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Latino Heritage Month: Latinos and new politics

By Richard Monje

"Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres"

There is a major change taking place among Latinos today. Latinos are organizing in their self-defense and becoming more combative in every arena. Latino workers are critical to this change. These changes expose a crisis of leadership.

In the past, Latino politics has been dominated mostly by pro-business leaders and by conservative politicians. That is, by self-elected representatives that speak for the Latino (Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc.) community.

This Latino politic is changing practically. October represents a time to reflect on our history and plan for our future, and to place these changes and our tasks in some perspective.

October 12 is known in most Latino countries as Dia de la Raza. To many, Dia de la Raza symbolizes 506 years of oppression and exploitation. It is the anniversary of the arriving of the Spanish on the shores of the Americas. Many of the current nations and cultures were formed by subsequent events. First by Spanish or Portuguese domination and later by that of the United States.

It took many different political, economic and ideological forms. Many of the indigenous peoples were brutalized, murdered and enslaved. The driving force of economic and political domination (imperialism) of the nations in the Caribbean, Central and South America has forced literally millions to constantly move north for survival.

It is also 506 years of the struggle for independence (self-determination) and for a return to a cooperative society. This concept is deeply embedded in the indigenous history and psychology of many Latinos.

In the past, there have been many worker struggles with heroic leaders, but they were unable to sustain the revolutionary content of their struggle.

In the 1960s, there was an upsurge of Latino workers sparked by the independence movement in Puerto Rico, the civil-rights movement and the farm-workers movement. At the same time, there were community and student organizations that created a large movement that achieved many reforms.

These movements (in most cases) remained separate. Economic conditions of the time did not allow the class content to dominate. There are many factors converging at this time that are forging a new Latino politic.

This new Latino politic has at its core the economic and political conditions of the countries of origin (for example Puerto Rico and Mexico), and therefore the immigrant worker -- citizen or not, documented or not. Add to this the fact that economic factors are forcing immigrant workers not only into the service sector, but the drive of the capitalists for lower wages is forcing more of them than ever into the factories.

In many cases, they are being forced into sweatshop conditions. They are being organized and organizing into unions. In addition, the attack against immigrant workers has fueled a resurgence of a movement of students of Latino heritage.

The breadth of this new Latino movement dwarfs any of the previous movements of Latinos in the history of this country.

It is no coincidence that many of the activists of the 1960s and 1970s are in positions of leadership. This is especially true in the unions at a time when the unions are putting some effort into organizing immigrant workers.

In addition, any leaders from the revolutionary and trade- union struggles of the Caribbean, Central and South America bring their experience into the movement in this country.

The critical question is leadership. The future of this movement, in the hemisphere and the world, rests within the realm of the political struggle.

The working-class movement is only beginning to take shape, but economic conditions are compelling all workers in the United States to reassess old and new ideas. This movement toward political independence -- independence from the capitalist class -- is affecting all poor and working people in this country.

It is important that Latino leaders understand the current relation of forces. Many may have the best of intentions, but to continue to ally these new forces to the same old political dynamics and the same old way of doing things will only discourage the new forces.

Recently, at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement national convention in Puerto Rico, representatives of these new ideas attempted to implement decisions fought for at the previous convention. They were blocked, as they were blocked in New York and Chicago leading up to the convention. This struggle is being repeated in many unions, schools and other organizations in Latino communities. This is a healthy struggle not a divisive one. It is for our children, families, communities and countries.

We must use the national and cultural sympathies to continue to form the Latino politic that rests on our common experience in this country. We must be mindful of our tactics; there are forces that are trying to isolate the immigrant community and the new leaders.

We stand with the future or we stand with the past of corruption, exploitation and national oppression.

This Latino politic, the Latino workers and Latinos in general are contributing to the building of a new politic for the working class in the United States. They are preparing to take their place in all arenas of struggle by their class brothers and sisters.

If we go back to our roots, understand our history and our dream, our future is secure.

Dime con quien andas!

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