August 12, 2012
Eleazar Castellanos is a day laborer from Tucson, Arizona, and a member of the Southside Worker’s Center, and one of the participants of the No Papers No Fear ride for justice. While he was in New Orleans he spent most of his time talking to other day laborers, visiting them in corners, under bridges, and at the local community organizations.
We had great moments and experiences in New Orleans. We visited a group of day laborers organizing with the Congress of Day Laborers, with whom we exchanged live experiences. I left impressed with their organization, and realized that they share much in common with the day laborers in Arizona.
While we were in New Orleans I had the opportunity to visit the day laborer corner on Gretna street, located underneath an intersection. We went early in the morning, and found about 25 people who gathered in the morning. There were day laborers who had traveled from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. They told us that usually there are some 30 to 40 people, but that day the number was lower because there was a forecast of rain. Although it doesn’t rain much in Arizona, the weather and other external factors always play a role in how many people show up at the corner, and how much work there is available.
There are other things we have in common, similar aspirations and problems, such as finding a stable job. A stable job for us would mean being hired by a company that guarantees work every day, with a contract. In Arizona there are people who have gotten those jobs, but with the implementation of E-verify it has become nearly impossible. For me, even when I have the skills, I am often only hired for a few weeks or a month, and then they tell me I have to go, for fear that they will be fined or that their license will be taken away. I heard the same stories from people in New Orleans.
But we understand that people have needs. And that even when there is an employer who is taking advangate of the workers, offering very low pay for jobs that require skills, or who just offer a flat $50 per day, there is always a person who takes it. There is always someone who needs money, and we don’t blame them, we just give them our place.
There were also things to learn about the way we organize. We face similar problems outreaching to day laborers in corners. For example, they wont come to meetings, and it is hard for them to commit to rules, or see the benefit of working together. I feel that we lose a lot of ideas and opinions that people have that could help us improve our organizing.
In Tucson we have a system, where one person has a list of all the day laborers, and when an employment opportunity comes along, it is one person that dialogues and negotiates payment and contract. Some people don’t like that because they feel like they can get more work individually, or like to go to other corners. But the reality is that when we have a network that protects us, when someone doesn’t want to pay, or is hurt on the job, our organization can help negotiate with the employer and support us. They don’t have this system in New Orleans, although some of the people at the corner thought it might be a good idea. What they do have though is a network that also fights with them.
I was also able to talk to the day laborers about our trip, and what we are doing. At first, many of them seemed distrustful of my intentions. It seems to me they have been cheated in the past, tricked, and persecuted, and it is understandable that they do not trust. But when I got to talk to them about who we were, and the No Papers No Fear tour, and a bus full of undocumented people, working not just for ourselves, but for everyone. They would say ‘wow, really? Is it true?” And they would listen to our stories.
I left feeling like day laborers in New Orleans and in Tucson and all over the country need to know that we are free. That we need to organize in order to fight back towards abuses and seek help. We are not alone, and it is easier for something bad to happen to us when we are, whether is with the police, immigration or accidents.
As I left that corner, I asked them if they would come out of the shadows in support, and at least three workers said yes. I look forward to the day when we can have day laborers from all over the country unite and talk about our experiences, a jornalero coming out of the shadows day.