Page 12


Chicanos strike Longhorn Works By Paula Sornoff Kyle For more than a year now, members of Local 1011 of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Machine Works in Kyle, Tex. The union members, 61 strong, say they are striking for a living wage and a healthy life for their families. Prior to unionizing last year, the average machine shop worker at Longhorn received $1.60 to $1.80 an hour. The strikers are asking for a 97-cent across-the-board pay increase, not an outrageous demand, say, in Houston or Beaumont, but a well-nigh revolutionary demand in Kyle, population 800, one of those scrawny little Texas towns with a chicano majority and an anglo hierarchy. Working conditions at the shop are rotten. The ventilation is poor. There’s only one restroom with two toilets for 82 employees. State health authorities last year found that 29 Longhorn workers had active cases of tuberculosis. One needed immediate hospitalization. The rest are on medication brought down from Lockhart once a month by a welfare caseworker. Wage earners are not given sick leave, but the company does offer a group health insurance plan, albeit without complete hospitalization program. The base cost of the plan is $21 a month, $21 a month for $22,000 a year executives and for $4,266.60 a year peons like Ben Zavala, the president of Local 1011. UNTIL HE went on strike, Zavala had received $82 a week from Longhorn for nine long years. Before the strike, Zavala’s food budget for himself, his wife and five children was $42 a week and he had to go to Austin or San Marcos to get his money’s worth. On such a budget, the Zavalas rarely ate meat or fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. They did manage to have greens for a salad fairly often. Now, the Zavalas have no money, save what the union gives them. IUE representative Ray Mendez has managed to get the strikers on the commodities program. Zavala, 41 years old with a sixth grade education, pays $154 a year in city and county taxes on a little house about a mile from the center of Kyle. He lives on an unpaved street. The Longhorn Machine Works is also situated a mile from the center of town, but Joe E. Brown, sole owner of the establishment, pays no city taxes. In 1955, Kyle’s city boundaries were redrawn to put Longhorn outside the city limits, thus exempting the works from taxation. Brown was not available for an interview. He lived in Kyle for many years, but he travels now overseeing his cattle and real estate interests in East Texas and a Longhorn warehouse and sales division in Houston. Brown is represented at the bargaining table by Clifford Shawd, a management consultant, and Elmer Travis Robertson, Longhorn’s general manager. They have countered the strikers’ 97 cents an hour demand with an offer of a ten cents an hour pay raise across-the-board. Mendez, Willie Cisneros, Juan Mosqueda and Jesse Arredondo bargain for the strikers. “There’s been no progress at all since they first voted to have a union shop more than a year ago,” Mendez says. Negotiations continue on an average of two or three times a month. Contacted for an interview, Robertson reacted in fury to the word “press.” His emotionalism on the subject is surprising, since there has been little media coverage of the strike. Articles have appeared in Austin’s Rag; Texas Labor, the official state AFL-CIO publication; La Otra Voz, a bi-monthly paper emphasizing Mexican-American interests in Hays, Comal, Guadalupe and Caldwell counties; and the Hays County Citizen. Only the Citizen’s coverage \(It printed a Longhorn Robertson’s approval. The Citizen is “a good paper,” Robertson said. “They printed what they were asked to print and quoted what they were told to quote.” \(In the same issue with the Machine Works’ propaganda, the Hays County paper devoted a quarter of a page to an item called “In and Around KYLE.” Approximately 30 social events deemed of interest in Kyle were included. Not a single person mentioned in the three columns had a Spanish surname, despite the fact that At the Longhorn picket line, those not on duty play a lot of dominos. Since the strike began last May, they’ve even crowned a domino champion, Merejildo Gonzalez. Waiting for their shift one afternoon recently were Domingo Rios, Martin de Leon, Joe Alcala, Claudio Ortunio, Cresencio Romero, Raymond Castillo, Pedro Leal, Ray Mendez and Ben Zavala. To a man they agreed that their biggest single problem at the moment is “getting students from Southwest Texas State, LBJ’s old alma mater in San Marcos, to stop scabbing. Hays County Sheriff Bobby Kinser is not making the strikers’ job any easier. His son Bobby went to work at Longhorn Machine just 11 days after the first 61 workers went out on strike. La Otra Voz reported June 30, “Word is that there is a little pressuring going on to get those students working theresome of them have been picked up by the sheriff for writing bad checks or other offenses and are avoiding prosecution by accepting Kinser’s inside information on `job openings’ ” [at the machine works] . The strikers say they intend to “stick with it all the way.” They have received some help through fund raising benefits such as the one held this summer at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. The benefit netted the strikers $742.37 in cash and two truckloads of food. Help also has come from the VVAW, some sorority groups and from local unions in San Antonio and Austin. The Texas AFL-CIO is beginning to get interested in the strike. The state office sent memos to all its affiliates, urging them to support IUE Local 1011. Mike and Mary Pagano held a spaghetti benefit from the strikers on July 23 at their Main Street Cafe in Kyle. Still, children have a nasty habit of outgrowing shoes and clothing very quickly. They also start to school each September and promptly bring home a long shopping list for books, paper, pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks and other expensive items. The Main Street Cafe in Kyle is a good place for dropping off donations. If that’s too far, the Austin VVAW will deliver food and clothing and funds to the strikers for you. They need your help. Sept. 8, 19 72 15 tit h ol z’ Since 1866 The Place in Austin GOOD FOOD GOOD BEER 1607 San Jacinto 477-4171 MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada 1001 Century Building Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 [-]