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Interview with Jose Artemio Arreola, an Organizer of Chicago's Immigrant Rights Protest

by staff |
March 27, 2006
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Just after the protest, Fight Back! caught up with Jose Artemio Arreola, a key organizer of the massive protest for immigrant rights that rocked Chicago, March 10. He explained how the Coalition Against HR 4437 built the unity necessary for a turnout of such proportion.

"When we wanted to call for a coalition meeting, it was suggested that we bring together local representatives of PRI , PRD , and PAN . But these are Mexican parties. It had to be broader," Arreola explained.

Last year, Arreola was elected to serve on an advisory council created by Mexican President Vicente Fox to aid immigrants in the U.S. "My friend thought the council could sponsor the meeting. This also was not broad enough."

Arreola is on the executive board of Local 73 SEIU (Service Employees International Union.) He works as a janitor in the Oak Park public schools. And he is an active member in the Michoacan Club, a social organization of immigrants from the Mexican state of Michoacan. "The union, the clubs, the Mexican parties, yes, all of them needed to be present. But the entire community, and not just Mexican immigrants, had to be represented."

So a meeting was called with this approach. It was successful, with over 30 organizations represented in the coalition. Arreola explained that, in the next stage, the Spanish radio stations spread the word far and wide. Starting with Rafael 'El Pistolero' Pulido, on "Que Buena," WOJO 105.1FM, Univision Radio; then others joined, such as Javier Salas, host of "Un Nuevo Día," on "La Tremenda," WRTO 1200 AM, also a Univision station.

Not Just Any March: A General Strike

The importance of this march can't be understood by the numbers alone. It has to be stressed that this was a general strike. It took place on a workday. This means that 200,000 people took off work. Tens of thousands of workers - from hundreds of factories, restaurants, grocery stores and landscaping companies - walked out of work, or told their managers they wouldn't be coming in that day. And thousands of high school students walked out as well.

One important note is the role that unions played in the mobilization. While SEIU Local 73, SEIU Local 1 and some other unions endorsed the rally, and encouraged some of their members to come out, not all unions were supporting it. Arreola related, "Workers called me to tell me they wanted to come for the general strike. When they asked their union representatives, however, they were told, 'If you leave work, you will be punished.'"

Arreola added, "The marchers were workers and their families. This is a lesson and a challenge for trade unionists, like myself, that immigrant workers want to organize and fight."

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