Community activist gets labor backing

LAWRENCE, Mass. – Community activist Martina M. Cruz was recently endorsed by the Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council in her run for School Committee here. Cruz is one of three candidates being endorsed by the labor council in this year’s municipal elections.

Cruz said, “I am proud to have the endorsement of the organizations that represent the working people of Lawrence and the rest of the Merrimack Valley.”

Cruz, a pre-school teacher, has been a longtime supporter of workers and their unions. Shortly before the endorsement, Cruz participated at a rally in support of workers fired for union organizing at Telcom, a Lawrence plastics items manufacturer. At the rally, Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, urged her to seek the Central Labor Council endorsement.

“One of the reasons I got into this race was because of the way the bilingual teachers were being treated,” Cruz said. Under the new state law that outlaws bilingual education in favor of an “English-immersion” plan, bilingual teachers were fired for “lack of fluency” in English. Cruz, who met with the fired teachers, said, “I am outraged at what they did.” She explained that the test consisted of calling bilingual teachers on the phone to listen to their accents. She indicated that she would fight for fairness for the teachers. Reports from other municipalities indicate that the same method was used in other districts.

The new English-immersion law was passed in a referendum last year and implemented this past September. Cruz, who was one of the Lawrence organizers in support of bilingual education, said, “The ultra-right’s slogan urging people to ‘teach English’ fooled many people. Today we have children coming from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and being put into all-English classes, where the teachers are prohibited from using Spanish to teach them. I know of classes where other students are made to translate for these students. This is not fair to the new student and it is not fair to the other students who are there to learn, not to work translating,” Cruz said.

Noting that the labor movement put resources against the anti-bilingual efforts, Cruz said that she would make the fight for bilingual education a priority.

Carmen Chalas, host of a popular local radio talk show, called Cruz “a real activist and leader.” Cruz told the listening audience that her campaign should be seen “as part of my activism.” She is one of the organizers of local peace activities, was the main organizer in getting people to New York for the recent immigrant rights rally, and is the local contact and legislative liaison for a campaign to provide state-funded universal pre-school programs.