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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal
A Mexican-American Laborer and Labor Organizer in Chicago

Jesse Perez started out as a laborer in the Chicago stockyards. He made 62 cents an hour before he was laid off. Then he worked as a "beef lugger" and made 72 cents an hour. In the following interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 , Jesse speaks of the need for labor unions. Why does he think labor unions are necessary? What does he mean by the term "speed up?"

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The bosses in the yards never treat Mexican worker same as rest. For 'sample, they been treatin' me, well, ever since I start wearin' the button they start to pick an' 'scriminates. I was first to wear CIO button. . . .

I can butcher, but they won't give me job. They fired me on account of CIO union one time. I started organize the boys on the gang. I was acting as steward for CIO union. We had so much speed up and I was advisin' the boys to cut the speed and so when I start tellin' the boys we have a union for them they all join up. Almos' all join right away. So we talk all the time what the union goin' to do for us, goin' raise wages, stop speed-up, an' the bosses watch an' they know it's a union [comin'?].

So every day they start sayin' we behin' in the work. They start speedin' up the boys more an' more every day.

The boys ask me, what you gonna do? Can't keep on speed-up like this. We made stoppage. Tol' bosses we workin' too fast, can't keep up. The whole gang, thirteen men, they all stop. Bosses come an' say, we ain't standin' for nothin' like this. So 4 days later they fire the whole gang, except 2. So we took the case in the labor board and they call the boys for witness. Labor board say we got to get jobs back. Boss got to promise to put us back as soon as they can. That time was slack, but now all work who was fired. All got work.

Now the bosses try to provoke strike before CIO get ready, before the men know what to do. Foremen always try to get in argument about work, to make the boys mad so they quit work. We know what they do, we don't talk back, got to watch out they don't play trick like that.
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View the original interview with Jesse Perez from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.