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Drivers Licences, Not War!

California Latino Economic Strike a Great Success

by Carlos Montes |
January 1, 2004
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Banner: "We want licenses now"
East L.A. protest marks Latino Economic Strike. (Fight Back! News/Carlos Montes)

Los Angeles, CA - Thousands of Latino workers, students and shopkeepers stayed away from work and school Dec. 12, in support of the statewide Latino Economic Strike. The Latino Economic boycott was called by the Mexican American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana Latino Americana, with the support of hundreds of other organizations, to protest the repeal of SB 60, the law that allowed undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses.

The license law was passed in October 2003. It was later repealed by the new Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, under the threat of a right-wing led anti-license initiative.

Large demonstrations were held in San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities to support the strike. High numbers of students boycotted school from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Jose. Statewide, school districts reported high absentee rates. Los Angeles’s Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights had over 1700 students absent in support of the strike. 1500 workers at American Apparel, the largest apparel manufacturer in Los Angeles, shut down the plant for the day. Dec. 12 was also selected because it is the day Mexicans worldwide honor the religious Virgin de Guadalupe - the indigenous symbol of resistance to colonization and exploitation.

The successful strike energized the large Latino community throughout California and received wide support in many other states.

Action in East L.A.

The Centro CSO - Community Service Organization - led a march and rally in the heart of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, where many small businesses closed for the day. The march and rally was endorsed by Latinos Against War, SEIU Local 660, Roosevelt High School Revolutionary Students, Comite Pro Uno, Casa Bohemia Show on KPFK and L.A. ANSWER.

The march started at Prospect Park with a busting of a piñata of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mothers, families, workers and students marched, chanting “Yes to licenses, not to war! School not war!” and “Terminate the terminator.” The march was met by another group of 300 enthusiastic workers coming from La Placita. All the groups then rallied together and marched to downtown L.A. for another rally.

Another afternoon rally near Roosevelt High School included many more students and teachers who busted another piñata of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, striking a symbolic blow against racism, exploitation and imperialist war. The English and Spanish media covered the events extensively.

Struggle for Licenses

The struggle for licenses has lasted over six years and is an important demand for millions of undocumented workers who need to drive to work and school. Latino communities know too well the hardships of the constant ticketing by police, getting cars impounded and arrests. Latinos already face exploitation and hard racist conditions, including INS and police harassment, low paid jobs and bad living conditions - especially for recent immigrants without residency paperwork.

Finally, with the leadership of Hermandad Mexicana Latino Americana, its president Nativo Lopez and Senator Gil Cedillo (a former SEIU union leader), SB 60 was made into law during the state recall election of November 2003.

But the racist Republican Party and Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to repeal the new SB 60 law.

Under threat of a statewide ballot initiative to permanently outlaw drivers licenses for undocumented workers, an effort led by the right-wing racist Ron Price, Senator Cedillo agreed under pressure to repeal the law, with a verbal agreement for a new stricter version of the driver license legislation to be introduced in early 2004.

Some critics of the law bought the lie that this law would make it easier for terrorists to get identification.

New Power

The Latino and immigrant communities have now sensed the strength of their collective power and are demanding amnesty, legalization and equality, along with the demand for licenses. Moderate groups like CHIRLA (the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles) did not support the Latino Economic Strike.

Activists formed the Organizing Committee of Mexican Organizations, and have planned a major summit for the weekend of March 12-14, at Pitzer College in Los Angeles County. The purpose of the summit is to unite around a plan of action for demands, campaigns and a mass march on October 16, 2004. That date will commemorate the historic 1994, 150,000-person march by Latinos against the racist 187 initiative.

The Latino community is under attack by right-wingers like Ron Price and under constant threats from racist laws and deportations, as we become the scapegoats for the economic crisis and so-called threats of terrorism. But Latinos also have a long history of resistance against racism, war and exploitation. We Latinos will continue to fight back and provide the leadership and organization to build a powerful movement for self-determination!

Come and join us in the fight for equality, democracy and social justice for Latinos and all immigrants. Join us at Centro CSO: Community Service Organization, 511 Echandia Street, Los Angels, Ca 90033, (323) 221-4000,