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Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08
Page 16
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Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08 - Page 16. July 1979 - August 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. August 20, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1537/show/1524.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(July 1979 - August 1979). Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08 - Page 16. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1537/show/1524

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08 - Page 16, July 1979 - August 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed August 20, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1537/show/1524.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date July 1979 - August 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Physical Description 28 page periodical
Format (IMT)
  • image/jpeg
Original Item Location http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name index.cpd
Item Description
Title Page 16
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name femin_201109_552ao.jpg
Transcript "Women led the demonstrations, took part in the decision-making process, and formed the bulk of the front-line forces in the pecan shelters' strike of 1938." was diverse as her mother was Spanish, and her father was an American Indian. However, she was practically raised by her maternal grandfather, who kept his granddaughter informed about the revolutionary events happening in Mexico. Tenayuca got involved in labor struggles in 1932. Just out of high school, she belonged to a discussion group which the authorities called the "who-gives-a-damn- gang." The group discussed socialist literature and current events. They even had an office downtown. So when the Finck cigar workers walked out on strike in 1932, she joined their picket lines. She helped with that strike, she maintained contact with the emergent garment workers and she also offered tremendous help with the pecan shellers' strike in 1938. The Strike The events leading up to the strike of 1938 are somewhat confusing. Shed committees had been formed all over the West Side during Rodriquez's time, but they were weakened when Rodriquez disappeared. The strike did appear to be spontaneous. The pecan workers pulled out on strike January 31 after a pay cut. Shellers who had made 7-6 cents a pound (7 cents for pieces, 6 cents for halves) were reduced to 6-5 cents a pound. Wages for crackers were cut from 50 cents to 40 cents per 100 pounds. Although the president, secretary and treasurer of the union were men, Emma Tenayuca was elected strike leader. The strike continued for three months, primarily because of strong opposition from the San Antonio political machine. Over 700 arrests were made. Lambert [observed] the opposition stemmed from a fear that the West Side would become aware of its own power: "The establishment and the community were quite frightened. They had been exploiting these people and here was an uprising. The chief of police was reacting as a frightened man—totally senseless arrests were made. This made national headlines and there was some support in the community. Very much like the civil rights movement in the 60's." Owen Kilday, chief of police, stated under oath the reason for the overreac- tion led by the "establishment" was that the strike was part of a "Red plot" to gain control of the West Side. Rebecca Taylor, president of the San Antonio I.L.G.W.U., professed sympathy with the strike. But due to the presence of communists in the leadership, she would offer no assistance to her sister CIO union. In fact, pecan shellers complained that Taylor drove around with the police pointing out union activists as potential communists. In February Donald Henderson, president of United Cannery and Agricultural Processors and Agricultural Workers of America (UCAPAWA), flew to San Antonio to personally direct the strike. The list of demands formulated by Henderson included 7 cents a pound for halves, 8 cents for pieces, 60 cents per hundred pounds for crackers, plus union recognition, supervised weighing by a worker, and owners to be responsible for payment of health exams. Also, due to anti-communist sentiment, UCAPAWA support was conditional upon Emma Tenayuca not participating in strike activities. Under this concerted pressure, Tenayuca and the Worker's Alliance withdrew from formal leadership of the strike. State Activities The events of the next week involved confrontations with the city over normal strike activities of picketing and soup kitchens. Cassie Winfree, State Labor Chair of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and Minnie Rendon asked permission from the city to solicit funds to support the strikers. Although this was permitted, it was the only encouragement the strikers got from the city. The strikers primarily aided themselves. Soup kitchens spontaneously appeared on the picket lines. Alberta Snid's mother and others cooked beans, tortillas, and tacos. "Different people, who they were, where they came from, where they got the food, I don't know. But what little they had, they would share. There was always something to eat." However, the city health department condemned the strikers' soup kitchens as unhealthy, although they had never been able to find time to investigate the unsanitary conditions of the pecan shelling factories. Chief of police Owen Kilday claimed that there was no strike and proceeded to disperse demonstrators and to arrest pickets. In one week in March, 90 male pecan shellers were arrested and imprisoned with 200 others in a county jail designed to hold 60. At one point, a riot in the prison had to be quelled with a fire hose. Altogether, an estimated 700 arrests were made during the strike. Women who were arrested were generally allowed to go back home if they had children, but many others were incarcerated. Alberta Snid, who was 16 at the time, was imprisoned. She met her father coming out of the jail as she was going in. All she remembers about her stay was that there was "standing room only." During the violence between strikers and police, negotiations were ongoing. The mayor, the governor and the factory owners all joined the effort to settle the strike. Donald Henderson initially handled the strikers' side of the bargaining, but according to Latane he always conferred with Louisa Moreno first. Moreno, who had no public exposure, apparently exerted considerable behind-the-scenes influence. "The Communist Party sent Louisa Moreno in. Louisa was a sensible, caring person. She was Spanish-speaking, whereas Don and the others were not. She, more than anybody else, did the direction of the strike. When Don Henderson came to town, he would go to her apartment for direction and consultation." The mayor became involved in the strike by publicly asking what wage would allow owners a profit at the going market price of pecans. Julius Seligmann, acting as spokesman for the owners, responded that they wanted to pay better wages, but the industry was too competitive and that they had to compete with other parts of the state and country where labor was cheaper. The owners also claimed that a union in pecan-shelling would be ineffective, so they weren't going to waste their time or their workers' time by dealing with UCAPAWA. They threatened that wages were low, but they were better than "no wages at all." The negotiations were complicated on February 15 by a Texas Industrial Commission [investigation] into the possible violation of civil rights in San Antonio. Governor Allred, a New Deal governor somewhat sympathetic to labor, feared that pickets were being denied the right of free speech by the city's use of tear gas and firehoses. The hearings concretely established the anti-union bias and practices of the police and the employers. During the investigation, police witnesses labeled the entire strike a Red plot and blustered that Emma Tenayuca was still involved. They cited newspaper reports that had Emma shouting, "The police can stand me up against the wall and shoot me down, but my blood will still protect the people." In one four-hour, dramatic meeting, the police blamed all the commotion on 200-300 people in the Worker's Alliance, the organization of the unemployed directed by Tenayuca. They claimed that there was not a strike in the first place. According to their figures, only 500 people were out on strike, less than a majority of the workers, therefore the strike was not legal. During the inquest, Julius Seligmann protested that pecans cost 33 cents a pound to produce, but could only be sold for 27 cents. In spite of the accounting loss, Seligmann admitted clearing $800,000 in eight depression years of operating the Southern Pecan Shelling Company. Justifying the below-subsis- tence wages he paid, Seligmann claimed that pecan shellers were only picking up "pin money" even though police asserted that some shellers had asked to be arrested because they were hungry. Also, a study financed by the WPA indicated that pecan shelling was the predominant source of income for most shellers during the shelling season. Despite the inquest and the interference by the authorities, negotiations continued between the union and the owners. In March, they agreed to arbitrate and the workers went back into the plants, ending the largest mass strike in San Antonio labor history on a victorious note. An initial settlement of 7-8 cents was rapidly increased to 25 cents when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) which created a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. But the importance of the pecan- shellers strike overshadows simple wage agreements. As mentioned by several of those interviewed, the strike approached the level of a mass movement, like the civil rights marches of the '60's. The wage gains turned out to be relatively minor, but the sense of pride workers gained lasted a lifetime. Alberta Snid said, "Yes, I think we learned a whole lot. I think we learned how to even defend ourselves more. I think we forgot a little bit of the fear we had. Because before we couldn't say nothing, we couldn't talk. Afterwards, it was entirely different. . . We learned that through organization we could do something. Maybe we didn't win that much as far as money-wise was concerned, okay? But we learned that being united was power. A single person cannot do anything, alone we cannot do anything. People are power." The failure to support local leadership might account for the ultimate defeat of the union. The local had fallen to a membership of 800 by 1942. When the minimum wage was increased to 25 cents, the owners asked for a dispensation from the federal government. When it was rejected, the owners mechanized the industry. Total employment fell from 12,000 to 2,000. None of those interviewed expressed any disappointment over having victory snatched from them. The lack of concern could be due to the fact that better-paying jobs opened up with the advent of World War II. Pecan-shelling had always been a "job of last resort." In what can only be described as a mass movement, more issues than wages were discussed. The role of women in society and the lack of public assistance and social services were questioned, the need for a minimum wage dramatized, criminal justice procedures criticized, and more control of the political process as well as the right to vote demanded. And in all of this, women took a prominent role. Women led the demonstrations, took part in the decision-making process, maintained the relief efforts, and formed the bulk of the front line forces. C1979 People's History in Texas, Inc. The booklet excerpted above is available by mail ($2.00 and .50 postage) from People's History in Texas, Inc., P.O. Box 7953, Austin, Texas 78712, and locally from B.D. & Daughter, 520 Westheimer and The Bookstore, 1720 Bissonnet. Woman separating bits of pecan from shell. HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH 16 JULY/AUGUST 1979