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La Liga de Las Americas

Latino workers round up their resources to face rough economic trend


At a time when economic trends and policies unravel in a way that will impact Michigan as the principal host of the auto industry, community initiatives are developing a proactive stance to help circumvent the adverse effects on workers and their families.

“It’s time to circle the wagons,” says Rudy Reyes, conference co-coordinator for the 2006 Latina/o Workers Leadership Institute (LWLI). “We are being attacked on many fronts as workers, union members and Latina/os.”

LWLI is a labor education program sponsored by the Labor Studies Center, a component of The University of Michigan’s Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. The three-day conference is designed by rank and file union members to address sensitive issues faced by Latina/o workers, and gives participants the opportunity to reflect and act on an assortment of current issues through training and tactical initiatives for Latina/o workers.

 “We need to come together as a community of unionists and a family of Latina/os,” added Julie Alavardo-Zuzga, also a conference co-coordinator for the 2006 LWLI.  “We have a number of in-house resources who can help us emerge from the pressing job and economic crisis.”

The Latina/o Workers Leadership Institute is scheduled for April 6-9, 2006, at the Marriott Hotel in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and will include a set of workshops and speakers, who will delineate the tactics and resources of which Reyes and Alvarado-Zuzga speak.

Health and retirement benefits are two of the critical issues being debated by the auto industry and the United Auto Workers.  Reduction in these benefits threatens salaried workers and retirees as U.S. automakers press for the equivalent of a wage cut for its union workers and take-backs from its retirees.

Roy Rodríguez and Anna Montalvo, presidents of UAW and AFSCME Locals respectively, will facilitate Re/Building our Unions: Activism from the Bottom Up, a workshop to enhance members’ participation in their labor organizations’ activities in a way that empowers both workers and unions.

With the increase of Latina/os participating in the electoral process, voting may be only a part of the solution. “Voting for the right candidate becomes an added concern,” says Paul Vásquez, a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator.

“In many cases our own [union] sisters and brothers become a liability against our interests by voting for politicians who care more for their lobbyists than their constituents.”

Vásquez, coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s Southwest Region, is a native of Flint, Michigan, but currently is based in San Antonio, Texas; Vásquez leads a voter education campaign and will be facilitating the workshop My Vote, My Job: Electoral Politics and Unemployment along with Henry Sánchez, chair of the Michigan Latino Democratic Caucus and active Communications Workers of America (CWA) union member.

The 2006 Latina/o Workers Leadership Institute conference theme is Latinas Unidas Seran Vencidas, or, The People United Will Never be Defeated, “which is a direct reflection of our historical past and points to our strength as a Latina/o community, which has never succumbed to victimization,” according to Dr. Jerry García, History Professor at Michigan State University.

García will teach the workshop La Onda Latina: Pride in Our Culture.

Ana Luisa Cardona, co-instructor of the workshop and an Arts Education Specialist for the Michigan Department of Education, continues, “This workshop focuses on the Latino community’s rich history of creatively confronting adversity by pulling together as workers, families and communities that draw strength from our culture and traditions as we create new responses to today’s challenges.”

While macro-politics in the capitol’s corporations and union halls carve the fate that many workers will face, the Latina/o Workers Leadership Institute will open a forum in which solutions to potential problems can be discussed to create a safety net that uses the social capital of the “Barrios.”

For more information on the Latina/o Workers Leadership Institute, please call 734.764.0492 or visit the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center’s website at http://www.ilir.umich.edu/lsc and click on the LWLI conference title.






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