Women's Day march in San Antonio says 'Ya Basta' to abusive treatment of workers


By Chris Kutalik, Labor Notes

Much like its storied sibling, International Labor Day (May 1), International Women's Day often gets short shrift in the United States, its place of birth.

But for 20 straight years women's groups and allies in San Antonio,Texas have been raising the profile of Women's Day -- and a littlehell -- by taking to the streets. The march has grown steadily over theyears, and close to 2,000 marched this Saturday, making it the largestand arguably the rowdiest such event in the country.

The varied messages of the annual event reflect the broad coalitionof groups that come together to plan it over several months of weekly women-only meetings. Women from the worker-run seamstress collective Fuerza Unida rub shoulders with younger Chicana feminists from the Esperanza Peace and Justice Centerand women from a local university's social work association and theMartinez Street Women's Center. Banners bearing the Virgin ofGuadalupe mix with signs showing old-time Latina labor leader Emma Tenayucaand those bearing slogans like "End NAFTA: Stop the Femicide in Juarez"(a reference to the many violent deaths stemming from the drug trade inthat border city).

Starting this year in front of downtown San Antonio's massive1,000-room Grand Hyatt, this wide-ranging group placed the fight forwomen in the workplace center stage. For over a year now, a tightrank-and-file UNITE HERE-affiliated organizing committee has beenplugging away at rallies, worker-community delegations, creative streetactions, neighborhood outreach, and member-to-member organizing in aneffort to get the hotel to back down from its aggressively anti-unioncampaign locally -- and provide a neutral process for the workers tochoose a union.

Many of the committee's stalwarts are women workers in the hotel'shousekeeping and laundry departments. And many of them are just plaintired and angry about their grinding workload.

Iola Scott, a Grand Hyatt laundry worker and Katrina survivor,addressed the cheering crowd in front of the hotel: "Sometimes I workthe [laundry] chute, pulling many pounds of filthy, contaminatedlinens, moving them and sorting them. The work is hard and heavy. Ihave pain when I'm working and I have pain when I'm home...and I havethe medicine cabinet to prove it.

"I'm proud of myself and my co-workers, because we are not justvictims," said Scott, referring to the committee's linking its localfight to national efforts around hotel job injuries and lifting standards in the industry. "We are not afraid to fight back," she said. "We are leaders in acampaign across the country to force companies like Hyatt to stopabusing and hurting women. And we invite all women to join in thisstruggle, because our fight is a fight for all women."

Chants of "Hyatt, Hyatt, What do you say? Stop abusing your workerstoday" echoed back from the towering hotel as the three-block-longmarch swung out into the wide street in front of it. Hotel workerswaved from upstairs windows and cars and buses honked their horns insupport as the march moved through downtown to Plaza del Zacate, ahistoric meeting spot in Milam Park for the city's various protestmovements.

Chris Kutalik is a Labor Notes Policy Committee member who ishelping organize UNITE HERE's community unionism project in SanAntonio. He can be reached at kutalik@gmail.com.

(Photo by Chris Kutalik)