Houston Has a Labor History?
5-7 PM June 5
Charge House at 2507 Holman Street, Project Row Houses


“Houston Has a Labor History?” is a story-share of historic events in labor organizing in Houston. Relayed as firsthand accounts, favorite histories, and read narratives, each storyteller will have up to 5 minutes to bring to light the under told history of worker's movements around the city.

A collage of histories around a collaged table, our wish list of stories includes the Houston Women’s Caucus shut down of the Channel 8 Art Auction, the 1946 General Strike in support of the trash workers, the 1980s and 2015 refinery walk outs, the 1886 Houston City Council which included a painter, two railroad superintendents, a yardmaster, a saloon keeper, and a grocer, an 1856 account that “there is more insolence among the negroes of Houston…large congregations who go where they please unquestioned, hire their own time, live entirely free from the supervision of any white man…than in any other city oa ar town South of Mason & Dixon's Line," a reading from pioneer labor historian Ruth Alice Allen's “The Labor of Women in the Production of Cotton,” a trace of Fe y Justicia's Justice Bus route, a firsthand noisemaking from Justice for Janitors, and a chronicle of the current Texas prison work stoppage.  

With Houston Media Source as our documentation partner, Houston Has a Labor History? is both an event and a video shoot to make the thing the internet finds if someone asks it that.

Labor Solidarity in the 1946 Houston General Strike
Dr. Betsy Beasley

Betsy Beasley holds a PhD in American Studies at Yale University. She will be a postdoctoral fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University beginning in fall 2016. Her book project, "At Your Service: Houston and the Preservation of U.S. Global Power, 1945-2008," traces the rise of Houston as a global city in the half century following World War II, arguing that the city’s business elite, especially those in oilfield services companies including Brown & Root, Schlumberger, and Hughes Tool, imagined and enacted a new vision of globalism. She cohosts and produces "Who Makes Cents: A History of Capitalism Podcast" with David Stein.

Wife’s Words Speak for a Houston Labor Crusader
Dr. Michael Botson

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, after graduating from High School I put in a four year hitch as a Navy enlisted man. In 1973, after my naval service I landed an apprenticeship at Jones & Laughlin Steel Company in Cleveland. I spent five years there completing my apprenticeship as a millwright, earning journeyman status. I left Jones & Laughlin and accepted a job as a millwright at Ford Motor Company's Cleveland Foundry in 1978. I remained there until the great recession of 1979, prompted by the shock to oil prices, due in part to the Iranian Revolution. Ford laid me off in August, 1979. I spent the next 9 months unemployed and with more factory hands losing their jobs in Cleveland I decided to relocate to Houston where the oil industry was booming due to the worldwide oil shortage. As a skilled journeyman millwright I had the pick of a dozen good paying industrial jobs in Houston and accepted a position at Houston's Cameron Iron Works. I remained there from June 1980 until November 1982 when the worldwide oil glut crippled the Houston economy and Cameron laid me off. Two years later in my early 30s I enrolled in college for the first time in my life at North Harris County College, now Lone Star College. Over a fifteen year period in school I eventually earned my Ph.D. in history and started my second career as an academic and teacher.  

Causing a Scene: How Civil Disobedience Can Change Our World for the Better
Elsa Caballero

Elsa Caballero is the President of SEIU Texas. During her almost 20 years as an organizer, Ms. Caballero has built power for working people in the service, healthcare and public sectors in both Texas and California. Before joining the labor movement, Ms. Caballero worked at Larking Street Youth Center and the Hamilton Family Center in the Bay Area. Her determination to see families live a good, quality life led her to join SEIU to fight for better jobs and benefits. At SEIU Local 521, Ms. Caballero mobilized home healthcare employees to improve care for California patients. In Texas, Ms. Caballeros has led healthcare workers, public servants and janitors to victory in various campaigns that improved conditions for thousands of families from Houston to San Antonio to El Paso. Caballero was honored as one of Houston’s “Mujeres Destacadas” (Women of Distinction) for her extraordinary contributions to her community. Caballero’s leadership during the Houston Janitors strike in the summer 2012 was cited as the main reason for the distinction. The five-week citywide strike resulted in a huge victory for thousands of families living on less than $9,000 year and placed a spotlight on some of the worst wealth inequality in our nation. 

Organizing a Work Stoppage from Behind Bars
Azurra Crispino on behalf of Xinachtli

Xinachtli (Alvaro Luna Hernandez) is an anarchist, civil rights leader and community activist who was sentenced to 50 years after peacefully disarming an officer who attempted to arrest him without a warrant. For the last 14 years, he has been in solitary confinement. Xinachtli has organized multiple work stoppages behind bars. He is mentioned as one of the "best of the best" jailhouse lawyers by Mumia Abu-Jamal in his book by the same name for his part in the Estelle v Ruiz case.

Azzurra Crispino is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Austin Community College, where she also serves as the Community Engagement Chair for ACC/AFT. She is the co-founder of PAPS (Prison Abolition Prisoner Support) and a member of IWOC (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a working group of the Industrial Workers of the World), which is helping to organize the prisoner strikes of 2016 and the National Strike Day on September 9th. 

From Texas Terror of 1861 to Paul Robeson
Dr. Gerald Horne

Gerald Horne is an African-American historian who currently holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. He received his PhD from Columbia University and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a frequent contributor to Political Affairs magazine. A prolific author, Horne has published on W. E. B. Du Bois and has written books on a wide range of neglected but by no means marginal or minor episodes of world history. He writes about topics he perceives as misrepresented struggles for justice, in particular communist struggles and struggles against imperialism, colonialism, fascism and racism. While many of Horne's books use a celebrated, intriguing or politically engaged individual as a prism to inspect the historical forces of their times, Horne has also produced broad canvas chronicles of infrequently examined periods and aspects of the history of white supremacy and imperialism.Manning Marable has said: "Gerald Horne is one of the most gifted and insightful historians on racial matters of his generation." In 2014, Horne received the Carter G. Woodson Scholar’s Medallion for Lifetime Achievement from the Association for the Study of African-American Life & History.  

Artist Organizing in Houston
Rick Lowe

Rick Lowe is an artist whose community-based practice led him, along with six other artists, to found Project Row Houses (PRH),where he currently works as Founding Director, an organization that has transformed a neglected neighborhood in Houston into an expansive and visionary public art project. PRH, which started on a block and a half of derelict properties, is now an internationally recognized arts venue and community support center focused on transforming the community while preserving its culture. Among his honors are Rudy Bruner Awards in Urban Excellence; AIA Keystone Award, Heinz Award in the arts and humanities; Loeb Fellow at Harvard University, Mel King Fellow at MIT; Skowhegan Governor’s Award; Skandalaris Award for Art/Architecture, and USA Artists Booth Fellow. For his vision and effort, President Barack Obama appointed Lowe to the National Council on the Arts in 2013, and Lowe was named a MacArthur Fellow in the class of 2014. 

Environmental Justice in My Backyard
Yudith Nieto

Yudith Nieto was born in Mexico and grew up in the fence-line refining community of Manchester in Houston, TX. Which inspired Yudith to become involved in the environmental justice movement. Yudith now works with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s) to address the environmental impacts, public health, and urban development issues in her city. She is a member of the Environmental Justice & Health Alliance and the Moving Forward Network. Earlier this year she was named one of the 15 youth leaders of Climate Justice workgroup within the EPAs National Advisory Council of Environmental Justice. She is a 2013 graduate of the Four Directions Intergenerational Youth Exchange of Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, NM, where she learned how to build an intergenerational movement along with how the Chican@, Mexican American, and Indigenous cultures are intrinsically linked to the struggle of environmental justice. Yudith is now currently working with other youth, national and internationally to create youth leadership and art in activism trainings to teach people about environmental issues that affect their communities through culture, and the arts. Yudith is dedicated to confronting the petrochemical industries that perpetuate environmental racism and classism in marginalized communities of color, which lead her to be part of a Rights of Nature Tribunal that was held concurrently with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 21). In collaboration with other Indigenous South American, African, Native American communities, she was able to contribute to the discussion on the many issues they face because of the fossil fuel industry, as well as other human rights issues that impact their way of life. 

Skies and Sprinklers
David Otoya

David Otoya is a Houston-based Continental Fleet Service worker and unionist with International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

Channel 8 Auction Boycott and HAA Walk Out
Lynn Randolph

Lynn Randolph’s paintings have been exhibited and collected in permanent museum collections and other public and private institutions including: Bunting Institute at Radcliffe/Harvard; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Arizona State University Art Museum; San Antonio Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Menil Collection, Houston, TX. From 1990 to 1996 Randolph participated in a collaborative exchange with the eminent feminist theorist Donna Haraway. Their engagement with specific ideas relating to feminism, technoscience, political consciousness, and other social issues, formed the images and narrative of Haraway's book, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium:FeMale Man©_Meets_OncoMouse(tm). Her paintings have appeared in many other texts, not as collaborations, but as they inform topics such as feminism, religion, cultural studies and contemporary art. Randolph's paintings appeared in Deborah J. Haynes' book, The Vocation of the Artist in a chapter entitled "Visionary Imagination". For most of her professional life Lynn Randolph has been involved with civil and human rights issues. She was a charter member and chapter president of the Houston Women's Caucus for Art, and a member of the WCA's national board. In 1988 she co-chaired the national meetings in Houston. In 1984 she was the co-organizer for Artists Call against U.S intervention in Central America. In 1992 she joined a women's drum corps and performed as an activist until 1997. In 1993 Randolph went to El Salvador with curator Marilyn Zeitlin to help organize an exhibition of Salvadorean artists called Art Under Duress, El Salvador 1980 to present. The show was seen in Houston at the Lawndale Art Center where Randolph also has served as a board member. Randolph's painting, entitled The Coronation of George W. Bush was the cover image for The Nation magazine during The Republican Convention in 2004. 

1986 City of Houston Garbage Strike
Richard Shaw

Richard Shaw was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Harris County Labor Assembly, AFL-CIO (formerly the Harris County AFL-CIO Council) from 1995 to 2016 until his retirement. As Secretary-Treasurer, Richard worked closely with the affiliated Unions of the AFL-CIO Council in politics, Union issues and organizing. Richard began his union career while teaching in the Houston Independent School District at Edison Middle School in helping to organize the Houston Federation of Teachers, Local 2415. He served as its President form 1975-1982 and later went on to work with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1550 from 1982 through 1995, with a brief two-year stint as Chief of Staff to a Houston City Council Member from 1992-1994. Richard is also a Texas AFL-CIO Vice President and he served on the National AFL-CIO’s State Federation and Central Labor Council Advisory Committee. Richard graduated from the University of Houston in 1969 and serves on the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, the NAACP Houston Branch’s Executive Committee and other workforce related Boards and Committees and he is also a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum.  

Fe y Justicia Worker Center
Alejandro Zuñiga

Alejandro first came to the Fe y Justicia Worker Center as a worker member, then went on to serve on the Board of Directors, and was hired to lead the organization’s Health and Safety program in late 2011. As an immigrant worker himself, Alejandro knows the abuses the community faces. He has actively participated in the defense and promotion of human dignity for over 20 years, starting with the struggle against the death penalty. That first experience helped create awareness of the commitment that we have to each other as a society and the importance of being an active and transformative part of the movement for the common good. Alejandro founded the Antorcha Guadalupana Houston Committee, which hosts the annual pilgrimage in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe for immigrants’ rights from Mexico City to New York City in its stop in Houston. Former Houston Mayor Bill White declared November 13th Antorcha Guadalupana Day, recognizing the importance of the pilgrimage’s message to Houstonians. Alejandro has also led the Young Adult group at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and served in other leadership roles there for over 19 years. He has also participated in many leadership and formation courses, receiving certificates from Instituto Fe y Vida, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour course (OSHA-10), and the University of Denver. Alejandro loves his job at the Worker Center because it’s an opportunity to help the community promoting our rights and unity to win long-term change for the well-being of our families. As a survivor of carbon monoxide intoxication in a workplace injury, he knows how a family suffers when in a very shameful way workers’ rights are ignored. http://houstonworkers.org/