FIGHTING THE FEDS, TOO: New Strike in Coachella Valley

Title

FIGHTING THE FEDS, TOO: New Strike in Coachella Valley

Subject

Grape Strike, Calif., 1965-1970 [lcsh]
United Farm Workers Organizing Committee [lcna]

Description

Article from El Marciado, the Voice of the Farmworker, detailing strike activities in the Coachella Valley.

Publisher

United Farm Workers Organizing Committee

Contributor

May 18, 1969

Rights

This material may be protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S. Code) and is intended solely for personal or educational use. Any commercial use without permission is prohibited.

Language

English

Text

As the last balmy days of spring turn into the heat of summer, the grapes in Delano continue to ripen. With the approach of the grape harvest season, the farm workers intensify their efforts in the four year strike.
Since the workers walked off the fields in 1965, their non-violent struggle has had one aim in mind – the recognition of the United Farm Workers of California. The farm workers feel that they need a strong organization of their own to bargain collectively with employers.
Since the turn of the century, California’s biggest and most influential industry, agriculture, has resisted unionization. All farm workers’ attempts to form a union, which included about five hundred strikes,were suppressed – some with violence and death.
CHEAP LABOR

A major factor in the success of the California farm industry has been the continuous supply of low-paid labor. According to UC Berkeley economist, Vanden Fuller, the story of California farm labor begins with the May 10, 1986 meeting of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. Farmers now had not only a means of transporting their products to Eastern markets but also the thousands of Chinese coolies who were willing to work for agriculture at low wages. Landowners took advantage of this savings on labor and switched to high-labor crops such as fruits and vegetables.
When the depression of the 1880s occurred, the Chinese immigrants, accused of taking jobs from the whites, were eliminated from the labor market by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. However, farm owners were compelled to protect their investment by finding another source of cheap labor. After the Chinese, came the Japanese who were followed by the Mexicans, the Filipinos, Hawaiians and workers from the Caribbean. The bracer program of bringing in Mexican temporary workers on contract was started during the Korean War and continued until 1964. By flooding the labor market with low-cost workers, the farmers depressed the wages of domestic workers.
POOR CONDITIONS

The 1968 report of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on migratory labor said of agricultural laborers of California, “No other segment of our population is so poorly paid yet contributes so much to our nation’s wealth and welfare.” Although the grape pickets can earn up to $1.50 per hour working the peak harvest season, a period of four to six weeks, work is sporadic and uncertain the rest of the year. Recent AFL-CIO figures show that while industrial workers average 2,000 hours a year, farm laborers average 1,100 hours.

In 1965, the farm workers earnings were 46 percent of his counterpart’s in manufacturing. Unlike industrial labor, California’s farm workers are not covered by unemployment insurance and collective bargaining legislation; all important decisions concerning wages and working conditions are made by the landowners. As a result, the majority of workers in the fields do not get overtime pay, have not paid holidays or vacations, no health or pension plans, no contract indicating what their hourly pay rate is or how long they will be employed. Working conditions are very poor; there are few safety provisions, no regular rest periods. In one country, fourteen out of 138 farmers provided toilets for the workers, of which only two were in compliance with state health standards.
A study made by the Kern County Housing Authority revealed that the farmers won’t build good housing for the workers and their families since this will encourage them to stay after the harvest and “then we’ll have to build schools and other facilities for them.” Seventy-seven percent of the houses for workers in Kern County were substandard and lacked adequate plumbing. It was common to find families of ten sleeping in two bedroom houses. What is most frustrating is that the worker is powerless. There are no established channels for grievances.
BOYCOTT GRAPES

In 1962, Cesar Chavez began to build a self-supporting organization of farm workers that would eventually be strong enough to bargain with employers. Three years later when Filipino workers (Agriculture Workers’ Organizing Committee) initiated the now famous Delano Grape Strike, Chavez’ National Farm Workers’ Association (NFWA) supported the strike by joining the Filipinos in their stand against the growers.

Later the Filipino union and NFWA merged, forming the United Farm Workers of California (UFWOC).

Major effort is put into the grape boycott, a recognition of consumer power. Boycotts of California table grapes have been effective in several Eastern cities. Some European ports have refused to unload the grapes at the depots and docks.

However, the growers through suffering losses have not yet capitulated. The most recent campaign, launched on May 10, 1969, International Boycott Day, is a boycott not only of the grapes but of the Safeway stores. Safeway, the largest food chain in the West (over 2200 stores) and the largest handler of California table grapes (over $3 million per year), has close links with the table grape industry since most of Safeway’s directors also sit on the boards of agribusiness corporations. If the Safeway chain suffers[a], the leaders could pressure the growers to negotiate. The crucial part of the campaign is just beginning: as soon as the grapes show up at the stores, the farm workers will need active support for leafleting and picketting at Safeways. Pat Bonner, one of the organizers of the Citizen’s Don’t Buy Grapes Committee in Lost Angeles was pleased that Asian Americans were participating. He hopes that the added solidarity and strength will soon bring justice and dignity to our brothers in the fields. If you are concerned, you can call the Committee at 264-0316.

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Date Added
May 19, 2015
Collection
UC Davis Asian American Studies files
Item Type
Publications
Citation
“FIGHTING THE FEDS, TOO: New Strike in Coachella Valley,” Welga Project Digital Archive and Repository, accessed September 23, 2017, http://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/146.