Bronx, NY, June 17 —
For the wife of J.F. –
En la vida todo es ir
In life everything is going
A lo que el tiempo deshace.
towards what time is undoing.
Sabe el hombre donde nace
Where we are born we know,
Y no dónde va a morir.
not where we’re going to die.
This dialectical poem by the revolutionary Juan Antonio Corretjer1 captures the experience of Puerto Rican workers’ migration to New York, and treats life itself as an endless migration from our birthplace into unknown time. It speaks to the poignant experience of time in any migrating worker’s life. We heard that in the memorial tribute by his brother to Marcelo Lucero, the Ecuadoran immigrant worker murdered by racists in Long Island last year. And we hear it in the strike of the Stella workers, 97% of whom were born outside the U.S.. The strikers tell us that not knowing how a long strike will end is a hard thing to live through.
If you ask them what is the worst thing about their strike many speak of the dragging, endless time waiting on their corner of north Broadway for the strike to be resolved. “Ten months! In two months it’ll be a whole year!” “We started in summer… into the fall… winter… spring… and now it’s summer again — another summer!” They shake their heads, put their hands on your arm and ask “Are all strikes this long? How long are other strikes?” Where is it going? Is all this time undoing their lives? Is everything coming undone because of the boss’s heartlessness and refusal to listen to them even when they speak in the chants of a thousand supporters?
Sitting near us in the courtroom last month, while the Brynwood lawyer and the hated manager Dan Meyers droned on with their racist contempt for the workers, an older woman from Africa looked so sad we asked her what she was feeling, and she said she was thinking about her life ending this way, destroyed by these people. That’s one ending to the strike people are thinking about, that it might be the end of their working lives, the death of their common life together in the factory which, exploitation and all, was nevertheless a life where they shared good feelings as well as hard times, and had pride in their collective strength as unionized workers who had struck twice already for their demands. Will they ever go back to that time?
The Brynwood bosses, snug in their Connecticut suburbs, of course count on a strike wearing down the workers, but the strikers say grimly that Brynwood has underestimated them all along and that they will never give in. And strike time is not all unrelieved waiting. It is punctuated by a big rally that lifts their spirits; the last was twice the size of the previous one and they see they are gaining momentum. Every day other workers come with coffee and they know they are not alone. Yesterday a TWU busdriver blasted his horn going by and yelled through the window “Down with the scabs!” Those scabs walk brazenly past and they get up from the crates they’re sitting on and yell at them, competing to make up witty insults.
They see their fellow workers step up and develop as leaders growing in political knowledge and skill (one man on her shift bought one of these new women strike leaders a bullhorn of her own, as testimony to her fighting for all the workers). They know they are being talked about by radical workers in Germany and Guatemala and Spain and France and wherever CHALLENGE is read around the wide world they come from. Some come to meetings with PLP and discuss it all at length, as we make it possible for them to know one another, and speak together, in new, politically informed ways. But others sit there on their crates. A striker’s time drags and drags and drags towards its unknown end.
People are getting tired and worn down; they get sick again and again. (It’s good that tomorrow some doctors are coming to the line to do free checkups.) Some are thinking about bankruptcy or looking for other jobs — will another job be the end of their time at Stella? A spouse’s grave illness removes one of the most militant workers from strike activity and we don’t see him for more than two months. A woman speaks of how hard it is to answer her five-year-old grandson’s question, “Where are you going? Is that strike still on?” The strikers don’t know the end of the process, but they know the way, their struggle is making the road by walking. All of a worker’s struggling life is going, going forward, and starting from their political “birth” place at Stella D’Oro some of these workers may die as revolutionaries. We, and they don’t know where we individually will end, but we and they do know that the working class itself will never die. J
1. Corretjer left the revisionist Puerto Rican Communist party to found the Liga Socialista, which for a time in the 1960s was a fraternal party of the young PLP. You can find on the internet Roy Brown’s musical setting of this poem in decima style sung by him, the group Haciendo Punto, and the Catalán singer Joan Manuel Serrat.