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United Farm Workers (UFW)

Agroecology to Combat the Climate Crisis

UFW Tries to Silence Boycott Driscoll’s Activists at Cesar Chavez March

By Bradley Allen - Indybay, April 5, 2016

On Sunday, April 3, Michael Garcia and fellow Watsonville Brown Berets traveled a short distance to Salinas, California to attend the annual Cesar Chavez March and Rally presented by United Farm Workers (UFW). The Watsonville Brown Berets were joined by members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), an independent farmworker union in Burlington, Washington fighting for a union contract, and initiators of the boycott against Driscoll's.

The Watsonville Brown Berets (WBB) and FUJ activists spoke with people assembled at Cesar Chavez Community Park and handed out flyers about the growing movement to boycott Driscoll's, the world's largest berry distributor. FUJ, along with tens of thousands of farmworkers in San Quintín, México, are fighting to end wage theft and poverty wages, inhumane production standards, and retaliation from protected union activity.

Although advocating for farmworkers' rights seems like it would be warmly welcomed by UFW, that was unfortunately not the experience for WBB and FUJ members. Garcia, born and raised in Watsonville, noticed that his friend was working the stage and asked if his group could have some time later to speak about the Driscoll's boycott. Garcia's friend, who was both the owner of the stage and a mariachi musician performing at the event, agreed to provide Garcia time. The stage owner, however, was then reportedly approached by UFW representatives and specifically told that UFW does not want WBB or FUJ speaking from the stage.

Prior to parading through the streets of Salinas, Garcia enthusiastically approached UFW Regional Director Lauro Barajas and asked if it was OK if they carried their “Boycott Driscoll’s” banner towards the front of the march. Garcia was denied and then told that UFW did not want him to carry the banner at all during the march.

Strawberry Jam

By Frank Bardacke - Stansbury Forum, August 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In April, 1993 Cesar Chavez died. In October, 1995, John Sweeney became the President of the AFL-CIO. Although the Arturo Rodriguez-led UFW was a minor supporter of Sweeney at the convention that elected him, nothing connected Cesar’s death to Sweeney’s election. But without the conjunction of those two events, there would have been no UFW/AFL-CIO strawberry campaign. Its very existence was rooted in happenstance. That should not surprise anyone interested in politics. Machiavelli claimed that half of politics was luck, or as he called it, fortuna. In the case of the strawberry campaign, at first it seemed like good luck, but by the end, for those who hoped for UFW and AFL-CIO renewal, it was surely bad.

In her eulogy at Cesar’s funeral, Dolores Huerta declared that Cesar died so that the UFW might live. It is a dubious claim—there is no indication of a Chavez suicide—but her meaning was not lost on many of the mourners. Under Cesar’s direction, the UFW had backed off organizing farm workers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had lost most of its contracts by the mid-80s, and was, at the time of his death, no longer a force in the fields but rather a cross between a farm worker advocacy group and a mid-sized family business. As long as Chavez was alive that was not likely to change. Once he was gone, the UFW was free to make an effort to get back in the fields again.

They began, as they had to, by trying to improve their reputation among undocumented workers. Originally a union of mostly Mexican-American grape pickers, they had officially opposed “illegals” in the fields before 1975, championing the use of the Border Patrol against them and even setting up their own patrol on the Arizona border for a few months in 1974. That policy changed in 1975 with the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), which made all farm workers, including the undocumented, eligible to vote in farm worker elections. But the changed policy never completely undid the original damage, and since the leadership of the union in the early 1990s continued to be Mexican-American and there were, by then, few Mexican farm workers left in the union, the UFW was considered by many farm workers, a “pocho” (slang used by Mexicans to describe Mexican-Americans) organization.

Thus, the UFW’s first step back into the fields was to take a leadership role against Proposition 187, the 1994 California initiative that denied State benefits to the undocumented and their children. Having made their new sympathy for the undocumented clear, the union won a new contract in the Central Valley roses, fought a victorious campaign in the mushrooms, and even signed a vegetable contract with their old nemesis, Bruce Church Inc. (although on close inspection the contract seemed to cover only a small percentage of Bruce Church workers). In 1995, the UFW leadership was lathered up, in the starting gate, and ready to race.

John Sweeney was also ready to go. Having won the AFL-CIO presidency with a rousing pledge to replace the conservative ways of the old bureaucracy with a new aggressive campaign to organize the unorganized, he was looking for an easy early victory. The UFW seemed to promise one. Relying on Rodriguez’s account of UFW popularity in the fields, and with no alternative assessment available, he went all in, put other organizing on hold, and committed his troops to what promised to be an opening victory for the New Voice coalition. As Gilbert Mireles, author of a pretty good (but also the only) book on the campaign, puts it: “It was almost inconceivable [to the strategists at the top] that workers would not be in favor of the union.”

Corporate America Has a Lot to Answer For

A speech given by Jim Hard, director of SEIU Local 1000, AFL-CIO at the Headwaters Rally September 14, 1997

Sisters and Brothers; all my relations; hello! Thanks to the organizers for inviting me to this great event. But I hope that this is the last year that we have to come here to demonstrate, because by next year, we should be celebrating that the Headwaters has been protected, and we can return to admire that which we have preserved. I bring you greetings from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 (AFL-CIO), The California State Employees Association, representing over 86,000 state workers in California. And we've never seen the Headwaters Forest; were not allowed to visit this national treasure. Although I understand that some of you have.

I live in Sacramento, where our daily newspaper sometimes has articles about the confusing negotiations about the fate of Headwaters, but I've never seen anything about the necessity for its preservation. I haven't seen any TV programs about the Headwaters, because the idea of saving the Headwaters doesn't have a corporate sponsor.

And today, I hope our numbers will put the Headwaters issue in the newspapers and on the TV screens across this country. It's important that you and I are here today. As in so many working class issues and I consider protecting the environment a working class issue--our strength is in our numbers. Its our numbers versus corporate legal staff. It's us against corporate media. It's us against corporate greed. Our adversaries are powerful, but history shows they can be defeated.

In the early 70s, before coming up here and attending Humboldt State University (HSU), I was an organizer for the United Farm Workers (UFW). Then as now we had a just cause and powerful corporate adversaries. We fought on many fronts and we prevailed. And the farm workers won their right to organize. The fight to save the Headwaters is being fought on many fronts. Today in this field, but also with direct action up in the woods. In the courts and by all of us wherever we happen to be. My union recently took up the issue of Headwaters and MAXXAM Corporation at our executive board meeting. We passed a motion requesting the [California] Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest retirement system in the United States, to divest their 318,000 shares from MAXXAM contingent upon results of Headwaters negotiations. The State Teachers Retirement Fund has already done that.

The Fine Print I:

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