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Only in the Union is there Strength


Armando Carbajal helped found ASTLANC (the Association of Latino Workers of NC) to protect the rights of all Latino workers in the state. He spoke with the Prism's Jeff Saviano to explain why ASTLANC is needed and what it can do.

A.C.: First I want to say that Latinos here, as a group, have different problems, difficulties. And a specific one is exploitation, discrimination on the job. And I want to send a message to my fellow workers, the Latinos, that it doesn't matter from which country you come, only organized will we have strength or will we be a force to defend our rights.

Rights the law already give us in this country, because, regardless of the legal situation, always, a person as a human being has rights.

So, I think that we need to unite ourselves, gather ourselves together into a single group, into an association, a group that will be able to represent Latino workers here in the state. To be able to fight for those rights. And as the saying goes, "In the union there is strength."

Only united can we have the strength to face our enemy, because the enemy is powerful, organized.

J.S.: Who?

A.C.: Employers... [An employer] isn't entirely an enemy. The force of capital and of labor should go forth with hands joined. There should be a more equitable distribution. When a worker works 12, 15 hours, earning $5 an hour, $6, this is unjust, here and in whatever part of the world.

So, the message for my fellow Latino workers, is to unite ourselves, to be together, because, as a popular expression goes,

"The people united
Will never be defeated."

This is the only way. In all aspects of life, we Latinos have to organize ourselves, so that we'll be listened to, to represent ourselves to government, to politicians, including to employers, in the case of us workers.

Professionals are also exploited in our country; they're trained people who are able to help those who work here, including helping with the language. Large institutions like Duke offer to pay $7 an hour to a nurse's aide. Here, language controls everything, and for those that can speak English this includes obtaining [drivers'] licenses.

And so our people also needs to be aware of its situation and of its power—not only those who work picking fruit on farms, or those who are building the buildings—they are exploited as are our professionals, who are trained, this is how exploitation works.

I invite you all—really I already have—to meet with us to create an organization that will be this force of the workers which will fight for and defend us.

Although [one duty of this organization] is to fight for rights which aren't yet protected by the law, it's also the case that there are many rights like workers' compensation which are enumerated by the law.

Many bosses, say, in the construction industry, or in restaurants, if a worker unfortunately gets hurt or becomes sick, then the employers send the workers away, so that they don't have to respect the rights awarded by law to people who work for employers of more than ten workers—these employers have to have insurance, compensation for the worker...

This is an injustice, that one denies them the rights already specified in the law. Only organized can we workers, one day, exercise force or pressure, so that these rights will be respected.

As I said earlier, only in the union is there strength.

I learned [the value of a union] in my country—Honduras, I am a native of Honduras—where the situation is that companies as strong as the banana industry have had economic influence so great that on occasion they have decided who would govern the country. [Companies like] United (or Standard) Fruit Company.

(In 1956 the first strike happened in the country: the great strike of the banana workers, before which there didn't even exist a legal code protecting the rights of workers.)

I worked the land with my father. He owned a portion of land and we cultivated it. When I was 18 years old I began to work for a salary, and I had many illusions. Up until then I hadn't experienced protesting, because I came from a family of small-holding farmers, just people who worked a little land for ourselves.

And so this was when, at 18 years old, I went to the city, with the intention of studying. To work all day and study at night—this was normal situation which holds in my country or at least for poor people.

And so, there, I started working, at different jobs, and these were jobs with salaries just large enough to survive on.

I even worked for the Honduran government, and there I experienced the most exploitation, discrimination, corruption, from the government, and at this point people began to join unions, to be able to defend their rights, to have rights, even.

But it greatly surprised me that when I arrived in this country I found the same type of thing.

At present I've been the victim of not being able to find secure employment. I've never had any benefits. The jobs normally are 'subcontracting' positions. This is documented by the same laws here. I believe that because of this, it's necessary to struggle to be united.

Logically, we are a common force, [so it will be necessary to] try and create an association of Latino workers in North Carolina, and we'll have to have good relations with the associations [unions, etc.] which already exist here, be they African Americans or whatever race.

As workers, we cannot see each other as enemies, nor as competition.

Sure, at times, in this state, in many labor markets employers view us [Latino workers] as a very cheap workforce. To exploit it, the Latino workhand, and people are trying to discriminate against the same workers here, in this city or in the state, knowing that the Hispanic workforce is cheaper or more efficient.

[This workforce] is not [by nature] more capable of yielding more, producing more, it's because they fear everything, different things, and they don't want to lose their jobs.

But my message to these associations, organizations which exist, is that we are brothers and sisters, and that the problems which we have, with this labor market, are the same, and that [these problems] we [Latinos] have also, and sometimes face more severely, because of the question of their own legality. (Latino workers [frequently without official US approval to be working here] are threatened by an ambiguous position under the law.)

And so, then, [these other organizations should] contact us, and sometime we can meet and talk.


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