Salt of the Earth Labor College

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Template:TOCnestleft Salt of the Earth Labor College is run out of 1902 E. Irene Vista, Tucson Arizona.[1]

Is a school for working people like yourself. It's a place to come together and learn about the political, economic social and cultural forces shaping our lives.
Are you tired of minimum wages, unemployment, unsafe working conditions and too few unionized workplaces? Are you tired of bosses who use racism and sexism to keep people from uniting and standing up for their rights? Are you tired of seeing homeless people walking the streets while corporate profits soar to all time highs?
Salt of the Earth Labor College
Through classes, forums and workshops will offer you a way out of poverty and hopelessness.


Founding and history

The school was founded by Communist Party USA members Lorenzo Torrez and Anita Torrez in 1993.[7]

When Mexican American miners at a small Hanover, New Mexico zinc mine walked off their jobs in 1950, the Mine, Mill and Smelters Workers Union "knew this was an important strike that might set the standard for upcoming contracts in the Southwest mining belt. Nobody back then could have imagined, however, that the Empire Zinc Strike would go on to inspire and teach generations of labor, women and Chicano activists. The classic epic labor epic film Salt of the Earth, filmed on location by blacklisted Hollywood filmmakers, immortalized the strike for the benefit of all who seek to throw off their chains."

Salt of the Earth Labor College was founded in the early 1990s in Tucson, Arizona in the copper mining belt. It happened due to the generosity of Felix Padilla and Arvilla Jackson, who bequeathed their home and library with the desire they be used for a workers’ school. The founding group included several former copper miners including Lorenzo Torrez and Anita Torrez, veterans of the Empire Zinc Strike and the movie.[8]

We thought that, like the movie, the school should teach working people that class struggle is not only the battle between workers and boss on the shop floor, but also the struggle for class unity. Like the movie, the school should help working people see how a strike action by workers along with women’s struggle for dignity and equality and the civil rights struggle of Chicanos are all part of the working class’ struggle against corporate rule.
Our governing committee decided to make the school an independent workers’ school not formally affiliated with any party or organization. That decision has made it more comfortable for trade unionists to participate as lecturers and as students. It has also enabled other organizations and institutions to approach us about co-sponsoring educational forums and symposia. These contacts have helped broaden participation in our classes. The school is also a venue for meetings, community gatherings and social events.
Salt of the Earth Labor College opened its door in the fall of 1993 and has just completed its tenth year of classes. We hold two semesters a year consisting of a series of Saturday classes. We try to choose topics that are relevant to Arizona working people. We’ve had presentations on “Organizing the Unorganized,” the “Role of the Rank and File: The Backbone of the Union,” and the “Struggle for National Health Care.” One of our most interesting presentations was made by Navajo coal miners about how they led the struggle to repeal their reservation’s “Right to Work” law.

Every February we do a program honoring Black History Month, and in March we celebrate International Women’s Day, sometimes with a showing of Salt of the Earth followed by discussion.

Steve Valencia, president of the labor college told the People's World, "Lorenzo changed the political landscape of Arizona. For him, the liberation of the working class and equality for the Mexican American people were inherently tied together."

In 1981, Valencia was a copper miner, recording secretary of United Steelworkers Local 6912. "Lorenzo suggested that I write a letter to AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland urging him to host Solidarity Day, which I did," Valencia said.

Other local labor leaders also urged the federation to act. More than 250,000 marched in Washington Solidarity Day, Sept. 19, 1981 to protest President Reagan's smashing of PATCO.

Valencia continued, "Lorenzo taught me how to work in the labor movement and work in coalitions. He told us to forget about our feelings of inadequacy and address problems that are shared by all workers."[9]


The school has been able to raise enough to pay for building maintenance and air fare for one speaker per semester. it mainly utilizes Arizona talent, but has also welcomed guest lecturers like Tony Mazzocchi, George Meyers and Bea Lumpkin. In February 2003 Jarvis Tyner, executive vice-chair of the CPUSA talked about the legacy of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.

Fundraising efforts were enhanced in the early 2000s by the many 50th anniversary observances for the Empire Zinc Strike and for the movie. These events, which have taken place in several New Mexico and Arizona cities, "have been a great place to make new contacts, gain supporters and sell our T-shirts and cards". Some of the school's classes have been attempts to help start up new local affiliates of labor formations like the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Pride at Work and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Some, like CBTU, became functioning organizations.

Many new activists who learned about Tucson’s Jobs with Justice Coalition at one of the school's classes have strengthened that organization.

Another aspect of the school work is on the cultural front. Labor storyteller Gail Ryall and many labor video showings, especially those by Tucson’s Pan Left Productions.[10]

2002 speakers

Salt of the Earth Labor College 2003 speakers included;

  • Sept. 14, will be a presentation on “The Battle for National Health Care” by Dr. Michael Gray, Medical Director of Progressive Health Care Group in Benson. Dr. Gray will lead a discussion about the ongoing struggle for a universal health care system, and the efforts to extend Medicare and Medicaid benefits to cover prescription drugs and other health needs.

Gray’s presentation will be given in the context of the November elections and the need to defeat the ultra-right forces as part of the movement to win full and equal health care coverage for all.

  • Pima Community College Professor and longtime community activist, Lupe Castillo, will present and lead a discussion on the struggle of immigrant workers for full rights, including the right to organize unions.
  • Salt of the Earth Board Member Jack Blawis, will be on the Bush administration’s attack on the civil rights of workers and their unions, using the Sept. 11 events as a cover.
  • Veteran West Coast Longshore leader, Abba Ramos, has been invited for a presentation on the special role played by rank and file workers in organizing, building, and keeping the labor movement strong.
  • The weekend of Nov. 16-17 will feature a two-day series of classes on the basics of Marxism. Communist Party USA National Board member Arnold Becchetti will teach an introduction to the scientific socialist worldview, and its application to struggles facing working families in the U.S.[11]

2003 speakers

Salt of the Earth Labor College 2003 speakers included;

2014 speakers

Salt of the Earth Labor College 2003 speakers included;

  • March 15th, THE SUPPRESSION OF SALT OF THE EARTH, Presentation and Discussion with David Myers, retired history Professor and lifelong activist.


The school's website links to;[14]



  1. Salt of the Earth Labor College website, accessed November 31, 2010
  2. PWW August 31, 1996, page 8
  3. [ PWW What's On, April 19, 2008
  4. Joe Bernick LinkedIn page, accessed July 2, 2011
  5. PWW, March 11, 2000, page 18
  6. PW Lorenzo Torrez, copper miner, Communist leader, dies at 84, by: Tim Wheeler January 9 2012
  7. Working Class Heroes - Anita and Lorenzo Torres, Dynamic, November 2003
  8. Our Living Legacy: The Salt of the Earth Labor College, Joe Bernick, Political Affairs September/October 2003
  9. PW Lorenzo Torrez, copper miner, Communist leader, dies at 84, by: Tim Wheeler January 9 2012
  10. Our Living Legacy: The Salt of the Earth Labor College, Joe Bernick, Political Affairs September/October 2003
  11. [, Salt of Earth school opens Sept. 14, by: Joe Bernick September 5 2002]
  12. PWW August 30, 2007, page 17
  13. SELC, Class Schedule for Spring 2014
  14. Salt of the Earth Labor College website, accessed November 31, 2010