Stories from Hartford's Grassroots
Some of the sayings of Danny Perez, union organizer. Principles that signify the fundamental true nature of the organizing world.
““The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough. Man’s way is different. He takes from those who do not have enough to give to those who already have too much.” (verse 77. Tr. Gia Fu Feng)
“There are lucky organizers and there are lazy organizers, but there are no lucky lazy organizers.”
Danny was a successful union organizer. During the time I knew him, he organized more shops in Connecticut than the rest of the national ILGWU combined. His success could be accounted for in a number of ways: he built networks throughout Connecticut cities, among Hispanic individuals and groups, with other labor folks. When there was a need to organize a new shop, Danny was the first person everyone thought of. That’s good luck, but it came through a lot of work.
“A good organizer always has a pen.”
Danny meant this quite literally. Thanks to this teaching, I am always the person in the group who has the writing implement when someone wants to take down a name or phone number. I also think there is a much deeper meaning here. Danny was telling me that an organizer has to have the tools of his trade ready at all times: did I get the license plate of that scab? Do I have cash on hand for the coffee and donuts before the picket line starts in the morning? Do I know the Mayor and City Manager so I can get permission to put our strike trailer on the boss’s property?
“Senior officers are made by junior officers who take initiative.”
This came from Danny’s experience in the Army. A lot of veterans have told me that what they learned from their time in uniform was “never volunteer for anything.”
Danny learned a completely different lesson. He always encouraged me to take initiative, to take chances even though I might get in trouble. It was certainly a rule he lived by. The only exception to this is when I wanted to organize prisoners in a state correctional facility who were making baseball caps for a private company. They were receiving pennies a day for their work and the boss was making the profit. Danny’s wisdom was profound and precise: “Go into a prison voluntarily? Are you crazy?”
“Tao is subtle and quiet.”
Danny Perez did not say this, and he was anything but subtle or quiet. But here are two examples of his method:
The night before a strike (it was my first, I was terrified), we went to visit a worker’s home. Danny suspected the worker was going to scab. The worker was surprised to see us but he let us in. Danny sat down and watched television. After a while, we left. No one said a word. Nothing. The next day that worker joined us on the picket line.
Danny hired me after I left my previous job and had no prospects. The regional director of the ILGWU came down from Boston to meet me. I went on and on about how we could set up a storefront workers’ center to provide on-the-job assistance at local non-union shops and to build future organizing contacts. The guy clearly hated me. He left with nothing said about when I would start, and there was no word about me actually being put on payroll. Danny assured me everything would be okay. A few weeks passed but Danny told me to be patient (I guess the director was waiting me out). After about two months, I got my first paycheck.
“I am Spartacus!”
No, Danny didn’t say this either, but he actually once said “I am gay.” He was not gay; in fact he was muy macho. But he was making a point to some group of politicos who were discrediting Hartford’s gay activist John Bonelli. The details escape me now, but the group was challenging John’s ability to do something because of his sexual orientation. Danny, who knew John’s abilities and character well, was indignant and announced to them that he, too, was gay. Would they have the nerve to try to disparage Danny as they did John? Thus ended the lesson.
“El que no habla, Dios no lo escucha.”
Danny’s friend Juan Figueroa used this saying in an op-ed article to describe Dannys approach to organizing and to life in general: If you don’t speak up, God will not hear you.
Daniel M. Perez, 1931-2004