The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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Workers speak up to defend rights

Labor+activist+Gene+Lantz+performs+a+musical+history+lesson+on+May+Day.
Christopher Saul / The Daily Campus
Labor activist Gene Lantz performs a musical history lesson on May Day.

Labor activist Gene Lantz performs a musical history lesson on May Day. (Christopher Saul / The Daily Campus)

Labor organizers gathered on the Hilltop Wednesday to discuss May Day, the religious traditions of workers rights, migrant workers and the impact of the Wal-Mart business model on workers.

The Workers Defense Project and the Embry Human Rights program hosted the event.

Dr. Georj Reiger, an SMU theology professor, said Moses and Jesus were some of the earliest examples of labor leaders in recorded history.

“Moses was also a man who led the slaves [to freedom]. So, he was one of the early labor leaders in history. One day he sees the slaves being abused; this is often what happens to people of privilege, we don’t really know what going on,” Reiger said.

In this way, Reiger said the SMU community is like Moses before he sees the suffering of the slaves.

Dr. Reiger also said that the story of Jesus held a narrative that supported worker’s rights.

“Jesus was born into a working class environment. He could have gone to Jerusalem and climbed the ladder. He doesn’t. He stays with the people until the end. He organizes them. He said, ‘blessed are you poor and woe to you who are rich.’ The Romans were not scared of him just because he was a powerful preacher, but because he was a skilled organizer,” Reiger said.

Dr. Reiger also talked about the modern church’s support of workers.

Both the Methodist and Catholic churches explicitly support the right to organize into unions.

Roberto Corona also spoke about the difficulties migrant workers face when trying to find a better life in America.

Corona said the passage through Mexico is a difficult and dangerous one. Eight of every ten women who attempt the passage are raped. In addition the migrants must ride on the tops of trains and avoid local police, who will brutally beat the migrants if they are caught, according to Corona.

Despite the risks, the migrants feel that they are forced to make the journey.

“I cant go back and risk my children dying of hunger” one migrant said to Corona.

The migrants problems are not over once they reach America.

When they finally reach their destination it is hard to find work, because they do not have the documentation that would allow them to work like any American citizen. Without the proper documentation most are relegated to day labor, which is sporadic employment at best.

“They have no other option, so they wait out by the street corner and hope that someone will have a job for them,” Corona said.

Speaking on behalf of unionized workers was United Food Workers member John Beret.

Beret recently led an action against Wal-Mart, where he and others passed out leaflets criticizing Wal-Mart’s employment policies. Beret said that the way the scheduling works allows the company to avoid giving benefits to full-time employees and allows them to punish employees who speak out against the policy. Beret recounts going door-to-door attempting to raise interest in unionizing, and has been met with fierce resistance from people who are scared that they will lose their jobs.

Dr. Reiger’s wife Rosemarie also spoke to the inequality of the current system, and that it is getting worse.

“The average CEO makes 380 times what their average employee makes. Mike Dukes [CEO of Wal-Mart] makes $20 million a year, what do his employees make? $10 an hour?” Beret said.

An interesting moment of the night was a combined history lesson and musical performance by labor activist Gene Lantz.
After singing from a play he wrote, he talked about the future of unions.

“As long as the workers are not in control, everything that we have won we can lose,” Lantz said. “Right now, we are losing.”

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