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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

Berkeley Residents Protest Mass Firings of Undocumented Steel Workers

Azteca Dancers leap in rhythm to the live drum beat. (Brian Donovan)


On Friday, Feb. 17 at 10 a.m., approx 500 people converged at the Berkeley Old City Hall off of Martin Luther King Jr. Way. They were rallying against the mass firing of 200 undocumented steel workers at the Pacific Steel and Casting Mill of Berkeley.

According to George Lippman, chairmen of the Peace and Justice Commission, the workers were fired at the demand of the Immigration Control Enforcement (ICE) because of allegedly fraudulent social security accounts used by the steel workers.

“We support legalization of undocumented immigrants immediately,” said Carole Lesnick, member of Local 2 Unite and Socialist Workers Party. “We think that this is a way that the government divides the working class,” said Lesnick when talking about the American immigration system. “Under the Obama administration, more people have been deported than under the Bush Administration.”

The rally featured many members of the community speaking and performing music.

A group of traditional Aztec dancers called Danza Azteca, also gave a performance to show solidarity. “We deserve respect, we de deserve dignity,” said leader of the Danza Azteca, Patricia Juarez. “We have to remember our decedents. They endured 500 years of oppression and we are still here fighting.”

“It’s terrible, a lot of these people worked in the steel mill for many years,” said Berkeley District 4 Council Member Jess Arreguin. “The silent raids must stop and we need to change this broken immigration system.”

Pastor Jeff Johnson of the University Lutheran Chapel spoke at the rally. “We are one in the struggle. We are not alone. We have friends and family on our side,” said Johnson. “This is the power that creates hope out of darkness….it creates a new way forward out of broken dreams and broken promises” Johnson continues by adding his spiritual perspective on this protest “Because together we are connecting to a larger force that serves justice…Together we can create a compassionate struggle against this oppression.”

“It’s a good time to support Latino struggles,” said steel worker supporter Eddy Che, 23.

The march began around 11 a.m. starting north on Martin Luther King Jr. and continued through University Ave.

While the march went down University Ave., about 30 teachers from The Berkeley School early childhood center came out of their classrooms to show support.

 “We feel for the dedication to a job,” said Benicia Hill, Art Educator. “It was depressing to hear about this on TV. How could people who worked for decades lose their jobs over red tape?”

The march continued down San Pablo Ave. and went left on Camelia St., heading towards the Pacific Steel and Casting Mill.

According to bystander Jan Gilbrecht, there were many Pacific steel workers outside during their break waiting for the march when they were told to get back to work.

When the march arrived at the mill, there were still some steel workers standing behind a police barricade guarded by motorcycle police.

 “It sucks,” said steel worker Jerry when referring to the mass firing. “What a waste of money.”

At the mill, the march turned into a secondary rally. Most of the speeches were in Spanish, sometimes with an English translator and vise versa.

Community organizer Francisco Herrera says that the Alameda County United to Defend Immigrant Rights, the fired steel workers themselves and the East Bay Inter Faith Organization all organized the community for this demonstration.

 “We hope that this will send a message to the Obama administration,” said former steel worker Jesus Prado at the rally.

The daughter of one of the fired workers, Metzli Blanco, 14, also shared her thoughts at the rally. “We live in a country founded from the blood sweat and tears of people who came here as immigrants,” said Blanco. “This country has had a lot of help from people from other countries…we want to work, pay taxes and support the community.” According to Blanco, her father worked at the steel mill for 12 years.

“Mr. Obama, the people will not forget your promises,” said former steel worker Jose Valeria.

Pastor Johnson spoke again at the rally and his church were handing out heart necklaces. According Dara Olandt, a Unitarian who works for Inter Faith Committee for Worker Justice, the hearts are going to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Washington DC. “Our hearts are broken but our spirits remain strong,” said Olandt.

Occupy Oakland activists came to show solidarity and brought oranges, water and coffee for the demonstrators. “Capitalism will be the downfall of society and it is not on our side,” said Occupy Oakland activist Melvin Kelley.

The rally was peaceful and ended around 1:30 p.m. without incident or disruption.

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About the Contributor
Brian Donovan
Brian Donovan, Editor-in-chief
Editor-in-chief, spring 2012. Staff member, spring and fall 2011.

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Berkeley Residents Protest Mass Firings of Undocumented Steel Workers