Thursday, March 30, 2017


By David Bacon
Contexts, 3/22/17 

In Playas de Tijuana, on the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., Catelina Cespedes and Carlos Alcaide greet Florita Galvez, who is on the U.S. side. The family came from Santa Monica Cohetzala in Puebla to meet at the wall.

It took two days on the bus for Catalina Cespedes and her husband Teodolo Torres to get from their hometown in Puebla - Santa Monica Cohetzala - to Tijuana.  On a bright Sunday in May they went to the beach at Playas de Tijuana.  There the wall separating Mexico from the United States plunges down a steep hillside and levels off at the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, before crossing the sand and heading out into the Pacific surf. 

Sunday is the day for families to meet through the border wall.  The couple had come to see their daughter, Florita Galvez. 

Florita Galvez is on the U.S. side of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., and her family on the Mexican side can only see her through holes in the metal mesh.

Florita had arrived that day in San Ysidro, the border town a half hour south of San Diego.  Then she went out to the Border Field State Park, by the ocean two miles west of town.  From the parking lot at the park entrance it was a 20-minute walk down a dirt road to the section of the wall next to the Parque de Amistad.

At 11 that morning, Catalina and Florita finally met, separated by the metal border.  They looked at each other through the metal screen that covers the wall's bars, in the small area where people on the U.S. side can actually get next to it.  And they touched.  Catalina pushed a finger through one of the screen's half-inch square holes.  On the other side, Florita touched it with her own finger. 

On the Mexican side of the border wall Catelina Cespedes sticks her finger through a hole in the mesh so that she can touch the finger of her daughter, Florita Galvez, who is on the other side, the only physical contact possible between people on each side.

Another family shared the space with Catalina and Teodolo.  Adriana Arzola had brought her baby Nazeli Santana, now several months old, to meet her family living on the U.S. side for the first time.  Adriana had family with her also - her grandmother and grandfather, two older children and a brother and sister. 

It was very frustrating, though, to try to see people on the other side through the half-inch holes.  So they moved along the wall to a place where the screen ended.  There the vertical eighteen-foot iron bars of the wall - what the wall is made of in most places - are separated by spaces about four inches wide.  Family members in the U.S. could see the baby as Adriana held her up.

But only from a distance.  The rules imposed by the U.S. Border Patrol in Border Field State Park say that where there's no screen the family members on that side have to stay several feet away from the wall.  So no touching.

Adriana Arzola, her sister and her baby Nayeli Santana talk with her family living in the U.S. through the bars of the wall.  On the U.S. side, her family has to stay several feet away from the wall, so they can't touch each other through the bars.

I could see the sweep of emotions playing across the faces of everyone, and in their body language.  One minute the grandmother was laughing, and the next there were tears in her eyes.  The grandfather just smiled and smiled.  Adriana talked to her relatives, and tried to wake the baby up.  Her brother leaned on the bars with his arms folded against his eyes, and her sister turned away, overcome by sadness.  On the U.S. side, a man in a wheelchair and two women with him looked happy just to have a chance to see their family again.

Some volunteers, most from the U.S. side, called Friends of Friendship Park, have tried to make the Mexican side more pleasant and accommodating for families.  The older children with Adriana sat at concrete picnic tables.  While family members talked through the wall they used colored markers, provided by the Friends, to make faces and write messages on smooth rocks.  Around them were the beginnings of a vegetable garden.  Later in the afternoon one of the volunteers harvested some greens for a salad. 

At the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, in Playas de Tijuana, children and families write on stones the names of other family members they're separated from because of the border.

Members of the Friends group include Pedro Rios from the U.S./Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee, and Jill Holslin, a photographer and border activist.  On the U.S. side, another of the participating groups - Angeles de la Frontera, or Border Angels, helped the families that came to the park.  "We're here seven or eight times a month," said Enrique Morones, the group's director.  "People get in touch with us because we're visible, or they know someone else we helped before."  Border Angels helps set up the logistics so that families can arrive on both sides at the same time, often coming from far away.

Weekend visiting hours, from10-2, are the only time the Border Patrol allows families to get close to the wall for the reunions.  Once a year they open a doorway in the wall.  Watched closely by BP agents, family members are allowed to approach the open door one by one, and then to hug a mother or father, a son or daughter, or another family member from the other side.  To do that, people have to fill in a form and show the agents they have legal status in the U.S.  During the rest of the year, the Border Patrol doesn't ask about legal status, although they could at any moment.  For that reason, Border Angels tells families not to go on their own.

On the Mexican side of the border wall Adriana Arzola brings her new baby, Nayeli Santana, to meet her family living in the U.S. for the first time.

Such carefully co ntrolled and brief encounters are the ultimate conclusion of a process that, at its beginning, had no controls at all.  Before 1848 there was no border here whatsoever.  That year, at the conclusion of what the U.S. calls "the Mexican War," the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico was forced to give up 529,000 square miles of its territory.  The U.S. paid, in theory, $15,000,000 for the land, but then simply deducted it from the debt it claimed Mexico owed it.  U.S. troops occupied Mexico City to force the government there to sign the treaty.

The so-called "Mexican Cession" accounts for 14.9% of the total land area of the United States, including the entire states of California, Nevada and Utah, almost all of Arizona, half of New Mexico, a quarter of Colorado and a piece of Wyoming.  Some Congress members even called for annexing all of Mexico. 

At the time, the city of San Diego was a tiny unincorporated settlement of a few hundred people.  It was considered a suburb of Los Angeles, then still a small town.  San Ysidro didn't exist, nor did Tijuana.  To mark the new border, in 1849 a U.S./Mexico boundary commission put a marble monument in the shape of a skinny pyramid where they thought the line should go.  A replica of that original pyramid today sits next to the wall in the Parque de Amistad.  On the U.S. side the road leading from San Ysidro to Boundary Field State Park is named Monument Road, and the area is called Monument Mesa.

A boy walks past the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S.

Early tourists chipped so many pieces from the marble pyramid that it had to be replaced in 1894.  The first fence was erected, not along the borderline, but around the new monument to keep people from defacing it.  The line itself was still unmarked, fifty years after it had been created.

The Border Patrol was organized in 1924.  Before that, there was no conception that passage back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. on Monument Mesa had to be restricted.  The Federal government only assumed control over immigration in 1890, when construction began on the first immigration station at Ellis Island in New York harbor.  Racial exclusions existed in U.S. law from the late 1800s, but the requirement that people have a visa to cross the border was only established by the Immigration Act of 1924.  The law also established a racist national quota system for handing visas out. 

In the 1930s the Border Patrol terrorized barrios across the U.S., putting thousands of Mexicans into railroad cars and dumping them across the border.  Even U.S. citizens of Mexican descent, or people who just looked Mexican, were swept up and deported.  Trains carried deportees to the border stations in San Ysidro and Calexico, but on Monument Mesa there was still no formal line to keep people from returning.

A man looks through the bars of the border wall into the U.S.

That changed for the first time after World War Two, when barbed wire was stretched from San Ysidro to the ocean.  Mexicans called it the "alambre," or the wire.  Those who crossed it became "alambristas."  Yet enforcement was still not very strict.  During the 1950s and early 1960s, thousands of Mexican workers were imported to the U.S. as braceros, while many migrants also came without papers.  In the Imperial Valley, on weekends during the harvest, those workers would walk into Mexicali, on the Mexican side, to hear a hot band or go dancing, and then hitch a ride back to sleep in their labor camps in Brawley or Holtville. 

In 1971, Pat Nixon, wife of Republican President Richard Nixon, inaugurated Border Field State Park.  The day she visited, she asked the Border Patrol to cut the barbed wire so she could greet the Mexicans who'd come to see her.  She told them, "I hope there won't be a fence here too much longer." 

Instead, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.  Although many people remember the law for its amnesty for undocumented immigrants, IRCA also began the process of dumping huge resources into border enforcement. A real fence was built in the early 1990s, made of metal sheets taken from decommissioned aircraft carrier landing platforms.  The sheets had holes, so someone could peek through.  But for the first time, people coming from each side could no longer physically mix together or hug each other. 

On the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., the wall runs into the Pacific Ocean.

That old wall still exists on the Mexican side in Tijuana and elsewhere on the border.  But Operation Gatekeeper, the Clinton Administration border enforcement program, sought to push border crossers out of urban areas like San Ysidro, into remote desert regions where crossing was much more difficult and dangerous.  To do that, the government had contractors build a series of walls that were harder to cross. 

On Monument Mesa the aircraft landing strips were replaced in 2007 by the 18-foot wall of vertical metal columns.  Two years later a second wall was built on the U.S. side behind the first.  The area between them became a security zone where the Border Patrol restricts access to the wall itself to just four hours on Saturday and Sunday.  The metal columns were extended into the Pacific surf.

In Playas, though, the wall is just a sight to see for the hundreds of people who come out to the beach on the weekend.  The seafood restaurants are jammed, and sunbathers set up their umbrellas on the sand.  Occasionally, a curious visitor will walk up and look through the bars into the U.S., or have a boyfriend or girlfriend take a picture next to the wall, uploading it to Facebook or Instagram for their friends.

On the Mexican side of the border wall veterans of U.S. military service who have been deported gather to protest, and to remember those who died.  Their names are written on the bars.

The wall itself at the Parque de Amistad has become a changing artwork.  As the bars rust, they've been painted with graffiti that protests the brutal division. 

One section has the names of U.S. military veterans who've been deported to Mexico, with the dates of their service and death.  A deported veterans group comes down on occasional Sundays, with some in uniform.  In angry voices, they ask why fighting the U.S.'s wars didn't keep them from being pushed onto the Mexican side of the wall.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


In photos and text:  The great San Francisco hotel lockout
By David Bacon

The full set of photos is viewable here:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 6SEPTEMBER04 -  On Labor Day, at the beginning of the campaign for a new contract, hotel housekeepers and other hotel workers march up Powell Street in front of the St. Francis Hotel, in the heart of the hotel and tourism district.

During the great San Francisco hotel lockout, the progressive leaders of the American Anthropological Association responded to the request of San Francisco hotel workers that they move their annual convention, because the hotels were being boycotted.  The association agreed, and the convention was moved.  There was a lot of controversy internally about the decision, and at the convention in 2009 they organized a panel to talk about the strike, and about the links between labor and progressive anthorpology. I was asked to write an account of the fight for CIty and Society, where this appeared in 2009.  Two other contributions also discussed this issue:  "Toward an Anthropology of Labor" by Sharryn Kasmir and "Locating Labor: David Bacon and Anthropology" by Gerrie Casey.

The lockout and the two year fight that followed took place at the height of the George Bush administration.  Despite Republican domination of the government and savage attacks on unions, workers and immigrants, the hotel union doggedly developed a strategy to unite workers nationwide.  The union showed (and it is clear in these photographs) that workers in San Francisco would fight hard for it, and that winning was possible even under a rightwing administration.  Revisiting the history of the lockout can help to envision a strategy for unions and immigrants facing similar challenges today.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 6SEPTEMBER04 - Workers and supporters get arrested in front of the St. Francis Hotel.

The 2004 strike and lockout of San Francisco hotel workers, and the two-year struggle that followed, weren't just limited disputes over wages-a union in a strong labor town getting serious money for its members. Some of the hotel workers' hardest-fought achievements didn't involve money at all, at least not directly. Instead, their new contract, finally signed in 2006, put in place building blocks that made hotel labor much stronger in years that followed-coordinated bargaining, card check recognition, and civil rights protection balancing the needs of immigrants and African Americans.

Perhaps the best explanation for why the hotels signed the agreement was given by UNITE HERE Local 2 president Mike Casey who simply said, "they decided it was cheaper to sign a contract than go to war with us again."

The final settlement certainly cost the hotels a bundle. Not only did wages rise a dollar an hour for each of three years for most workers (half that for those who get tips), but the big chains- Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental and Starwood- even threw in 60 cents an hour retroactively for each of the prior two years when the union lived without a contract at all. Poetic justice, since it was the hotels' choice in 2004 to refuse to sign an agreement that had them negotiating a new contract in 2006. It was expensive justice nonetheless.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 6SEPTEMBER04 - Mike Casey, president of Unitehere Local 2,  is photographed by the police at the paddy wagon, after being arrested in front of the St. Francis Hotel.

The bigger question, however, was whether a new balance of power in hotels would make housekeepers and cooks the inheritors of the city's waterfront labor tradition, and lead to the kind of rise in the standard of living that longshoremen experienced decades ago. Like the hospitality workers of today, dockworkers of the 1920s were San Francisco's low-wage earners-even scorned as bums and derelicts. Eighty years later, they are some of the best-paid blue-collar workers in North America. A strong union in the 1930s and '40s knitted waterfront and maritime laborers together in every Pacific port. It gave workers a new way to deal with the shippers, and with each other. A radically higher standard of living was one visible manifestation of better organization. The political machine in San Francisco and Hawaii, which sent a generation of pro-labor politicians to Washington, was another.

It could happen again, and hotel workers may be the ones to make it happen. Certainly in San Francisco their union avoided the disasters of the earlier 2003 Southern California grocery strike, and the wage and workforce cuts plaguing the nation's airlines. But the union did more than fight a good defensive battle. It changed the rules. It altered the relationship between hospitality workers and the multinational corporations who now employ them.

If the hotels learned anything from the two-year saga, it was that the union in San Francisco was better prepared for war than they were. In 2004, Local 2 asked for a contract that would terminate in 2006, enabling it to negotiate at the same time its sister locals around the country were also at the bargaining table with the same hospitality chains. Earlier in 2004, the hotels agreed to a 2006 expiration date in a number of major cities. But by the time the San Francisco union demanded it, they'd realized their mistake and become badly scared. The notion that independent local unions, which previously could be defeated easily in local strikes, would band together to negotiate jointly, was an extremely threatening idea for the hotel companies. Common contract expirations might eventually lead to joint negotiations, multi-city strikes, and even, in the longer term, national master agreements.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 14SEPTEMBER04 - Three workers talk about how to vote and mark their ballots in the strike vote.  Hotel workers in Los Angeles and Washington DC also took strike votes the day prior, making a 3-city strike very likely.

So in San Francisco the companies balked.

Choosing this city and this union was a bad mistake. While hotel operators were able to get 2006 off the table in Washington DC, and weaken the momentum elsewhere, San Francisco hotel workers held to their guns. They struck four of the fourteen Class A hotels (the city's most expensive) in the Multi-Employer Group, announcing they'd stay out for two weeks. The other ten implemented a mutual support agreement, and promptly locked out their own workers. Once the two-week strike was over, workers in the struck hotels were locked out too when they tried to return. The hotels obviously saw no contradiction between their gentlemen's agreement to lock arms in an anti-union alliance, and their opposition to local unions showing the same mutual support.

Workers did, though. To them it smacked of hypocrisy, and made them more willing to stay on the picket lines.

As it ground on, the lockout did more damage to the hotels than to their employees. After nine weeks, workers were clearly not frightened, and continued to mount noisy picket lines and drive away guests. When the hotels cut off payments to the union health plan, other unions stepped in to make up for them. Management's own tactics pushed people together, and made broader class solidarity more necessary than ever.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 29SEPTEMBER04 - A Hilton Hotel striker carries her infant on the picketline in front of the hotel lobby.

At the same time, the hotels had a hard time with their own business allies. The city's mayor, a photogenic, TV-savvy restaurateur, heretofore viewed as business friendly, tried to broker a settlement. The corporations' rebuff carried a resentful tone, as though he was betraying those who'd propelled him into office. Mayor Gavin Newsom then went to a picket line at Union Square, in the heart of the tourist district. In front of the Westin St. Francis he declared the lockout was hurting city business, and that he would honor the union boycott of the fourteen hotels until they settled.

The hotel corporations finally caved and reopened their doors to their own workers. The mayor kept his promise, however, and stayed away for the next two years. And as room occupancy rates rose nationally, with the industry recovering from its disastrous decline in the wake of September 11, 2001, an active boycott cut deeply into San Francisco's expected share of sharply rising profits.

Hotel housekeepers, bellmen, cooks, and laundry workers returned to their jobs, but without a contract. To pressure them further, the companies refused to deduct dues and turn the money over to the union. Rather than watch its income plummet in the middle of this battle, however, the union set up a system to collect dues by hand from over 5,000 workers. In the end, "it brought us much closer to our own members," said Local 2's secretary-treasurer Lamoin Wehrlein-Jaen.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 13OCTOBER04 - Local 2 President Mike Casey leads workers and supporters to the entrance of the Mark Hopkins Hotel to demand that managers let them go back to work.  Fourteen hotels locked out their workers when they tried to return to work at the end of the two-week strike against four of them.  Hotel managers then extended the lockout indefinitely in all 14 Class A hotels. 

Action in the street continued. Noisy marches reminded managers and travel agents of what a return to war would feel like. Arrests of dozens of members and supporters for sitting in hotel entrances became San Francisco's annual Labor Day observance. And inside the hotels, workers began to use delegations, petitions, and other collective actions when they had problems on the job. The official position of the Multi-Employer Group-that since there was no contract, there was no grievance procedure-created more worker cohesion, not less. 2006 finally arrived, and union contracts began to expire in other cities around the country. Local 2 was ready to fight again. The hotels were not.

Negotiations, which had stalled not long after the lockout ended, were restarted from scratch. Hotels demanded that new hires receive an inferior medical plan, and pay more for it-the same basic demand which led to the four-month strike of 40,000 grocery workers in Los Angeles in 2003, and which store clerks in the end had to accept. Local 2 put its old demands back on the table.

This time, however, the parent union's national strategy began to have an effect in San Francisco. The huge New York local, UNITE HERE's largest, reached agreement in May. It was a six-year deal, meaning that the union would not be a factor in the next round of negotiations. But New York won substantial raises, and most important, card-check recognition.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 13OCTOBER04 - Workers at the Fairmount wait to find out if they're going to work, as the lockout begins.

Of all the union demands, this was anathema to the hospitality chains. Under a card-check arrangement, workers at non-union hotels run by the same company can sign cards asking for union representation. When a majority has signed, the hotel agrees to recognize the union and bargain. This process avoids National Labor Relations Board elections, which, over two decades, have become a vehicle for scorched-earth anti-union campaigns. Managers facing workers who want a union first hire anti-union consultants. They, in turn, wage a campaign of illegal threats and firings, designed to produce a momentary majority of workers on election day, so scared that they vote against their own self-interest.

UNITE HERE has card-check agreements in Las Vegas, where it represents such a large percentage of the casino workforce that the wealthy operators have no choice but to agree. In the rest of the hotel industry, however, union busting is the norm. In San Francisco, it took Local 2 over four years to organize the Parc 55, and at Marriott Corporation's downtown flagship, the campaign lasted ten.

Ironically, Hilton Hotels broke the logjam in New York. In the 2004 lockout, Hilton led the other MEG employers in San Francisco in defying Local 2. In UNITE HERE's pre-2006 planning, Hilton had even been chosen as the national target. Workers were interviewed around the country, and their testimony supported a growing indictment of worker abuse, especially in non-union hotels.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 12OCTOBER04 - Rev. Jesse Jackson rallies with locked out and striking San Francisco hotel workers in Union Square.

Following the company's decade-long binge of buying out smaller chains, a majority of Hilton workers are now unorganized. By moving from a majority-union to a majority non-union workforce, the company has begun to push wages and conditions down, even for unionized workers. Local 2's members understood this. Without organizing their non-union colleagues, they too would feel the same pressure. They recognized that a new contract had to have more than just wage raises. It had to include a better process for bringing unorganized workers into the union.

Local 2's housekeepers and kitchen workers understood power. They knew the advantage they would have if they could force the hotels to negotiate in 2006. They knew why they needed card check. They could have given up these two demands anytime during the nine locked-out weeks, or the two years without a contract that followed. The hotels would have gladly given them raises in exchange. But in a convincing demonstration of the union's ability to educate its own members, the workers wouldn't take the deal.

When New York's new contract was ratified, the union and Hilton also announced that the chain was willing to sign card check agreements in a limited number of other cities. Those agreements would have to be included in new contracts in each of those cities, though, and in San Francisco those negotiations were not going well.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 22OCTOBER04 - Locked-out hotel workers rally in front of City Hall, before calling on city supervisors to take action to end the lockout.

Finally, Local 2 took another strike vote on August 24, 2006. A week later, at the end of a noisy march through the tourist district, over sixty members and supporters were arrested for blocking the entrance to the Palace Hotel on Market Street. Managers could envision the possible return of the labor war of two years before. In the shifting alliances inside the Multi-Employer Group, Hilton and its allies succeeded in convincing a majority of the other operators that they could live with card check in San Francisco.

Workers held out for a third strategic goal, however, which may eventually have as profound an effect on the union's strength as card check and common expiration dates. They negotiated an unprecedented civil rights section of the new agreement, which combines protection for immigrant workers with a requirement that hotels make concerted efforts to hire African American workers and residents of other communities underrepresented in the industry's workforce.

The proposal stems from an effort by the union to address changing demographics. In the city's hotels, the percent- age of African American workers is falling, as employment continues to grow. African Americans now make up less than 6 percent of the San Francisco hotel workforce, a number that has declined in each of the past five years but one.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 22OCTOBER04 - One locked-out hotel worker holds her infant as she speaks in a meeting of city supervisors, asking them to take action to end the lockout. 

In San Francisco, this issue has a lot of history. The Palace Hotel was the scene of the city's most famous civil rights demonstration. In 1963, hundreds of civil rights activists sat in and were arrested in the hotel lobby. They demanded that management hire blacks into jobs in the visible front-of-the-house locations, where the color line had kept them out. The day after the arrests thousands ringed the entire block in the largest picket line San Francisco has ever seen.

Richard Lee Mason, an African American banquet waiter at the St. Francis remembers: "African Americans had been kept in the back of the house for far too long. People wanted to be in the front of the house, and rightly so." Employment prospects improved for black workers for some years after the demonstrations, but the situation changed again in the 1980s.

"I suspect that because the industry had had a great struggle with African Americans, they thought we were too aggressive," Mason speculates. "A lot of us had come out of the civil rights movement, and we were willing to fight for higher wages and to make sure we were treated fairly." Steven Pitts, an economist at the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California in Berkeley, adds that "this perception by employers of African American workers is true nationwide. Blacks aren't perceived as compliant, and therefore when many employers make hiring decisions, they simply don't hire them."

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 26OCTOBER04 - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom listens to Lesli Salmeron, a housekeeper at the Hilton hotel for over 9 years, about the suffering of workers caused by the lockout.  The mayor joined locked-out workers on their picketlines after hotels rejected his appeal to end the lockout.

Hotels hired increasing percentages of immigrants, in a move they hoped would create a less demanding and expensive workforce. In kitchens and among the laundry carts, voices now speak in languages from Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean, China, the Philippines, and a host of other countries. But if the hotel industry hoped this new workforce would be more compliant, they were disappointed. Immigrants proved a key element of the 1980 citywide hotel strike, and smaller conflicts over the following two decades. But black employment fell nonetheless.

To restart movement in the other direction, in 2004 Local 2 asked companies to agree to a diversity taskforce, to reach out to African American communities, and eliminate hiring barriers. While demanding progress towards ending the de facto color line, the union also proposed new protections for the job rights of immigrants. The union won strong language allowing workers to keep their jobs for up to a year if they have to leave to adjust their immigration status. Management is prohibited from firing workers named in "no match" letters from the Social Security Administration, because their numbers don't match the SSA database (a common cause for termination by employers who assume those workers are undocumented.)

The union proposal strengthened an important ruling won in 2000 in San Francisco, when an arbitrator held that management couldn't use a "no-match letter" to fire immigrant workers if they had a union contract. Then, in 2003, the union organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a national demonstration for immigration reform joining immigrants with black veterans of the original 1960s freedom rides. The mobilization brought people to Washington to push for immigration reform to make it easier for immigrant workers to join unions, go on strike, and advocate for their labor rights.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 5NOVEMBER04 - At a prayer service outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel hotel workers put their anger into writing on the signs they carry on the picketline.

The union's civil rights proposal "is an important first step," according to Pitts. "But in the civil rights movement we learned we need structural change, that can bring community residents into the hotels, and make sure they progress." The new outreach requirement may have limited impact, but it is a first step. It puts immigrants and African Americans on the same side. It makes the union part of a new civil rights movement, geared to a changed world of globalization. The key is prohibiting discrimination against immigrants because of their status, while moving towards affirmative action to gain more jobs for underrepresented communities.

Winning structural reform in hiring takes a lot of bargaining power-an important argument for card check and coordinated negotiations in cities around the country. But possibly more important in the long term, the agreement renews the basis for a civil rights alliance that can lead to greater political power, as well as increasing union strength.

In the 1934 San Francisco general strike, longshore leader Harry Bridges promised African Americans in the city that if they made common cause with the strikers rather than with the ship owners, the union would force employers to take down the color line that barred them from most waterfront jobs. As president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Bridges kept his word. African Americans became a majority of San Francisco longshore workers in later years, and the union and minority and working-class communities formed an alliance that gave them decades of political power.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 5NOVEMBER04 - A hotel housekeeper shouts out her anger at the continuation of the lockout, at the door into the St. Francis Hotel.

Local 2 may become the nucleus of a similar political alliance that reflects the new realities of the city's changing demographics. That could give it influence, in raising the standard of living for not just its members but for working-class San Franciscans as a whole.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 20NOVEMBER04 - Mayor Gavin Newsom announces the end to the lockout, flanked by (l) and Mike Casey, president of UNITE HERE Local 2 (r).

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 5SEPTEMBER05 - UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm sits in with workers, blocking the doors, to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, protesting the lack of a union contract at  San Francisco's Class A hotels. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 13SEPTEMBER06 - San Francisco hotel workers announce that their union, UNITE HERE Local 2, has reached agreement on a new contract with the city's leading hotels, after two strike votes, a strike, a lockout, and negotiating for over two years.  The union acheived its major goals, including card-check neutrality to make it easier for workers in non-union hotels in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties to join the union.  Workers won substantial wage and benefit increases, and defeated an attempt to make them accept a two-tier arrangement giving new workers a lower standard.  The union accepted no  concessions.