, films, and cultural events.  At the height of the pandemic classes switched to zoom, and are now hybrids. The school is also a venue for community and neighborhood events.

School programs usually try to connect to ongoing working-class struggles. For example, a talk by longtime Chicago activist Bea Lumpkin on the importance of the Coalition of Labor Union Women led to formation of a local chapter.

The seeds for several local union drives were planted at school discussions. This Fall’s schedule will kick off on September 9 with a forum on the upcoming campaign for an amendment to the Arizona constitution to guarantee abortion and reproductive rights through a voter’s initiative.

Supporters will need to collect about 500,000 signatures to get it on the 2024 ballot and then campaign for votes. Polls indicate that Arizona voter support women’s rights and will vote to amend.

Supporters hope that putting the issue front and center will also help flip the legislature where ultra-right Republicans hold one seat majorities in both houses. It can also help defeat Trump.

Over the years attendance has grown to an average of 35 to 40, and sometimes with standing room only.  Guest speakers have included local and national labor union officers, as well as many elected officials, political activists, authors and academics.  Cultural classes included poets, folk musicians, a theater director, and a puppeteer.  The school also includes lectures on labor and working-class history.

Also on schedule for this Fall is the Film ‘Los Mineros’ a documentary about the historic CIO drives in mid-20th century to organize the area’s copper mines by the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers Union, a union led across the Southwest by left and communist Chicano and Mexican miners.

In October Salt of the Earth Labor College President and Arizona Jobs with Justice leader, Steven Valencia will discuss the upsurge in organizing and rising militancy of organized workers.  That will be followed by a class on why peace activists need to support workers’ struggles in defense industries.

Salt of the Earth Labor College is urging all its Arizona supporters on Saturday, September 2 at 6:00 pm to celebrate the anniversary.  The party, at the school, will begin at 6 p.m. with food and drinks followed by a discussion of accomplishments over three decades.  Local musicians Rebeca Cartes and James Jordan will perform.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is the Director of Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.

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