The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Chicago tortilla factory strike:
Mexican workers and Mexican boss

Jan 6, 2003

On September 30, workers went on strike against Azteca Foods, a tortilla factory in a Chicago suburb. Almost all the strikers are Mexican, as is the owner, Art Velasquez, who made a name for himself as a "progressive" serving as a department head under Mayor Harold Washington. When it comes to parades on Mexican independence day and on other occasions, Velasquez is pointed to as a leader of the Mexican community.

This "community leader" was perfectly happy to employ Mexican workers – paying them only $9.44 an hour. He enforced very rapid production speeds, leading to numerous accidents. Then when the workers went on strike, he threatened them by referring to what happened to Rudy Lozano, who helped lead a strike at another tortilla factory and who was killed by gangs at the bidding of the owner.

In the strike, Velasquez hired recent Mexican immigrants through temporary agencies to act as strikebreakers, taking advantage of their precarious situation.

Velasquez's Mexican heritage doesn't make him any more sympathetic to Mexican workers. On the contrary, although he plays on it, he is a boss like any other. He has numerous connections with businessmen who will give him support to last out a strike. And he can rely on the U.S. government to protect him in employing strikebreakers and against energetic action by the strikers.

The strikers may be few in numbers. But they can find power in their own connections with other workers, who face similar conditions, no matter what boss they work for.