I love talking to Latino organizers. They have a way of cutting through the bull and getting to the heart of the matter. In this sense, Alejandro Negrete does not disappoint. He’s a union organizer with 20 years of experience in pushing past theory and breaking down the walls that guard our deepest motivations. Why do we organize? For our families. Who helps us organize? Our families. Who gets in the way of our organizing? Also, our families.
Negrete is not the kind of activist to get defensive or afraid about discussing shortcomings in the labor movement. He engages with critical questions and offers a multitude of perspectives. When I wrote One Reason Unions Lose? Leadership Does Not Reflect Membership, I observed that over 80% of unions have exclusively white leadership. Given the demographic shifts in this country, I argue that future Latino union members need to see themselves in the leadership. In other words, my assumption is that labor needs to lead on race. Negrete challenges that assumption. Is the labor movement too institutionalized to truly build grassroots movements in the community? Is there a danger of co-opting organizing efforts? Do grassroots movements have reason to distrust labor? Is it better for unions to provide support and resources to grassroots movements rather than leading the fight? Is it fair to expect unions to veer off their established course? These are good questions without definitive answers. My conversation with Negrete left me with way more questions than answers. I love that! It helps me reframe how I think about the labor movement.
The themes that are present in everything I’ve written are race, immigration, and workers. When writing about these themes I’m often tempted to write about solutions, but that’s a problem when I have more questions than answers. It’s why I’m excited about the Rise Up Foo series.
Rise Up Foo is a monthly interview with a different Latino organizer. It’s an opportunity to sit back and listen to the voices that are making a difference. I cannot promise that we will find answers, but I do promise interesting questions. I promise to ask a question and then get out of the way.
I want Latino organizers to have the space to talk and share their knowledge. We will not always agree, but I believe real growth comes from listening to each other. This is my attempt to listen, think, and learn one conversation at a time.
Arturo “Tootie” Alvarez is based in Chicago. He trucks. He writes. Not at the same time. Twitter @TootieAlvarez.