Friday, November 03, 2006

Houston Janitorial Workers Protest

For months now, janitorial workers in Houston have taken to the streets, protesting their wages and benefits. I frequently see a group of 20 - 30 workers marching with picket signs in front of various downtown skyscrapers.

Typically there is one man in charge with a bull horn, shouting an incomprehensible mix of English and Spanish. Always eager to speak to people demonstrating in the streets, I engaged one of their front line workers a couple weeks ago. She was the person designated to hand out flyers to the public. As she held out a flyer to me, I asked "What's this all about?". The woman looked at me if I was speaking another language, and I asked again "what are y'all protesting about?". She looked at me for a few seconds, still holding the flyer in my direction, and finally said "more money!".

In a heartless neocon moment, worthy of a Bruce Hornsby song, I said "oh yeah? Well I want more money too". Spanish speaking immigrants can insist on speaking Spanish all they want, but somebody should tell them that they'll have a very hard time influencing public opinion and government policy until they can speak English.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the same group actually brought traffic to a halt at one of Houston's busiest intersections on the west side of town. They littered the intersection with garbage, and chained themselves to garbage cans. This demonstration was accompanied by the usual chants of "Si se puede" (yes we can), and a new one "Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos" which roughly translated means "Here we are, and we're not leaving".

Wow. So let's step back for a moment. We have 12,000,000 or so illegal immigrants in the United States who pay no regard to our immigration laws. Now we see evidence that they're eager to unionize, and they're willing to engage in civil disobedience to get their way when their jobs don't pay well enough. And they're becoming so beligerant that they shout to the world that they won't leave the USA.

Here's a better idea: If you don't like the conditions of your job here in the States, go back home. Until these workers learn English and/or learn a skill which the economy values at more than $6/hour, then they'll be employed at $6/hour. No amount of civil disobedience nor beligerant chanting can change this simple economic fact.

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