Afscme Local 444,retired
I was just talking with a friend about my old workplace and the years of struggles on the shop floor and especially the strike in 1985. I’m in a sentimental mood right now, feeling a bit sad these days are gone and we are not in the thick at it anymore, and I haven’t had a drink at all. But I need to share some of it.
Lalo Carmona came back in to my consciousness. Lalo was a union steward out in the East Area Corporation Yard. As readers of this blog should know by now I worked for a water utility here in the San Francisco Bay Area, what readers in Britain would call the water board.
We were a bit of a team, Lalo, me, Roger Martinez and Marvin Cain. We worked in pipeline fixing leaks, mending and installing water lines. Back in the strike of 1985 was when I first really got to know Lalo. East Area was in the suburbs and often called “God’s Country” because of that and most of the folks out there were white though not exclusively. I was in an urban yard in Oakland where many of the old black guys who helped form my union worked. There was another yard in Richmond on the East side of the Bay and one in South Area in San Lorenzo.
Lalo was the picket captain in East Area during the strike and he was a crucial link to the other areas as well as to me personally as I was in negotiations. I wrote a belated obituary for him when he died. See below). Lalo, like a lot of us those days was a hard drinking fella. We used to have ice coolers on the trucks for the hot weather when we were working in housing tracts but they were more often than not filled with beer. I’m not saying this was a good thing, and times have changed and we have moved on thankfully. Still we got the job done.
We had a situation during the strike where we were holding up the construction of a pumping plant in Danville. The electricians were honoring our lines. The bosses’ legal team was threatening us with injunctions if we didn’t give up this plant claiming that it was a health risk to the community if a fire should break out. Here’s an excerpt from the obituary I wrote for Lalo:
“I will never forget one time when the powers that be were trying to get us to give up our picketing of the Danville pumping plant. Electricians were honoring it and it was holding up construction which meant dollars. But it was union strong. I was under pressure to give up Danville in return for some deal with the courts. I opposed this and believed we should not trust the courts and increase picketing but I didn't know how folks felt out east.”
“I called up Lalo and asked him to check with "his guys." I explained that they might get an injunction or the cops if we refused to agree. He called me back some time later and said he'd talked to folks and here's the answer, "Fuck the cops, Fuck the courts, we ain't givin' up Danville." was his response. Unfortunately the majority of the union leadership at the time did agree to give up Danville but Lalo and his folks were right.”
On an earlier occasion I had gone out to East Yard to a meeting that Lalo had set up in a restaurant. We were all sitting in the room when an official from the union appeared and wanted to sit in. It was not someone from the local but a staffer from our District Council, these folks are rarely visitors on the shop floor. As I recall it they had a vote about letting him in and voted against it. “We don’t trust him” Lalo told me. I know the staffer thought I instigated that but I didn’t have to. I felt a bit sorry for him to be honest.
We do not write the history books. Working class history is not the history we are supposed to learn. We are taught the history of capitalism and great capitalists and their representatives. In the US in the main it is white capitalist history that is taught, even with the struggles of minority groups to have their history recognized, the tremendous role of the working class of these groups is not what is important and especially when, despite the history of racism in this country, workers broke down socially imposed racial barriers and united across racial lines against the bosses’ offensive.
I know for me it was my co-workers that kept me going for so much of that time. I worked with so many decent and hard working men and women. But what makes the workplace more secure and strong is organization. There are only two sources of power in the workplace, the bosses and organized workers. If the workers' organization/union is weak, then it can deteriorate to every person for themselves, the bosses' power dominates.
Most of the young people at work today are completely unaware of the role that people like Lalo played as well as others who I am still friends with today and of course those that fought for a union going back to the 1960’s when my local was formed.
I am proud of all my former workers that struck for 30 days in 1985. We never lost our dignity and we never begged them for forgiveness. We lost primarily because we didn’t have our sister union with us as most of them crossed our lines primarily due to the role played by the higher bodies to which we were affiliated. The power of the local labor movement was never brought to the table.
Lalo Morales Carmona died 10 years ago on February 5th 2006 a week before his birthday. He was 51.
Haven’t forgotten you Lalo.
Here's the obituary I wrote 10 years ago along with a short passage for Tom Perry.
In Memory of Lalo Carmona
I have been meaning for some time to write a few words about Lalo Carmona, a Foreman from East Area service yard who passed away on February 5th of this year. I worked for Lalo when he was in Central yard and he was a hard worker and a good leader. His co-workers in East Area say the same about him, that he was "an all round good guy". Most of all, one co-worker told me, "He treated you right and gave you good advice." "He was good people."
But I first came to know Lalo through the strike in 1985. Lalo was dedicated to fighting for the rights of working people, and he showed that by the role he played as the prominent leader from East Area. One friend reminded me of Lalo's energy and how he'd appear "with a bunch of guys" whenever a picket line had to be enforced. Lalo organized meetings and helped some of us who were in negotiations get a better understanding of what was happening out in the field, particularly in the eastern part of the service area. He knew which side he was on.
I will never forget one time when the powers that be were trying to get us to give up our picketing of the Danville pumping plant. Electricians were honoring it and it was holding up construction which meant dollars. But it was union strong. I was under pressure to give up Danville in return for some deal with the courts. I opposed this and believed we should not trust the courts and increase picketing but I didn't know how folks felt out east.
I called up Lalo and asked him to check with "his guys." I explained that they might get an injunction or the cops if we refused to agree. He called me back some time later and said he'd talked to folks and here's the answer, "*#&# the cops, #^%$&* the courts, we ain't givin' up Danville." Unfortunately the majority of the union leadership at the time did agree to give up Danville but Lalo and his folks were right.
Many of the young people at EBMUD today would not have noticed Lalo's passing. But we owe him thanks; his efforts were directed toward making the workplace better for all workers, not just himself.
In his later years Lalo suffered numerous illnesses and died February this year, aged 51. He was buried on his birthday, February 12th. Lalo is survived by his wife Sylvia and four children. I spoke to Sylvia about writing this and she wanted to pass on her thanks to all his friends and co-workers at EBMUD, especially East Area, whose support and kindness helped her through this difficult period.
Lalo Carmona 1954 -2006
Tom Perry who passed away was the first president of Local 444. I went to interview Tom about ten years ago. He had retired four years after I started working here so I didn't work much with him. However, he did tell me that he was the Local's first president. He described the difficulty being a union supporter at the time. He said that it wasn't uncommon for a supervisor to just take pro union material right out of your hands. Other old timers have also expressed such sentiment to me.
Apart from the harassment all union supporters faced, Tom had to deal with racial prejudice also. Much of what he had to deal with is not tolerated today and people can thank Tom and all the other folks that fought with him to bring Union organization to a reluctant EBMUD.
Retired member, AFSCME Local 444