Let?s Stop the Work Stoppage

For now, at least

By Ram?n Rodr?guez
Published on LatinoLA: December 11, 2003

Let?s Stop the Work Stoppage

Following years of struggle to win the right of all California residents to drive with a license, governor Gray Davis signed into law SB60 during the final weeks of his administration. Before the bill could take effect in January 2004, however, newly-inaugurated governor Schwarzenegger repealed SB60 as one of his first official acts, citing inadequate ?security measures.?

In light of this crushing blow to millions of California residents who currently drive without a license, the Latino community is organizing a massive strike throughout California on December 12th. On that day, Latino workers are asked to refrain from any participation in the economy. They are asked to not work, shop, or carry out any sort of financial transaction ? in other words, a complete cessation of economic activity for one day.

This would appear to be a reasonable and appropriate response to a situation that has grown intolerable. Nevertheless, before throwing our support behind this proposal, we must ask who will really be affected by it. Are the people of California ? not only the ?undocumented,? but legal residents and citizens as well ? truly well-informed about this campaign?

I believe that in order to show our strength and to make the role we play in the California economy visible, we need better organization and preparation for this action. It?s not worth undertaking this campaign half-heartedly, especially as those at greatest risk for experiencing repercussions will not be the campaign organizers, but rather those who are working hard to support their families, those living a hand-to-mouth existence. If the goal of this campaign is to raise people?s consciousness, we must have a more complete plan, not a plan that will lead to the inevitable failure of the work stoppage due to lack of participation. This would only serve to reinforce popular stereotypes of Latinos as cheap labor, incapable of thought, analysis, or organized action. If there are two million of us affected by this situation, just think of the impact it would have if at least half of us were informed, organized, and actively supporting this action.

We must distribute leaflets, speak on radio programs, publish press releases and interviews in the media so that the people of California are aware of this action. We must forge links with other less visible communities who are also affected by this situation, such as undocumented workers from Africa, Asia, and perhaps to a lesser degree Canada, Australia, and Europe. We must enlist existing grassroots organizations to support educational efforts, such as labor unions, immigrants? rights groups, and organizations working for human and civil rights. We must create the conditions for carrying out this action of conscientious objection in a way that unifies all those affected as well as all those who wish to offer their support.

The current campaign has taken up the Virgen of Guadalupe as its standard, and has chosen the day devoted to this holy patroness of Mexico ?the 12th of December? as the date for the strike. Nevertheless, this symbolic choice does not serve to unify those affected by discrimination regarding the right to hold a legal drivers? license. It also fails to create space for the participation of U.S. citizens and residents who might wish to express their solidarity with this action. Why not think of choosing a date with broader symbolic appeal, yet at the same time a uniquely American date? Each January we set aside a day to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., the tireless fighter for the rights of all people. Since our movement seeks the recognition of our civil rights, wouldn?t this be a more appropriate date, whose symbolism would be more easily grasped by a larger cross-section of Californians?

We are calling on the ?undocumented? to make a financial sacrifice and take a personal risk by choosing not to work for one day. This protest over the denial of the right to drive legally in California deserves our support. It holds great potential to galvanize support among California residents. Nevetheless, if we don?t take the time necessary to lay the groundwork for such a massive campaign, it runs the risk of failure, and that could leave the ?undocumented? population in an even more vulnerable position. Let?s take the time necessary to create the conditions that can guarantee the success of this action. The best way to honor and respect the workers who fuel the California economy with their sweat and sacrifice is by working to guarantee the success of this strike. So let?s get organized and create the conditions to generate the support we need in this just struggle.

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