Peter Cervantes- Gautschi Enlace Founder
Peter has been an organizer for marginalized workers for 50 years. He began his union organizing career after coming together with his coworkers to organize a union, leading him to work with SEIU, CWA, UNITE HERE, and as the head of the San Mateo Labor Council, and the Santa Clara Labor Council. His labor work was featured in numerous books, articles, and he was awarded special recognition by the California Legislature in 1980.
Fleeing the threat of the looming ’89 earthquake—his wife, Barbara, had a feeling—Peter moved his young family to Oregon. He immediately recognized that white union staff didn’t represent the hotel workers he was hired to help organize: there were unavoidable racial, ethnic, cultural and language differences. To involve and develop leadership of young organizers of color, Peter started the Hotel Workers Organizing Committee (HWOC, later WOC). WOC won some significant campaigns, but soon, like unions and other organizations across the country stopped winning organizing campaigns.
In 1996, Peter was awarded a prestigious Bannerman Fellowship, which allowed him to travel the country speaking with organizers of low-wage workers. During his fellowship, he realized that it was necessary to bring together Mexican and US organizations. He developed a list of what he saw as major obstacles to winning victories for low-wage workers, and sent an invitation to 500 people at 80 organizations to a 5-day brainstorm session in Mexico, where the concept of Enlace was born.
Enlace was novel because it sought to share strategies that could be successful in organizing against powerful multinational corporations. This meant finding ways to overcome many levels of obstacles:
1) Internal obstacles. How to develop an organization that can win and sustain itself over a long period of time? Our powerful opponents have become more distant and concentrated than before, and it can take more to get them to react.
2) Strategy obstacles. How to identify the power broker who has the power to change things, and what is important to them? This person/s can be in any sector of economy, in any country.
3) Skills and Capabilities obstacles. Given our strategies, how to get the new skills or alliances that we need to carry it out and win?
Addressing these obstacles is central to Enlace’s Integrated Organizing Approach (IOA) - an innovative strategy to successfully take on powerful transnational corporations. The Enlace IOA today includes training frameworks, and the Enlace Institute through which many organizations have learned and applied these frameworks to their work.
Today, Enlace is using the IOA to make advances on the critical issue of incarceration of people of color for profit, and is the anchor organization in the national Private Prison Divestment Campaign.
He has been director of Enlace since its founding in 1998. In February 2015 he will be stepping down, please join us in celebrating his legacy.