Cesar Chavez

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Cesar Chavez


Cesar E. Chavez (1927-1993), was founder of the United Farm Workers union.

Alinsky influence

In 1947, Saul Alinsky hired Fred Ross, an experienced organizer among California's migrant farmworkers. Ross built the Community Service Organization in several cities, mostly among Latinos, recruiting new members and identifying potential leaders through house meetings and one-on-one conversations. In San Jose, California, one of the people Ross recruited was César Chávez, whom Ross hired and trained as an organizer. Chávez would later adopt these organizing ideas in starting the United Farm Workers union.[1]

Soviet connection?

Acavedo letter

On April 9, 1975, Jorge Acevedo wrote a letter in Spanish to several well known Chicano activists including Enrique Lopez, Lorenzo Torrez, Bert Corona, Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Alfredo Figueroa, Luis Valdez, Ernestina Garcia, Reies Lopez Tijerina, Rodolfo Gonzales, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Lila Gonzalez, and Santiago Montoya.

The letter referred to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco, Chicano participation in the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, Chicano self-determination, the "socialist system" and the Soviet front World Peace Council. The letter spoke of two proposals received from the Soviet Consul in San Francisco.

The first proposal was to invite students of both sexes to enrol in the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, for the academic year beginning in September 1975.

"Professional and personal expenses" would benefit the socialist system, which "seeks to support the Chicano self-determination movement."[2]

Ending the "bracero" program

In 1964, Chicano civil rights movement activists like Bert Corona, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta forced Congress to end the guest worker "bracero" program. The next year, Mexicans and Filipinos went out on strike in Coachella and Delano, and the United Farm Workers was born.

That year, in 1965, they went back to Congress. Give us a law, they said, that doesn’t make workers into braceros or criminals behind barbed wire, into slaves for the growers.[3]

Grape strike

The great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965. Mexican workers joined them two weeks later. The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.

The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color. Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.
But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country's labor history.

After 50 years that curtain of silence is lifting. Dawn Mabalon, a history professor at San Francisco State University, has documented the radical career of Larry Itliong, who headed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, one of the two organizations that carried out the 1965 strike. Itliong not only shared leadership with Cesar Chavez, but actually started the strike. In tens of thousands of words Matthiessen only mentions Itliong twice, in passing.

The Delano strike was not spontaneous or unexpected. It was a product of decades of worker organizing and earlier farm worker strikes. Leaders of the grape strike, like Itliong, had helped organize previous unions, including ones expelled from the CIO in the anti-communist purge of 1949.

The timing of the 1965 strike was not accidental. It took place the year after civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero contract labor program. Farm worker leaders then acted because growers could no longer bring braceros into the U.S. to break strikes.

The 1965 strike did not, in fact, start in Delano. In Coachella, where California's grape harvest begins, Filipino workers went on strike that summer. They won a 40¢/hour wage increase from grape growers, and forced authorities to drop charges against arrested strikers.

Larry Itliong organized the Coachella strike. He and the Filipino workers of AWOC then started the walkout in Delano. Itliong had a long history as an organizer, going back to the 1930s. He was a protégé of Ernesto Mangaoang, a revered leader of the CIO union for Alaska fish cannery workers, Local 7 of the United Cannery, Agricultural and Packinghouse Workers of America. Itliong himself ran for office in that union.

The Federal government accused Mangaoang of being a Communist during the McCarthyite hysteria, and tried to deport him to the Philippines. After UCAPAWA (renamed the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers) was destroyed in the 1949 purge of the CIO, Local 7 was taken in by Harry Bridges' union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. It became ILWU Local 37, and today is part of the ILWU's Inland Boatman's Union.

In leftwing unions Filipinos and other farm workers mounted huge agricultural strikes in the 1930s. After World War Two, Local 7 struck Stockton's asparagus fields in 1949. Itliong was active in that strike, as was Chris Mensalvas, who later became Local 37 president. The Federal government also tried to deport Mensalvas as a Communist.

In the early 1950s Filipino farm workers continued to organize with the National Farm Labor Union, headed by Ernesto Galarza (author of Factories in the Fields). They struck the giant DiGiorgio Corporation, then California's largest grower. In 1959 the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was set up by the American Federation of Labor, which had merged with the CIO to form the AFL-CIO in 1953. Despite the federation's conservative politics, AWOC hired Itliong as an organizer because of his long history among Filipino workers. AWOC used "flying squads" of pickets to mount quick strikes, and struck the Imperial Valley lettuce harvest in 1961-2, demanding $1.25 per hour.

Many Filipino workers in Coachella and Delano were members of ILWU Local 37 in 1965, when the grape strike began. Every year they would travel from the San Joaquin Valley (where Delano is located) to the Alaska fish canneries. Through the end of their lives, they were often active members of both Local 37 and the United Farm Workers.

Cold war fears of communism were strong in the 1960s - one reason why the contributions of Itliong and the Filipinos were obscured. The strike in Delano owes much to Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla and other Chicano and Mexican leaders who came out of the CSO. But the left wing leadership of Itliong, Philip Veracruz and other rank-and-file Filipino workers was equally important.

The alliance between Itliong's AWOC and the Cesar Chavez-led National Farm Workers Association was a popular front alliance of workers who had, in many cases, different politics. AWOC's members had their roots in the red UCAPAWA. NFWA's roots were in the Community Service Organization, which was sometimes hostile to Communists. Yet both organizations were able to find common ground and support each other during the strike. They eventually merged to form the UFW.

Both the Filipinos and Chavez, in the CSO, opposed the bracero program. To organize farm labor they sought immigration policies favoring workers, which would keep growers from using braceros to break strikes. The Delano strike was a movement made up of immigrant workers, who wanted to keep growers and the government from using immigration policy against them. Their opposition to contract labor programs is as important for immigration reform today as it was in 1965.

Chavez willingly acknowledged that the NFWA hadn't intended to strike for another two or three years. The decision to act was made by Filipinos - left wing workers. It was a product of their history of militant fights against growers.

In Delano Filipinos used popular front ideas they'd used before - that workers and organizations with different politics, or of different nationalities, could work together to win fundamental social change. Growers had pitted Mexicans and Filipinos against each other for decades. When Filipino workers acted first by going on strike, and then asked the Mexican workers, a much larger part of the workforce, to join them, they believed that workers' common interest could overcome those divisions.

Strikers in Delano developed close friendships and personal connections with each other. Many of the Filipinos died as single men, because anti-miscegenation laws prohibited them from marrying non-Filipinas, and the immigration of women from the Philippines was limited until the late 1960s. Cesar Chavez' son Paul Chavez recalls the way the older Filipino men looked at him and other children of Mexican strikers as their own family. In the wake of the grape strike, the UFW and scores of young activists from California cities built a retirement home for them in Delano, Paolo Agbayani Retirement Village, to honor their contribution.

Philip Veracruz, a Filipino grape picker who became a vice-president of the UFW and later left over disagreements with Chavez, wrote during the strike's fourth year: "The Filipino decision of the great Delano Grape Strike delivered the initial spark to explode the most brilliant incendiary bomb for social and political changes in U.S. rural life." The contribution of these Filipino workers should be honored - not just because they helped make history, but because their political and trade union ideas are as relevant to workers today as they were in 1965.[4]

Vietnam protester

Congressman Ed Roybal, journalists Ruben Salazar, Francisca Flores and Enriqueta Vasquez, and activists Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Corky Gonzales, Reies Tijerina and Bert Corona, were all early Latino protesters against the Vietnam War.[5]

UFW leaders 1973

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The United Farm Workers Executive Board in 1973 included veteran farmworker organizers and activists:(l-r) Dolores Huerta, Mack Lyons, Richard Chavez, Cesar Chavez, Eliseo Medina, Philip Veracruz, Gilbert Padilla, Marshall Ganz and Pete Velasco.

Democratic Agenda/Socialist Caucus

For groups and organizations seeking radical social change within the Democratic Party, the National Convention of 1980 had at least one historic first - formation of a Socialist Caucus of delegates. Organized by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and by the Democratic Agenda which was DSOC's cadre and supporters within the Democratic Party and was based in DSOC' s New York office and at 1730 M Street, NW, Washington, DC. Some 31 delegates and alternates from twelve states and Democrats Abroad attended the Socialist Caucus.

As a preliminary to the convention's Socialist Caucus meeting, , indeed as a "building event" and as a continued show of support for Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the Democratic Agenda sponsored a convention rally at New York's Town Hall. The speakers included Herman Badillo, Julian Bond, Fran Bennick, Harry Britt, Cesar Chavez, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI}, Douglas Fraser, Murray Finley, Michael Harrington, Terry Herndon, Ruth Jordan, Ruth Messinger, Eleanor Smeal, Gloria Steinem and William Winpisinger.

DSOC works within the Democratic Party, said Harrington, because of the party's relationships with organized workers, blacks, feminists, environmentalists and other "progressive groups."

The Socialist Caucus circulated a list of convention delegates who were caucus members, including;[6]

"New Directions"

Allegheny Socialist, March/April 1986

Opposing loans to Chile

In 1987, Joanne Landy, Thomas Harrison and Gail Daneker, Directors, Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West, New York, circulated a statement Against Loans to Chile calling upon the Reagan Administration to oppose all loans to Chile.

It has been signed by leading "peace, labor, human rights, religious and cultural figures from the United States, Western Europe and Latin America." They were "joined by a large number of activists and writers from the USSR and Eastern Europe, many of whom have been persecuted in their own countries for work in independent peace and human rights movements."

Cesar Chavez endorsed the call.

The majority of signatories were affiliated with Democratic Socialists of America.[7]

Chavez and Corona

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Cesar Chavez had a long and close relationship with Communist Party USA activist Bert Corona.

Greeting Chris Hani

More than 250 labor, peace, civil rights and political leaders greeted South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani at his April 27, appearance in Los Angeles. The crowd contributed more than $12,000 towards the People's Weekly World fund drive and the work of the South African Communist Party.

Los Angeles City Council member Robert Farrell, presented Hani with a resolution signed by Mayor Tom Bradley and City Council president John Ferraro, welcoming him as "one of the most highly respected and powerful voices of the anti Apartheid movement."

The welcoming committee included reps Maxine Waters, Mervyn Dymally and Matthew Martinez, State senator Diane Watson, Los Angeles School board president Jackie Goldberg and more than 30 labor, civic and entertainment leaders including Cesar Chavez of the United Farmworkers.

Waters sent a letter of greeting to Hani and Yengeni saying, "as the struggle within South Africa continues to develop from one stage to the next, please be assured that all of us will continue to be at your side. Your struggle is our struggle".

Evelina Alarcon, chair of the Southern California district of the Communist Party USA, introduced Hani, She drew rousing cheers as she pledged, on behalf of the audience and the welcoming committee, continued efforts to maintain sanctions against South Africa.[8]

References

  1. {http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-dreier/the-right-wing-resurrects_b_1663154.html, Peter dreier, The Huffington Post, The Right Wing Resurrects Saul Alinsky, Posted: 07/10/2012 6:45 pm}
  2. [Rodolfo Gonzales papers Denver Public Library]
  3. Democratic left, Fall 2009
  4. ]http://peoplesworld.org/radical-roots-of-the-great-grape-strike/ PW Radical roots of the great grape strike by: DAVID BACON september 21 2015]
  5. PW, Pentagon commemoration of Vietnam War far from complete by: Rosalio Munoz
  6. Information Digest, Septemer 19, 1980, p 333
  7. New York review of books, Vol 34, Number 10, June 11, 1987
  8. Peoples weekly World, May 4, 1991, page 2