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Labor Rights Are Civil Rights

Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: Mexican American Workers in Twentieth-Century America

Zaragosa Vargas
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Labor Rights Are Civil Rights
    Book Description:

    In 1937, Mexican workers were among the strikers and supporters beaten, arrested, and murdered by Chicago policemen in the now infamous Republic Steel Mill Strike. Using this event as a springboard, Zaragosa Vargas embarks on the first full-scale history of the Mexican-American labor movement in twentieth-century America. Absorbing and meticulously researched,Labor Rights Are Civil Rightspaints a multifaceted portrait of the complexities and contours of the Mexican American struggle for equality from the 1930s to the postwar era.

    Drawing on extensive archival research, Vargas focuses on the large Mexican American communities in Texas, Colorado, and California. As he explains, the Great Depression heightened the struggles of Spanish speaking blue-collar workers, and employers began to define citizenship to exclude Mexicans from political rights and erect barriers to resistance. Mexican Americans faced hostility and repatriation.

    The mounting strife resulted in strikes by Mexican fruit and vegetable farmers. This collective action, combined with involvement in the Communist party, led Mexican workers to unionize. Vargas carefully illustrates how union mobilization in agriculture, tobacco, garment, and other industries became an important vehicle for achieving Mexican American labor and civil rights.

    He details how interracial unionism proved successful in cross-border alliances, in fighting discriminatory hiring practices, in building local unions, in mobilizing against fascism and in fighting brutal racism. No longer willing to accept their inferior status, a rising Mexican American grassroots movement would utilize direct action to achieve equality.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4928-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-15)

    On memorial day 1937, thousands of steel workers and their families approached the gates of the Republic Steel mill in South Chicago. Thirty-one-year-old Guadalupe (Lupe) Marshall participated in the strikers’ demonstration. Marshall came with her family to Chicago from Mexico in 1917. A volunteer social worker with Hull House, Marshall was active in the expanding Chicago labor and civil rights movement. The Mexican¹ female activist had been arrested two years before for participating in a steel worker demonstration. Marshall was one of the two hundred women who took part in the march on the plant, a demonstration one journalist described...

  6. CHAPTER ONE We Are the Salt of the Earth: Conditions among Mexican Workers in the Early Great Depression Years
    (pp. 16-61)

    About 1,422,533 Mexicans lived in the United States in 1930, a figure representing a 75 percent growth in the Spanish-speaking population since the last census counts in 1920. Three-fourths of the population was concentrated in the southwestern states of Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Relatively young and made up of large families with many American-born children, the Mexicans’ specific economic and social importance rested with their use by employers solely interested in exploiting their labor and subjected to an extreme form of economic exploitation. By the turn of the twentieth century most Mexicans in the Southwest had been...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Gaining Strength through the Union: Mexican Labor Upheavals in the Era of the NRA
    (pp. 62-113)

    In the early years of the Great Depression, the hostile attitudes toward Mexicans only became worse. Mexicans became the scapegoats for the nation’s growing joblessness. The degradation of the Mexican people resulted from the rapid increase in unemployment, the denial of relief assistance, and acute discrimination. The working conditions for Mexicans were unvaryingly terrible, whether in the agricultural fields, the sweatshops, the factories, or the mines and smelters. Mexican workers were on their own and at the mercy of their employers, who implemented or increased dangerous and exploitive labor practices to ensure the maximum amount of cheap labor.

    Although it...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “Do You See the Light?”: Mexican American Workers and CIO Organizing
    (pp. 114-157)

    The 1930s witnessed a tremendous upsurge in labor organizing as a movement swept the United States to establish industrial unions that would organize all workers: the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The CIO would have a long-lasting effect on the political, economic, and social life of Mexican Americans, who made up the Southwest’s main labor force in the harvesting, processing, and canning of fruits and vegetables, as well as in mine, smelter, railroad, garment, and other factory work. Spanish-speaking workers were oppressed and exploited, very few were in skilled positions, they routinely earned much less than Anglos, and their work was...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Advocates of Racial Democracy: Mexican American Workers Fight for Labor and Civil Rights in the Early World War II Years
    (pp. 158-202)

    The color line that separated racial minorities politically, socially, and economically from the rest of Americans was breached in the summer of 1941 by A. Philip Randolph and other black labor and civil rights leaders in their planned mass march on Washington, D.C., to protest discrimination in the defense industry and in the armed services. President Franklin D. Roosevelt yielded to this daring show of black defiance and signed Executive Order 8802, which set up the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) in order to maximize the use of manpower and productivity to facilitate the American war effort. The formation of...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Lie of “America’s Greatest Generation”: Mexican Americans Fight against Prejudice, Intolerance, and Hatred during World War II
    (pp. 203-251)

    With the start of World War II the federal government committed the nation to total victory. The numerous social and economic problems faced by the Spanish-speaking hampered their participation in the war effort because their overall economic and social status had not measurably improved since the Great Depression. As hostilities mounted in Europe and the Pacific, the Mexican American population remained overwhelmingly working-class in composition, and they still faced the dilemma of great inequality. They were affected to a disproportionate degree by malnutrition and disease, housing conditions for them were the worst in the nation, and illiteracy was extensive. In...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: The Emergence of the Mexican American Civil Rights Struggle
    (pp. 252-280)

    World War II had finally ended. For several days Mexican Americans in the Southwest and Midwest streamed into local churches to rejoice and give thanks for the safe return of their kin. Many of the parishioners, however, did their praying in segregated sections of the Catholic churches. This was an initial indication that the innumerable wartime contributions of Mexican Americans on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific and in the defense plants and shipyards had not eliminated discrimination. For Mexican Americans, social and economic inequality still persisted, and they all knew this was unfair.²

    Many Mexican American World War...

    (pp. 281-290)

    The years of the Great Depression represent one of the most important periods of social and economic change for the Spanish-speaking people of the Southwest, the largest concentration of Mexicans in the United States. On the eve of the Great Depression, Mexicans constituted the fundamental bulk of the low-wage workforce necessary to the economic growth of the Southwest region. Their jobs primarily were seasonal and migratory; the workers moved about as family units or as members of labor gangs and did the work that Anglos would not do. The great majority of Mexicans were agricultural workers, and in this role...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 291-360)
  14. Index
    (pp. 361-375)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 376-377)