HOUSTON — The Texas AFL-CIO held its 45th convention at the new, all-union Hilton Americas Hotel here Aug. 11-13.

Among its decisions, the convention took a strong stand in support of immigrant rights and against racism — particularly against the “Minutemen” vigilantes who are threatening to carry out their anti-immigrant program in Houston this October.

One of the most important arguments for supporting immigrant rights was the hotel itself. The city-owned, downtown facility employs hundreds of new union members, many of whom are immigrants. Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO, spoke about the process by which labor and the city cooperated in the new venture. The Hilton Americas is said to be only the second all-union hotel in the state.

While the convention was under way, the Houston Chronicle reported that five major janitorial corporations had signed an agreement with the Service Employees International Union stating that the companies will not oppose a four-month-old unionization drive. The drive, if successful, could organize as many as 8,000 janitors into the Houston labor movement.

Even though SEIU left the AFL-CIO the month before, Shaw spoke proudly of the Houston labor council’s cooperation with SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign. According to the Chronicle, the average wage for janitors prior to the organizing drive was only a dime more than the national minimum wage of $5.15.

Shaw said that a large percentage of the new union members are immigrants, and that the recent gains prove the value of the AFL-CIO’s support for immigrant rights.

Jaime Martinez, president of the Texas chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), introduced a resolution calling upon the state federation to take a “leading role in the protection of immigrant rights.” Martinez said, “Our people are being scapegoated by all kinds of organizations, including the Minutemen,” which he characterized as “racist vigilantes.”

When the convention’s resolutions committee recommended referring a resolution concerning the Minutemen to the executive board rather than passing it at the convention, Shaw spoke against the referral. He argued that the Minutemen vigilantes, who have been concentrating on Arizona’s border with Mexico, were becoming a major threat in Texas. He said that they were no longer confining their activities to border patrols, but had begun to enter major urban areas, where they have videotaped day laborers or stopped people to demand proof of citizenship.

Another speaker backed Shaw up. He said that Minutemen had stopped him on a San Antonio street and asked him for his “papers.”

“Go see my grandma about it,” had been his response.

After several more speakers supported Shaw’s and Martinez’s comments, the resolution was unanimously approved by the convention.

Labor leaders and political officeholders alike condemned the recent passage of the anti-labor Central American Free Trade Agreement. The unionists made it clear they consider it a top priority to defeat the three south Texas Democratic congressmen who voted with the Bush administration on the issue. A particular target in the 2006 elections will be Rep. Henry Cuellar, who was charged with having been the first Democrat to declare himself on George Bush’s side in the “free trade” debate.

Although the national AFL-CIO adopted an antiwar resolution in Chicago, no resolutions on the Iraq war were offered to the Texas convention. However, a number of speakers blasted the war. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and Richard Womack, assistant to national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, were particularly outspoken. When Womack asked the convention, “Did Bush tell the truth about the war in Iraq?” the crowd roared back, “No!”

The Texas meeting was the first big labor event following the national AFL-CIO convention in Chicago in July. Several speakers have talked about finding ways to continue working with the unions that disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO.

Members of the disaffiliated United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) attended the Texas convention, although they had no voting status. UFCW First Vice President Willie Baker led one of the panel discussions.

Texas AFL-CIO leaders have said they hope to continue working with the entire labor movement on issues important to the state’s workers. On political issues, and especially when the state Legislature is in session, the Texas federation has a long tradition of working with non-affiliated union representatives.