A Dark-Skinned Throng Before the Court Austin “The old supreme court room” they call it now, the gracious chamber in the capitol in which the nine members of the state’s highest court used to hear arguments. This session, with the court moved to one of the new rectangular buildings that block in the capitol like bodyguards surrounding a lady, the room is used for legislative hearings, such as the House labor committee’s hearing on the minimum wage and fair employment bills. Consider the scene. The members of the committee, one of the most conservative committees appointed by House Speaker Byron Tunnell, have arrayed themselves in the former high judges’ chairs at the bench elevated high above the floor. Some overflowed onto the second level in front of the bench, where the court’s clerks used to sit. The committee members are all white; in fact, they are all Anglo. In the legislative sense, they are the judges. Assembled in the hearing room are about 100 people, some come to testify, some to watch. Of these 100, about 85 are Negroes or Latin-Americans. They are a very dark-colored assemblage. Standing between them and the committee, representing their case, is a Latin-American, Rep. John Alaniz of San Antonio. As the hearing unfolded, many of the Negroes came forward to say they represented various local chapters of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People; many of the mexicanos said they spoke for local chapters of the Political Assn. of Spanish Speaking People. When Alaniz had to leave for a while, the presentations to the committee were taken over by Rep. Rudy Esquivel of San Antonio, also a Latin-American. In this courtroom so long associated with the stable traditions and social patterns of Texas, the minorities presented the majority their petitions for a better life. No one tried to say that he had been sent by the million Latin-Americans or the million and a half Negroes in Texas. Alaniz told the committee that these people are so poor and uneducated, “How you vote won’t make any difference to them. They just won’t know. They’re out there in the farms and the cleaners’, barely making a living. What you do or do not do will never get back to them.” Alaniz’ bills would provide a 75cents-an-hour minimum wage for all Texas workers and a fair employment practices commission to prohibit job discrimination in state or any other public jobs on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, or national origin. They were heard together on Alaniz’ theory that “you have the minorities always making low wages.” Few observers here would give the bills any chance this session; few reporters troubled to cover the long, curious hearing. Nevertheless, for the Texas legislature, it was something new. Alaniz spoke sharply of Mexican leaders who have not been true spokesmen of their people. “The old political boss would more or less sell out the vote of the Latin-Americans,” he said. The implication was clear that Anglo politicians cannot count on such bosses in the future. Neither, Alaniz said, can the Democrats. “The Democratic Party of this state . . . is on trial,’! he said. He \(and the other were challenging an Establishment and that only by uncompromising truculence could they expect to make headway. For instance, Alaniz used one of many hostile questions he was asked as a pretext to quote some figures on the San Antonio independent school district. He said that 53% of the public school children in San Antonio have Mexican names \(“We just had to count ’emthey wouldn’t teachers are Latin-Americans, and of 306 principals, vice-principals, and counselors in the schools, only six have Spanish surnames. “There’s a rat in the woodpile somewhere,” he said. Alaniz and Roy Evans, secretarytreasurer of the Tex’as AFL-CIO who testified for both of Alaniz’ bills, contended that a 75-cent minimum would raise the wages of about one out of ten Texas workers: 35,000 blue collar workers, about .173,000 workers in service industries, and about half the state’s farm workers, another 175,000 people. The other nine out of ten Texas workers, they contended, get more than 75 cents an hour. Along the Texas-Mexican border, Evans said, many people work for 20 to 50 cents an hour, “an astounding figure.” He cited U.S. department of labor studies showing that custodians, filing and sales clerks, cooks, dishwashers, cashiers, attendants, hired farm workers, and laborers are paid less than 75 cents an hour around Laredo and El Paso. At present, he said, 35 states have minimum wage laws, and 25 have fair employment laws. Some members of the committee indicated their attitudes. Rep. Gene Hendryx, Alpine, compared the minimum wage bill with requiring a man to give ten of his acres to a laborer. He reasoned that, since money is property, the state has no right to make a man pay more than he wants to. Rep. Reed Quilliam, Lubbock, announced his support of the fair employment bill for public employment, but opposed requiring private citizens to pay so much per hour. “Why shouldn’t [an employer] be able to go out and hire labor at whatever price he can get it?” Quilliam asked. The Republican member, George Macatee of Dallas, said, “Labor is a commodity, and when government intervenes you’ve got problems.” Rep. Jim Nugent, Kerrville, defending the free market in wages, said that if a man can’t find a worker for “four bits” an hour, he has to raise the wage he pays to 75 cents or $1. Rep. Forrest Harding, San Angelo, was very concerned about whom the minimum wage might hurt: “What about the paper boys? They’re the boys I’m worried about. Are we cutting those boys out of a job?” Hendryx thought higher wages might lead to mechanization, throwing people out of work. Rep. Jack Crain, Nocona, concurred, saying the real problem is to provide more jobs. “If a man doesn’t have a March 7, 1963 7
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