Clemente Idar, labor organizer, journalist, civil-rights activist, and orator, was born to Jovita and Nicasio Idar on November 11, 1893, in Laredo, Texas. He attended the Lydia Patterson Institute until the fifth grade but otherwise taught himself, particularly by reading and studying newspapers. In 1911 he joined other family members in issuing a call for the Congreso Mexicanista, the first statewide Mexican-American civil-rights conference, although he was unable to attend. In his family's newspaper, La Crónica, he condemned lynching, particularly of Mexican Americans. He cut himself severely in a printing press and as a result saw no military duty during World War I. In 1918 he began organizing and chartering American Federation of Labor locals in Laredo, most of which were independent workers' organizations. In 1919 he moved to San Antonio, where Samuel Gompers hired him as an official labor organizer of Mexican-origin workers. The AFL was responding to a charge by La Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana, a Mexican labor organization, that the AFL discriminated against Hispanic workers in the United States. More importantly, Gompers sought to win Mexican president Venustiano Carranza's support for the Allied cause. Gompers believed, however, that a reduction in the number of Mexican immigrant workers would improve the "strategic position of organized labor." (As early as 1911 the Texas State Federation of Labor and other southwestern state federations had sought to address questions concerning Mexican labor.) Idar formed unions across the state and in Mexico, but mostly in Laredo, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. He argued for the inclusion of Mexican immigrants into the unions. At the international level he mediated between the AFL and the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana. At conferences and activities of the Pan American Federation of Labor, he served as translator. He spent a year in Mexico, working under Plutarco Calles's administration to organize workers. According to Idar's son, Samuel Gompers died in Idar's arms in 1924.
During the 1921 Texas recession, Idar helped plan a repatriation program for 50,000 Mexicans living in the state. He thus aided American management in opposition to Mexican strikebreakers and job competitors. In 1922 Idar acted as the principal author of the constitution of the Order of Sons of America, along with Ramón Carvajal, Jr., and Santiago Tafolla, Sr. As a supporter of women's rights, he provided that the Sons of America, of which he was a member, would include ladies' auxiliaries and youth. In 1927 he suggested to the Corpus Christi order that women and youth be organized. Because he was a labor organizer, Idar chose a low profile in civil-rights activism. He argued against the inclusion of non-naturalized Mexican immigrants at the Harlingen Convention in 1927. Though he did not attend the founding of the League of United Latin American Citizens, in the early 1930s he was honorary president of San Antonio LULAC Council 2. Idar was an orator who referred to Mexican agricultural workers as "peones on the land of their forefathers." In 1925 in a speech before the Texas State Federation of Labor, he argued against racism because it defeated the purpose of organized labor. According to Idar's son, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Idar to serve as United States Secretary of Labor, a position Idar declined because of his health. Idar married a woman named Laura on November 13, 1913, and they had six children. Still working for the AFL after sixteen years, he suffered from an ulcer after beginning a grapefruit diet. He died of diabetes on January 27, 1934, and is buried in San Antonio. See also TEXAS STATE INDUSTRIAL UNION COUNCIL.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every penny helps.
Please make your contribution today.
Cynthia E. Orozco, The Origins of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement in Texas with an Analysis of Women's Political Participation in a Gendered Context, 1910–1929 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1992). Emilio Zamora, The World of the Mexican Worker in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1993).
Activism and Social Reform
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Cynthia E. Orozco,
“Idar, Clemente Nicasio,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
October 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: