EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Labor union leaders from across the United States rallied this morning in El Paso in a show of solidarity with local workers, migrants in detention centers and asylum seekers sent back to Mexico.
The rally was part of the two-day Solidarity Without Borders event here.
“The labor movement is not just advocating for our members. We are actually standing strong … to make sure that border policies, economic policies and trade policies actually work for working people,” said Liz Shuler, treasurer-secretary for the AFL-CIO. “What we’re seeing here will empower us to go back and fight harder for change and stand together not only as a labor movement but with allies and community partners to make change.”
The group that included members who came from as far as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night visited the memorial site of the Aug. 3 Walmart mass shooting and on Wednesday would visit a migrant services center in Juarez, Mexico.
“Sometime ago we decided we should represent our members not only when they’re at work but also when they go home. That means we have to take a stand on issues like white supremacy, justice for immigrant workers and racism,” added Rick Levy, Texas president of the AFL-CIO. “Our job is to figure out how to fight for the dignity of every working person in this state regardless of where they came from.”
According to the AFL-CIO, union membership in Texas is at 4.3 percent, which lags behind the national average of 10.5 percent. Union state Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay said that’s because Texas is a right-to-work state — where workers aren’t obligated to join a union. “Or, as we call it, a right-to-work-for-less state,” she said.
But the gathering wasn’t as much about union organizing as it was about support for immigrants and rejection of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, said national labor organizations want to show support for those affected by Trump’s hardline immigration policies.
“To the families and children locked up or cast out on the streets of Juarez, we tell you we will never rest until you get justice. … To America’s native-born workers: you will never be truly free until immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are also free and working without fear,” Gebre said at the rally at Chihuahuita Park, which is within walking distance of the border wall south of Downtown El Paso.
At one point during the rally, with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement helicopter hovering above, the group broke into a chant of “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!”
El Paso labor organizers were pleased with the visit of national union leaders.
“It’s good that they see what is going on the border, that they see what immigration policies are doing to our community on both sides of the border. If they support our immigrant workers, that makes our whole movement stronger,” said Lorena Andrade, executive director of La Mujer Obrera, a nonprofit formed to support women displaced by the closing of garment factories in El Paso, which transferred operations to Mexico as a result of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
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