By Duane E. Campbell
Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. Cesar Chávez. November 9, 1984.
On March 31, 2015, Eleven states and numerous cities will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino Leader Cesar Chavez. Conferences, marches and celebrations will occur in numerous cities this weekend. See the post below on the Cesar Chavez Youth Leadership Conference at UCD on March 28. A recent film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta presents important parts of this story and shows how Chavez was lied about and attacked by Ronald Reagan, the Nixon Administration, the Republican Party and numerous right wing forces. This film works well in high school classrooms. Lesson plans for teaching about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta are here. https://sites.google.com/site/democracyandeducationorg/Home/lessons-cesar-chavez-and-dolores-huerta.Chavez lessons
The story of Cesar Chavez, and to a lesser degree Dolores Huerta is mentioned in history books for California students, however much of the additional Mexican American history is missing. A group of scholars, teachers, allies, activists have joined in our campaign to improve the history textbooks in California by including the histories of Mexican American/ Chicano people. More than 52% of California students are descendants of Latino and Mexican people. Unfortunately they can't they be found in the textbooks.
You are invited to participate in this effort. We need each of you and your friends to write a letter. Here is a guide. Here is how to write a letter :https://sites.google.com/site/democracyandeducationorg/Home/latino-students-and-civic-engagement/project-plan---mexican-american-history
We can each do our part.
Meanwhile, in March of 2015 hundreds of farmworkers have walked off their jobs in Baja California, Mexico, from the agricultural fields just a few miles from the U.S. border , fields developed to provide a harvest to the U.S. markets. Farm labor strikes and violence against strikers remains a volatile issue. Farm workers deserve dignity, respect, and fair wages. Achieving these goals will require a union.
The current UFW leadership, as well as former UFW leaders and current DSA Honorary Chairs Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta are recognized leaders in the ongoing efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in the nation.
On immigration, UFW President Arturo Rodriquez says, “We urge Republicans to abandon their political games that hurt millions of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants and their families, and help us finish the job by passing legislation such as the comprehensive reform bill that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013,” Rodriguez said. Similar compromise proposals, negotiated by the UFW and the nation's major agricultural employer associations, have passed the U.S. Senate multiple times over the last decade. The same proposal has won majority support in the House of Representatives, even though House GOP leaders have refused to permit a vote on the measure. “The UFW will not rest until the President's deferred relief is enacted and a permanent immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, is signed into law.” www.UFW.org
What Chavez, Huerta did accomplish along with Philip Vera Cruz , Marshall Ganz, LeRoy Chatfield, Gil Padilla, Eliseo Medina and hundreds of others was to organize in California the first successful farm worker union against overwhelming odds.
Prior to the creation of the UFW as a union in the 1960’s, attempts to organize a farm worker union had been destroyed by racism and corporate power. Chavez, Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and the others deliberately created a multiracial union; Mexican, Mexican American, Filipino, African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Arab workers, among others, have been part of the UFW. This cross racial organizing was essential in order to combat the prior divisions and exploitations of workers based upon race and language. Dividing the workers on racial and language lines, as well as immigration status always left the corporations the winners. See more on the UFW at www.MexicanAmericanDigitalHistory.org
The violent assaults on the farmworkers and UFW from 1960- 1980 shown in the film, along with the current reconquest of power in the fields by corporate agriculture are examples of strategic racism as described by Ian Haney López in Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism & Wrecked the Middle Class ( 2014) . It is the development and implementation of racial practices because they benefit a group or a class.
Chávez chose to build a union that incorporated the strategies of social movements and community organizing. They allied the union with churches, students, and organized labor. The successful creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing in the Southwest and contributed significantly to the growth of Latino politics in the U.S.
The UFW and Chavez and Huerta have always had severe critics from the Right and from corporate agriculture. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. had severe critics in the African American community of his time, Chavez faced fierce criticism from within the Mexican and Mexican American communities. Dolores Huerta has been banned from the history text books in Texas and Arizona as too radical. As they did with Chavez, they accuse her of being a communist. Both also have critics from the left.
For critiques of Chavez and the UFW from the right and the left see.
Teaching materials and videos have been made recording their work. Schools, scholarships, foundations, organizing institutes and political organizations have been named after them. Few labor or Latino leaders have achieved such positive recognition.
The role of racism, and the individual reactions to systemic structural racial oppression are complex and vary in part based upon the differences in experiences of the participants. As the Chicano movement argued at its core- the experiences of U.S. born and reared Mexican Americans and Chicanos were different than the experiences and the perceptions of racism of Mexican immigrants, both documented and undocumented. There are a diversity of racisms and a diversity in the manner in which workers learn to respond to oppression. Chicanos and Mexican Americans grew up, were educated, and worked in an internal colony. Their schools, their unions, and their political experiences were structured along racial lines. They learned colonized structures. The authors do not sufficiently acknowledge the struggle of the UFW and the Chicano Movement in breaking this colonial legacy.
Chavez knew well some of the failings of unions in the 1960’s, including the problems of a growing internal bureaucracy, but the UFW in the 1980’s was not able to create a viable democratic union movement. Marshall Ganz argues that Chavez deconstructed the organizational strength of the UFW in the 1979 -1981 period in an effort to keep personal control of the union. (Ganz, p. 247 )
The critics who blame individuals for the union’s decline also miss the important rise of Latino politics in the Southwest today. Chavez and the UFW played a significant role by training generations of future leaders as organizers as is well described in Randy Shaw’s, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st. Century.
The UFW was a place where hundreds learned organizing skills, politics, discipline, and how to work in multi racial movement politics – skills needed by many on the left. Today hundreds of union community leaders and legislators, particularly in California, are veterans, trained in for the long distance struggle of the UFW.
The Current Situation – Strategic Racism
The movement led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and others created a union and reduced the oppression of farm workers for a time. Workers learned to not accept poor jobs, poor pay, unsafe working conditions as natural or inevitable. Then the corporations and the Right Wing forces adapted their strategies of oppression and counter attacked.
The assault on the UFW and the current reconquest of power in the fields are examples of strategic racism, that is a system of racial oppression created and enforced because it benefits the over class- in this case corporate agriculture and farm owners. Strategic racism includes a complex structure of institutions and individuals from police and sheriffs, to immigration authorities and anti immigrant activists, and elected officials and their support networks. These groups foster and promote inter racial conflict, job competition, and anti union organizing, as strategies to keep wages and benefits low and to promote their continuing white supremacy in rural California.
As the union was weakened by the Right Wing corporate assault, the conditions in the fields returned almost to their prior level of exploitation. The Agricultural Labor Relations Act had it budget cut by 30 % for years under Governor Deukmejian in 1982- 1986 along with other assaults on the law. Now, thousands of new immigrants harvest the crops and only a small percent are protected by union contracts. Over 200,000 indigenous workers, mostly from Mexico, harvest the crops in the Southwest. They are Mixtec, Zapotec, Triqui and more. They do have a few health, safety and wage protection by California labor laws, along with the right to farm worker collective bargaining elections and binding arbitration established significantly by the political activity of the current UFW – more than farm workers have in any other state. For a record of this period see David Bacon’s, The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (2013).
Although the children of Mexican, Mexican American and Latino parents currently make up over 52% of all the school age children in California, there is only a little about their history in the state textbooks. A campaign is under way to change this inappropriate situation. http://antiracismdsa.blogspot.com/2015/03/write-chicano-history-into-california.html.http://antiracismdsa.blogspot.com/2015/03/write-chicano-history-into-california.html.
|the author and Cesar Chavez, 1972|
Duane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist, and a former chair of Sacramento DSA. He was a volunteer for the UFW from 1972- 1977. He is the Director of the Mexican American Digital History project. www.MexicanAmericanDigitalHistory.org