Seventy-seven years ago, in March 1939, Juan Fabian Fernandez of New Mexico opened a session of the National Congress of the Mexican and Spanish-Speaking Peoples of the United States in downtown Los Angeles. He stood out as the only Latino state legislator present, but he was not the only politico there.
Ask Los Angeles Times reporter Alana Semuels why union membership in California rose by 100,000 in 2012 and she’ll give you a simple answer:
To explain the contrast between the trend in California and the U.S. as a whole – where union membership dropped last year by 400,000 – Semuels turned to some credible sources, including Steve Smith of the State Labor Fed who cited “an appetite among these low-wage workers to try to get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle.”
Quoting Smith and others, Semuels finds that, “After working hard to get here, many Latino immigrants demand respect in the workplace and are more willing to join unions in a tough economic environment, organizers say.”
True enough: Immigrant workers have been particularly important for unions in California and Latino organizing has helped reignite the state’s labor movement.