Mexican Tariffs Create an Alternate Reality

Mural in Sam Houston Park in Houston, TX

New Orleans       Texas is a red state with a headache.  The cities are becoming bluer and bluer, and a huge number of the F150 pickup driving, cowboy boot wearing folks are Latinos.  A visit to Houston might be educational for the president.  For example, President Trump doesn’t understand that the border stretches all the way into the city without even stopping for gas.

Before a screening of “The Organizer” at the Harris County AFL-CIO building, I pulled into the giant, fenced parking lot across the street with the boldly painted letters spelling Taqueria.  Walking in the largest set of doors, I then realized that I was actually in a bus station.  The space was cavernous and the buses were all going back and forth to Mexico with couples, families, and elderly with their belongings sitting quietly and chatting of the benches.  In the taqueria of the two servers, only one young woman spoke any English, while the other spoke nothing but Spanish, and since I was the only Anglo anywhere nearby, it didn’t pose any problems in this establishment.

A day is coming when Texas and its huge number of voters will once again be the kingmaker and replace Florida as the critical battleground for national politics.  Trump likely could care less how much he alienates the millions in Texas with Mexican roots and relatives, but the future of the Republican Party, and perhaps the Democratic Party as well, will pivot on the fact that Texas is a bilingual and multi-ethnic, multi-racial state.  Heck, there are already two candidates in the Democratic list for president with Texas roots!

Keep this thought in the foreground as we contemplate the alternate reality that Trump is now trying to create of the border and the crisis of tens of thousands of migrant families fleeing Central America and flooding into the United States as he attempts to bully Mexico into creating the dike, and it becomes clear he is the little boy with his small fingers in the hole.  First, there were threats of tariffs, destabilizing the symbiotic human and economic realities of the border.  Pout, pout, whine, whine, he wanted Mexico to somehow solve the problem for the whole continent, which is as ridiculous a proposition as his claim that they would pay for his wall.  Then he swore he had a deal, except all involved on both sides of the table argue that all of the announced agreements had been made months ago.  Then in another twitter storm, he seemed to be claiming that there were secret side agreements which the Mexican foreign minister categorically denies.  This is our president, and this is how we now do foreign policy and trade negotiations.

This isn’t a Trump reality show, it’s a complete farce, but any time in Texas within hundreds of miles of the border quickly demonstrates it’s not a farce, but a tragedy.  And, it gets worse. In his madness, he claims victory from this Mexican mess of his own making, and now claims he’s going to see if he can do the same thing with China.

Via con Dios!

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Teaching Houston’s School District a Lesson about Basic Workers Rights

New Orleans      There are some universal principles in work.  Almost everyone dislikes their boss is one for sure.  Almost no one likes the union representative except union members and the workers who are looking for one is another for sure.

Texas is a funny state when it comes to workers and unions.  Once again, the legislature has shut its doors and no matter how bright red the state is seen, once again they failed to move forward on a bill to deny all payroll deductions for public sector workers.  This has bill has been a favorite of the Republican majority every two years.  This was the third session where it jumped out of the gate and, arguably, with new leadership in the legislature no longer bottling it up as too contentious, was the time most likely for it to pass.  A funny thing happened on the way to this term though.  The voters spoke loudly by flipping seats and sending more Democrats and diversity to the body.  Beto O’Rourke may not be ready for primetime in the presidential sweepstakes, but his coattails in his Senate race helped make this happen and the mossbacks saw the sun shining for the first time in decades, and they were truly afraid of the light.  They just didn’t want the fight, and we’re thankful for another two years with this gift of grace.

Despite the fact that Texas is a hardcore right-to-work state, the state constitution would shock many for its from-the-rooftops shouting guarantee that all workers have the right to organize and to join unions of their choice in the workplace.  Sadly, the constitution is also clear that such workers do not have the right to sign agreements with their public employers, but you take the lemons and try to make lemonade in building unions in the state.

All of this would seem to be old news for the Houston Independent School District (HISD), one of the largest public-school operations in the country.  Local 100 United Labor Unions has enjoyed and represented members in the district for twenty-seven years now, since 1992, as the largest union of cafeteria and janitorial workers there throughout this time.  Most recently we won a wage increase for such workers at the school board level.  We may not be well loved by the district, but we are certainly well known to them.

Over recent years their most aggressive pushback has been to try and deny access to our organizers, particularly Orell Fitzsimmons, a veteran of all twenty-seven of our years in the district.  Several years ago, they tried to restrict us when we began talking to parents as well as workers about lead in the water fountains and demanded, successfully, that all fountains be tested, and then replaced.  When we demanded they provide purified water, they went overboard.

That storm passed, but recently another ban was ordered.  The offense?  We were working with custodians employed by their subcontractor, Metro, who wanted to organize a union.  The first hearing on this matter revealed that HISD didn’t even investigate whether there was an access problem.  They got a call from Metro saying deny access to Local 100, and their knee jerked, and they kicked us out.

This too will quickly pass with more embarrassment for HISD as the school system is being taught a lesson about workers’ rights, simple grievance handling and investigation, and just maybe as an entity of the state, also learning about the Texas constitution and the rights of workers, even subcontracted workers, they are mandated to protect.

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