IDA’s Poverty War Tactics: Andres Sandoval, a member of one of the local neighborhood councils, said he told Hale in a private meeting, “If you’re going to come and take our two best VISTAs out of here, maybe it would be better to cancel the whole program.” Jose Ortiz, another Laredoan who had worked with Birnbaum and Ruhe, said, in a letter to the Laredo Times, “The two VISTAs were removed and removed solely for the simple reason that they were getting dangerously close to the real solution to our problems of poverty. The same tactics used in the Civil Rights move_’-ment: protest marches, pickets, boycotts, these, are the only weapons that can be ‘ employed successfully here in Laredo to show our people that the only way they will accomplish anything is to demonstrate publicly. A reprimand?” Ortiz continued, “They should have been given a medal.” S EVERAL OF THE persons Hale talked with say that he told them that it was too late for him to reconsider and directly reinstate the two, but that “perhaps an arrangement can be made.” Whatever their official fate, Birnbaum and Ruhe have indicated that they intend to remain in Laredo, working with VIDA and any other projects which the poor devise to help pull themselves, and Laredo, out of the nation’s poverty cellar. When some 50 young Mexican-Americans appeared at a neighborhood council meeting recently wearing “Latin Power” sweatshirts, the poverty officials were horrified. Crying racism in reverse, they closed their ears to the complains of the youths. It was from this “Latin Power” group that VIDA was born. If the Office of Economic Opportunity and the more activist forces of Laredo’s impoverished do not achieve some sort of rapprochement, it seems unlikely that the lives of this city’s thousands of poor people can be meaningfully improved. VIDA and other such groups seem destined to suffer lack of funds and official support, while federal anti-poverty money will continue to pay for sewing ,classes, day care centers, and the rental of countless meeting halls for endless evenings of parliamentary procedure. Direct Action To Raise Wages Laredo I ‘in February VIDA iritiated its campaign to diOniie restaurant workers by setting pp i pickets in front of a downtown Laredo cafeteria., Between ten and twenty VIDA.% led by ,a former VISTA volunteer; ‘Richard, Geissler, VIDA’s founder, Pia -tied the Cafeteria for eleven days, telli ; passers ;by, in Spanish and in English; that the employees there were `paid as: little as 25c an hour. Charles Deliganis, co-owner of the cafeteria, -insisted that the minimum wage was not 25c, but 32c; and most einployees,’ he said; ‘got free meals. “I wouldn’t work fOr that,” Deliganis said, “but it’s, three times what some of my workers were making across the river. If they’re happy, and I’m happy, and there’s no law that says I have to pay more, then whose business is it?” Six of his 18 workers quit and joined t t he picket line. They later signed affidavits ‘ charging that some of the cafeteria’s employees received as little as $12 for a 48hour week. As for the free meals, the workers said they were not allowed to eat anything expensive and they couldn’t eat chicken until three days after it had been cooked. AFTER ELEVEN days of the picketing, Deliganis sought and obtained a temporary restraining order, charging that the VIDAs were guilty of illegal ‘mass picketing. He also filed a $40,000 damage suit against VIDA, alleging loss of business and injury to his name. A district court judge issued an order, requiring VIDA to respect Texas’ law against mass picketingno more than two pickets can be within 50 feet of an entrance; other pickets must be stationed in groups of no more than two, at intervals of 50 feet. Since the cafeteria has , a frontage of about 50 feet, this meant that VIDA could place two pickets by the door and another two at the other end of the building. Less than a week later the picketing had been resumed. Deliganis invited VIDA leaders to meet with him to discuss both a wage raise and the possible rehiring of the six women who had left work to join the picket line. William Geissler, brother of VIDA’s founder, said that VIDA would begin negotiations at , $1.25.. He and representatives of the Webb County Central Labor Council met with Deliganis. They finally agreed on a wage scale in the cafeteria ranging from , a minimum of 80c an hour up to $1.25 for some employees. Deliganis ‘also agreed to recognize a union, if his employees voted to have one represent them. As a :further concession, he dropped his $40,000 damage suit against VIDA. The workers now will pay halfprice for their meals and will supply their own uniforms, which had been provided free before. Deliganis may have capitulated because, for one thing, his cafeteria probably will come under coverage of the federal minimum wage law in 1969, once his business grosses more than $250,000 annually. Last year the cafeteria took in about $230,000. Perhaps in keeping with the character of South Texas Life, Deliganis, once the agreement with VIDA had been signed, took William Geissler to the barbershop, paid for a haircut for his erstwhile adversary, and bought him a new shirt. Geissler had been picketing in a blue work shirt with a torn , sleeve. . VIDA NOW ,plans to start talking with owners of other ‘eating places throughout Laredo, most of ‘Whom Pay wages of between 25c and 40c an. hour. VIDA members say that’ workers at these establishments are enthusiatic and optimistic about the proPosed negotiations. , , Both the Central Labor Council, Of Webb County and’ the state AFL-CI10 have vowed to ,support VIDA in its efforts, but some VIDA members say privately they suspect that labor will hop onto the bandwagon only once it becomes clear that the restaurant project has developed plenty of momentum. The VIDAs point out that it was the Texas Civil Liberties Union, not the AFLCIO, which offered them legal aid in the temporary injunction hearing. Members add that the State AFL-CIO has offered moral, but not financial, backing. The problem that workers face along the Texas-Mexico border will remain serious, whatever success .VIDA enjoys in negotiating with employers. The large number of Mexican citizens who cross the river to work here can afford to take much lower wages than their U.S. counterparts. And many Laredoans seem almost indifferent to the feudalistic wage scale which has crippled their city economically. Perhaps VIDA’s most significant contribution will be to dispel some of this apathy and stir up enough discontent among Laredo’s young Latinos that they will demand more of a hand in their own war on their own poverty, and eventually in the government of their own city. B.B. March 31, 1967
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