imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Subscribe Calendar Publish RSS
latest news
best of news



CopWatch LA


A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List


IMC Network:

Original Cities africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Miguel Contreras Remembered

by Eric Mann Thursday, May. 12, 2005 at 10:56 AM 213.387.2800 3780 Wilshire Blvd. Ste 1200; LA, CA 90010

Today we mourn the death of Miguel Contreras, a major figure in the Los Angeles and national trade union movement, who died suddenly last Friday of a heart attack. Miguel was the Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor—that is, its executive director, field general, chief strategist and tactician.

Miguel Contreras Remembered

Eric Mann
May 11, 2005

Today we mourn the death of Miguel Contreras, a major figure in the Los Angeles and national trade union movement, who died suddenly last Friday of a heart attack. Miguel was the Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor—that is, its executive director, field general, chief strategist and tactician. I have known and worked with Miguel for more than 10 years, and with Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11 of UNITE HERE and Miguel’s wife and partner, for more than 15 years. Miguel was an important historical figure because he revitalized the L.A. AFL-CIO and was great at what he did. We did not always agree, but we were always on good terms and when our interests coincided, on excellent terms. There are many articles and commentaries honoring him. I am choosing to focus on my personal dealings with him and his relationship to the Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union to add another picture to the album.

In 1999, three years after the Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union signed a civil rights Consent Decree with the Los Angeles MTA, the federal courts finally found the MTA in violation of the provisions of the agreement, and ordered the agency to purchase 350 additional CNG buses. This meant the redistribution of a significant amount of public funds to transit dependent working class communities of color—$100 million to purchase the buses, and more than $50 million a year to operate them. This also provided new jobs for bus drivers, mechanics, and maintenance workers. The MTA, instead of complying with the order, defiantly threatened to appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and eventually the Supreme Court, arguing on the racist and dishonest grounds of “state’s rights.” In short, they had signed the Consent Decree thinking they would hustle us, never intending to comply, and thought their high-priced lawyers could defeat our attorneys at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. But, as it turned out, time and time again, the BRU and LDF defeated the MTA in the courts.

When the courts sided with the BRU the MTA Board went ballistic, wanting to spend all their funds on massively overpriced rail lines that literally stole money from low-income bus riders. Many of the janitors, hotel workers, and service workers, Latino, immigrant, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander, desperately depended on the bus service, and we tried to build a broad united front to demand that the MTA not appeal our case. But despite our overtures to organized labor and Miguel himself, there had been no response, perhaps because many unions had other irons in the fire with the L.A. County Supervisors, all 5 of whom sat on the MTA board. So, at the final showdown vote, the BRU brought more than 100 members and another 50 key community leaders urging the MTA board to not appeal the case. On a fortuitous note, Miguel was there, on another matter, a fight over union representation and contracts at the MTA. When I saw him there I asked him to testify on our behalf, and Miguel, who rarely liked to mix his issues and knowing that the BRU was very controversial with the MTA, nevertheless agreed on the spot and gave a strong admonition to the MTA. “Buy the buses now. Our members are waiting hours to get to work; they need more buses, not an appeal.” I remember L.A. Mayor and member of the MTA Board Richard Riordan somewhat shocked to see the AFL-CIO supporting the Bus Riders Union. It didn’t change the mind of the board, who voted to appeal the case (and subsequently lost their case every step of the way, and finally did have to buy the buses). But it did increase the influence of the BRU with some board members on subsequent issues, and strengthened the ties between the BRU and the County Fed and Miguel.

Our greatest collaboration was during the 2000 bus drivers’ strike, when Miguel had stepped in to help the drivers of the UTU, the mechanics of the ATU, and the clerical workers of TCU to pull together a strike against the MTA. This was another of the classically employer-driven strikes, in which MTA management, and board member Zev Yaroslavsky and other “liberal” Democrats literally forced the drivers on strike by demanding give-backs and a two-tiered wage system from the union. In reality, the divided MTA unions could not pull off the strike themselves; they were more at each other’s throats than that of their common adversary. It took Miguel to come in to become the lead organizer and campaign tactician, the united front diplomat to keep the warring factions on track. The day the strike began, I had written an op-ed in the L.A. Times supporting the bus drivers, pointing out that the BRU did so despite the historical lack of support by the UTU for our demands for more buses, lower fares, and a civil rights Consent Decree that asked the MTA to stop building rail projects until it built a first class bus system for its majority Black, Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander ridership. I explained the issues of the strike, and why the drivers should not give in to the union busting concept of “two tiered wage systems” in which the older workers agree that newer workers would come in at lower wage levels, leading to fratricide within already bitterly divided unions.

The next morning we held a press conference in support of the drivers and Miguel showed up at our office, happy to see the support of the BRU, and bringing a dynamism and clarity to the drivers cause. The Times ran a good story saying, “Labor leaders support drivers” with pictures of Miguel and me, despite the very different politics about labor that Miguel and I represented. For 30 days Miguel and I talked every day about the strike, as the BRU was a featured speaker at the many large rallies with Black and Latino community leaders trying to push the MTA to settle and abandon its union busting tactics. Working with him so closely, I saw the painful problems of disunity he had to address in just keeping a strike together and his unique and irreplaceable qualities at union coalition building, putting up with and trying to assuage the petty and destructive qualities of some union leaders, and his strong strategic and tactical drive—from building strong relationships with Black clergy to eventually bringing in Jesse Jackson to mediate a settlement.

Miguel did amazing work to turn the almost moribund County Fed into a dynamic force in city-wide politics, and mobilized the growing Latino immigrant workforce as a driving power to help a multi-racial working class. He and Maria Elena were among the key national leaders who turned the AFL-CIO around from its previous anti-immigrant stance to finally realizing that if they could not organize Latino and immigrant workers in L.A., San Diego, Houston, New York and virtually every major urban center in the U.S., they would be out of business. It is hard to remember that when Maria Elena was elected president less than 20 years ago, the white union leadership (that she effectively overturned) of the already majority Latino immigrant union would not allow the workers to speak Spanish at their own general membership meetings.

Miguel’s dedicated support for the majority Black bus drivers, his alliances with the Black clergy, his aggressive and successful support for the candidacies of city councilman Martin Ludlow and Assemblywoman Karen Bass put his money and his voice behind a strong Black/Latino alliance. At a time when the Right is out-organizing the Democrats and the Left by leaps and bounds, Miguel broke with labor’s past history of big money and weak outreach support for candidates, to develop a powerful on-the-ground machine to turn out the vote.

I had my disagreements with Miguel about strategy and tactics. I wish he would have focused more on a broader social agenda for labor, such as a more active role in challenging the war in Iraq and the establishment-concocted “war on terrorism.” I felt he sometimes nurtured his relationships with the business and Democratic Party political establishment, in a way that led him to sit out some social justice fights that were also in the interests of the working class and organized labor. Having talked to him some about that contradiction, I think he would have replied that his goal was to improve the conditions of the working class through trade union struggles and any deals and agreements he felt would further those goals, arguing that his strategy was winning trade union victories, not social revolution.

But my generally successful relationship with Miguel had to do with an understanding, and appreciation, that the Left is a tiny minority in this country. We at the Strategy Center have our own objectives and our own politics, that include supporting the trade union struggle enthusiastically, but also with a great deal of emphasis on the fight for environmental justice, and against racism and empire. In order to succeed, and to build support for a broader agenda, we must build alliances and united fronts with many forces with whom we do not share full strategic or tactical agreement. We look for the possibilities of major tactical alliances whenever possible, and we try to cultivate relationships in a way that even when people disagree with you, out of mutual respect and their appreciation of your strength and base, they do not go out of their way to hurt you; moreover, they throw support to you behind the scenes whenever they can, and in front of the camera when they feel it is necessary and possible.

On a personal note, to indicate the relationship of equality and comradeship between Maria Elena and Miguel, several years ago, Maria Elena and I had a breakfast meeting set up at Langers deli (a Jewish delicatessen with a predominantly Latino workforce and an amicable and contractual relationship with Local 11 UNITE HERE) to discuss common goals and objectives. As I was on the look-out for Maria Elena, in came Miguel, who said, “Maria Elena had an emergency at the union, but told me, ‘I can’t stand up Eric, you go.’” So the president of Local 11 told the head of the county AFL-CIO to stand in for her, and once he showed up, Miguel did not just go through the motions. We spent more than an hour talking about possible collaborations.

Miguel Contreras was great at what he did. Within his worldview and his own strategy he pushed history forward. The challenge for those of us on the Left is to do as well in our own sphere of work, within our own ideological and strategic perspective, as he did in his.

My deepest condolences to Maria Elena and the entire family. Miguel Contreras. Presente.

Eric Mann, a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers, is the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles. He can be reached at

Report this post as:

Local News

Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups M06 12:10PM

Resolution of the Rent Strike in Boyle Heights M01 6:28PM

Step Up As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Steps Down F14 2:44PM

Our House Grief Support Center Hosts 9th Annual Run For Hope, April 29 F13 12:51PM

Don’t let this LA County Probation Department overhaul proposal sit on the shelf F13 11:04AM

Echo Park Residents Sue LA Over Controversial Development F12 8:51AM

Former Signal Hill police officer pleads guilty in road-rage incident in Irvine F09 10:25PM

Calif. Police Accused of 'Collusion' With Neo-Nazis After Release of Court Documents F09 7:14PM

Center for the Study of Political Graphics exhibit on Police Abuse posters F07 9:50AM

City Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Claiming Pasadena Police Officer Had His Sister Falsely Arre F04 3:17PM

Professor's Study Highlights Health Risks of Urban Oil Drilling F04 12:42PM

Claims paid involving Pasadena Police Department 2014 to present F04 10:52AM

Pasadenans - get your license plate reader records from police F03 11:11PM

LA Times Homicide Report F03 1:57PM

Last of California's nuclear power plants is on its way out J30 3:44PM

Patrisse Khan-Cullors explains why Black Lives Matter J26 7:02PM

Women's March L.A., 2018 J24 4:39PM

The case for US government sanctions on Israel J23 5:36PM

 Women of LA Rise Again to Denounce Trump Photoset 4 J22 9:07PM

Women of LA Rise Again to Denounce Trump Photoset 3 J22 8:24PM

Women of LA Rise Again to Denounce Trump PhotoSet 2 J22 7:36PM

Women of LA Rise Again to Denounce Trump PhotoSet 1 J22 7:14PM

Women's Political Representation & Electoral Reform J21 12:43PM

Trial Starts for Woman with Erb’s Palsy Punched in Face Repeatedly by LAPD Officers J10 1:38PM

Dear District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Prosecute Killer Cops, Signed: Your Constituents J09 10:09PM

Great solidarity action today J06 10:22PM

Chris Ballew beat up by Pasadena police J05 5:01PM

Retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey explains how the LAPD's Board of Rights hearings work J05 3:40PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Stratégie onirique du coup du monde M17 3:03AM

Tour Announcement: Whole Milk's California Cruising Tour 2018 M16 8:41PM

50 years have passed since the Kerner & McCone Commissions M16 6:21PM

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A. M16 5:40PM

Crash on the Horizon M16 9:45AM

Caribbean Religious Leaders Call for Debt Relief in Face of Disasters M16 7:28AM

America's judiciary is in collapse M15 8:53PM

Under the Gun in Ireland M15 5:37PM

The Shortwave Report 03/16/18 Listen Globally! M15 4:54PM

Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released M15 12:34AM

Travail de l'idéologie M15 12:02AM

Crisis 2.0: A Policy for the 99% M14 2:06AM

How fbi corrupts cjs M13 8:10PM

When Will the Me Too Movement Take on the New Age? M13 8:21AM

La société du plagiat compilateur M13 12:34AM

12 Step Programs Free Me From Addiction M11 1:53PM

Règlements de comptes à O.K. Corral M11 12:42AM

Video: "How Democracies Die," 1 hr 12 min M10 8:05AM

Debt, Corruption and Tax Policies Impact Poverty, Says Vatican at United Nations M09 11:13AM

Séparatisme de l'abîme M09 6:15AM

The Shortwave Report 03/09/18 Listen Globally! M08 4:15PM

Over 35 Years of Work for Individuals in California with Brain Disorders [Metal] M08 4:00PM

February 2018 Honduras Coup Again update M07 12:59PM

Authoritarian Capitalism M07 4:27AM

“Animaniacs in Concert!” with Voice Artist Rob Paulsen, Fri. March 30th in Downey, CA M06 2:45PM

Do Germans really want to align themselves with evil? M06 9:56AM

Housing is not just another commodity M06 8:08AM

Cartographie du morcellement unifié M05 11:08PM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy