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A Short History of North Texas Jobs with Justice

The actual history, blow by blow, is still on the internet at, but I'll put a summary here. After Elaine and I went through the long contract fight 1984-85 at UAW 848, we kept on finding ways to draw union people into action. For the most part, the AFL-CIO wasn't interested in solidarity -- neither between unions nor between unions and other groups -- but individuals were.

When the Greyhound bus drivers went on strike, I think the winter of 1986-87, our union local was the first one to help out. We brought a pickup load of food for the strikers. Then we worked with local people to develop an ongoing program. The program turned out to be a series of Friday night rallies that lasted all winter. Other than UAW 848, our local, I don't think we were able to interest any unions or other organizations in showing solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union folks.

But there were individuals who were interested. One or two from Communications Workers, a couple other UAW folks, one or two from here and one or two from there. As the bus drivers could get 15-20, we had a decent-sized (for Dallas) picket. Great fortune hit us when Teamsters Local 745 decided to join in. I think they had 13,000 members then, and they were able to get 50-60 every Friday!

I did a lot of publicity work. We tried everything we could think of, including an effort to get people to "adopt a striking family." The Friday rallies were the only thing that worked, but they were pretty good.

Some time in 1987, we heard that some of the old "industrial" unions, unions that had been in the CIO, had started a new national organization that was deliberately designed to get around the AFL-CIO. They started with an airline strike, and we heard that they actually jammed up an airport in Florida by parking their cars in the toll booths! Right away, we started trying to find out who could or could not charter us as a North Texas chapter. Before long, we realized that the Communications Workers felt that they more or less owned the franchise, and they weren't interested in us. That may have been because we already had a reputation as militant fighters, or it may have been because the UAW was not, at that time, a member of the AFL-CIO in Texas.

Airline employee raising funds with UAW 848 in 1987

During 1987, a young man named Mike Gross organized the cafeteria workers at Stephen F Austin College in Nacogdoches. The Communications Workers were just starting their effort to organize all state workers, so they wanted a big show of solidarity there. They started organizing CWA members from all over the state to go to Nacogdoches.

Elaine and I chartered a bus and started filling it, but the CWA folks said no. So we appealed to a young new organizer for the State Workers, Sandy Rusher. I guess she knew which strings to pull, and we finally got permission to bring our bus load. As far as I know, we were the only people there who weren't CWA members. So, long story short, you could say that Sandy Rusher started North Texas Jobs with Justice. I think she's the national organizer for CWA now.

But the CWA still wouldn't let us charter a chapter, even though Sandy was firmly on our side. I don't know who she worked on, but she wore them down eventually and we were given permission to start a chapter in January, 1990. We met at UAW 848 union hall, still located at 2218 E Main in Grand Prairie. By then, I think that Elaine and I knew just about every union activist in North Texas. The total was 30. One really outstanding one was Miss Priscilla Bell from the Greyhound union. She had been the cleaning woman at the Dallas depot for decades, and there was never a more dedicated unionist than she.

ILGWU marches with JwJ in Dallas

Several unions were represented in our little group, but the K-Mart warehouse workers, organized by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, usually provided the most people at meetings and actions. I always thought that was particularly appropriate because I believe that the ILGWU was the first CIO union to try to organize in North Texas. After we started our monthly planning meetings, we started carrying out street action after action. They weren't very big, but there were an awful lot of them.

Somewhere soon after we got the organization started, I realized that publicizing the workers' cause was one important job that wasn't getting done, and that I was probably better able to do it than anybody else. I started what I called the "Jobs with Justice Information Service" and faxed out news on workers' events every time one happened. Jobs with Justice, from its inception, was a nexus of information about the workers movement. We may not have had any money or any political clout, but we knew every activist and they knew us. After the internet reached us, I did even more of that information-spreading work.

In some ways, solidarity was lonely work, because very few actual union leaders participated. We were just an "outlying" group in the labor movement, and very few unions were represented by more than 2 or 3 members. Whenever a union was in trouble, we would get a call. While their contract fight, strike, or organizing drive was going on, we'd hear them declaring their eternal gratitude and intentions to support JwJ fully from that day forward. But after the crisis, whatever it was, passed, we wouldn't see them again. We didn't notice much because, by then, we were already up to our neck in somebody else's solidarity work.

Fighting NAFTA

I think we were the only ones to fight NAFTA in North Texas. There was one rally organized by a guy from San Antonio, but we organized everything else. We did lots of small actions. The only big one was at our union hall, but they were all organized by Jobs with Justice. Jay Dunn of Local 848 did a lot of work on NAFTA and other things.

We were also the only ones fighting to free Nelson Mandela. We picketed a lot of Shell stations, sometimes with 50-60 people and sometimes with 2-3.

Picketing Shell stations for Mandela

We didn't ignore union culture. When somebody organized union singing, for example, it was nearly always us. We organized an Anne Feeney event when nobody around here knew her. I organized several "singout" activities with local talent.

National Jobs with Justice, from time to time, would put out a call for combined actions, usually on a certain day. We always did our part, even if 5 or 6 people were all we could get together. If it was really small, we'd call it a press conference. If we had 20 or more, we'd call it a rally. Whatever it may have been, we were always participating.

Everything changed in 1995 when the national AFL-CIO experienced something like a "palace coup." For the first time in a century, the outgoing leadership did not get to pick its successors. John Sweeney from the Service Employees was elected the new president, and he had "CIO" (as opposed to "AFL") written all over him! Among the many progressive things the new administration did was to legitimize Jobs with Justice. Another mportant trend under Sweeney and later under Rich Trumka was to put the AFL-CIO onto a new road of community organizing, solidarity with everybody, and militant action. I noted right away that the old 1987 reason for Jobs with Justice was gone, but not everywhere and not all at once. Not in North Texas.

In 1992, Elaine was laid off, but I had regular work, usually a lot more of it than I wanted (forced overtime), but regular anyway. In 2002, when I turned 62, I retired. My back was killing me, so I don't know how much longer I could have worked even if I had wanted to. But what I really wanted to do was worker solidarity work, so I threw myself into it full time.

In 2006, when we were working on an immigrants' tour of America, the ACORN people asked me to take over their "Workers Beat" radio talk show on KNON. I had been performing as a monthly guest on the show for some years, but this was the first time for me to function regularly as a host. Except for one brief hiatus of a few months, I still do it in 2016. Fits right in with the "Jobs with Justice Information Service."

I think it was around 2007 when Danny Fetonte of CWA asked us to step aside and let him appoint another guy as "President' of North Texas Jobs with Justice. He had lined up a grant and he wanted to hire one of the CWA local union presidents whose union had disappeared out from under him due to outsourcing. He said we had done a good job on solidarity work, but that we hadn't been able to raise a lot of money the way that was needed. I said yes at first, and later changed it to "no," but National Jobs with Justice was in on Danny's idea and put the other guy in anyway. I assume they got some of the grant money. I turned over the $700 in the kitty and gave them the data base. I continued to go to monthly meetings, participated in actions, and tried to develop a seniors' committee.

A year later, the grant ran out, the "President" quit, and nobody (except me) was willing to keep North Texas Jobs with Justice going. So I did.

Around 2013, Mark York was elected to head the Dallas AFL-CIO. The first thing he did was to align himself with the progressive national leadership and try to implement their policies here. With York in charge, I was thoroughly convinced that Jobs with Justice was becoming an anachronism.

One of the things we had accomplished was to bring faith community leaders (mostly preachers and religious teachers) into action on the workers' behalf. Outstanding among them was Rev. Dr. Joerg Rieger of SMU. His wife, Rosemarie, was especially interested in JwJ. This became much more important after 2006 when the Alliance for Retired Americans chartered its Texas division. As an older guy and a retiree I thought I could do more with the Alliance than with JwJ, but the local power structure in Texas was mostly just fussing and fighting, so I continued with Jobs with Justice until past 2011 when I suddenly found myself President of the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans.

Rosemarie Rieger wanted Jobs with Justice, and she was good at it. I wanted the retiree movement and was willing to step aside for her, but I stayed close to the organization. Around 2015, Rosemarie worked with the national JwJ folks to create a new organization from the old. It was called "Texas New Era/Jobs with Justice." She was the organizer. I was President of the Board. Rosemarie took over just about the same time that Mark York took over the AFL-CIO, and they worked together fist in glove. Then Dr Rieger got a better job offer and the two of them left North Texas. Like a lot of new organizations, there was some fussing and fighting in JwJ, but we worked through it.

In early 2016, my wife retired. After casting around this way and that, she decided she'd like to take a hand with the new JwJ organization. Thursday a week ago, September 1, I resigned from the Board in her favor. I had no sooner done it than I saw an opportunity to start a mobilization committee of the Dallas AFL-CIO. Helping promote solidarity with the workers movement is wonderful stuff. It's addictive, too!

--Gene Lantz Sept 13, 2016


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