HIGHWOOD, Ill. – “Viva la huelga, viva la union,” chanted striking laundry workers, their families and supporters as they marched and rallied here Nov. 2. The 40 workers, all Mexican immigrants, have been on strike against Carousel Linen, Inc. for one month, demanding union recognition for UNITE, higher wages and better working conditions.
“You have the support of all the unions of Lake, McHenry and Cook counties,” declared David Barger, president of the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor. “This fight is our fight. An injustice to you is an insult to all of us!”
Jennifer Berger, representing the Interfaith Committee on Workers Issues, brought solidarity greetings from the religious community, “What you are doing is for you, your families and all workers. We will give you all the support we can.”
A delegation of religious leaders organized by the committee presented Carousel owners last week with a petition signed by all the workers demanding union recognition. They urged the owners to negotiate with strikers. Their plea was rejected. Afterwards the priests condemned the bosses. “The exploitation of the workers going on here is a sin,” they said.
Representatives of the Chicago Federation of Labor’s Community Services Department joined the rally, as did a group of students from Northwestern University. They are pressing the university to honor a growing boycott of Carousel.
Major clients, including Levy Catering, Comiskey Park and McCormick Place, are all honoring the boycott. Abbott Laboratories and Chicago Party Rental have still refused and are being targeted for special pressure.
Workers from nearby Skokie Laundry, who are represented by UNITE also joined the rally. They give up their lunch hour each day to attend the picket line.
Shop steward Inez Martinez told the strikers, “We have the right to struggle. It doesn’t matter whether we are immigrants or not. We will be with you until you win.”
The strikers, mainly women, are currently making $5.15/hour without benefits. They are also angry about being consistently cheated for overtime and holiday pay. Most have been with the company since it opened. Their labor has built it into a multi-million dollar operation.
“My husband says for me to keep struggling and he’ll be with us until we win,” said strike captain Miriam Perez.
Striker Rebecca Castro said her daughter was going through hard times because of the strike. “She can’t get the things she needs for school. But she supports the strike and is sticking with me,” she said.
The strikers are unfazed by company intimidation. According to UNITE organizer Adan Jesus Quavez, a scab driving a company truck nearly ran over three picketers Oct. 30. The scab was arrested and will appear in court Nov. 27.
Workers also responded to the anti-immigrant atmosphere creatd by the passage of Attorney General Ashcroft’s repressive anti-terrorism bill. “I was told I was being unpatriotic for going out on strike. But I can’t be forced to live like this,” Celita Vasquez told the World.
The strikers concluded the rally by signing giant yellow authorization cards. “We want to make sure the boss can see we all want the union,” said one striker.