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  • Emily Amador

AB 2183: reminiscent of a historic march and an everyday reality

Current immigration-related efforts are focused on support for the United Farm Workers Association (UFW) and signing AB 2183, which would give California’s agricultural workers more liberty to bargain for better wages and conditions—this bill would give them the opportunity to vote freely and safely without intimidation.

More recently, UFW organized a historic march from Delano to Sacramento that lasted 26 days. September 30th was the last day for this bill to be signed. After relentless effort, Newson signed the bill into law of September 28th.

The San Joaquin Valley’s workers, in the early 1960s, faced many inequalities: lack of educational opportunities, bad wages, long hours, bad conditions, and low life expectancy. Children were often forced to drop out of school to help their parents with manual labor. Farmers were vulnerable and a grower could do just about anything to you. The end of the Bracero Program in 1964 saw a decrease in the farm labor workforce.

Filipino workers went on strike in Coachella for the grape harvest. Because grapes as a crop are very fastly harvested, Coachella growers complied with their demands for a wage increase. Filipino workers also tried doing the same in Delano, but Delano growers refused. They fired and unsheltered Filipinos. Growers viewed Filipinos as replaceable because they had access to an abundance of Mexican migrant workers in the North. The National Farm Worker’s Association (NFWA) was formed by Mexican American farm workers. Filipino organizers knew they needed the support of the NFWA. During this time, conversations about a strike emerged. Many Mexican American farmers who were living to work to support themselves had a lot to lose. If they joined the strike and lost their job they had no savings or anything to take refuge in, and if they did not strike they were not contributing to a cause they believed in. They were being threatened by field growers of deportation and job loss. Ultimately, however, on September 16th, 1965, they declared that they would strike. A lot were motivated by Cezar Chaves who gave them hope for the success of the strike. The strike lasted for five years. Sen. Bobby Kennedy had a debate with a local sheriff regarding the arrest of non-violent strikers. This debate gave strikers visibility.

There were still several strikebreakers who were actively being isolated from strikers by growers. The strikers began advocating for the boycott of grapes. The strike began as a labor strike but grew into something much greater. The farm workers advocated for better education, better conditions, and increased wages, and urged the attention of the local cops and racism. Cezar Chavez led these movements and preached a non-violent approach. An example of his non-violent approaches was the pilgrimage he organized to Sacramento.

There was a theater that formed within the strikers. This art was being used in boycotting. Chicano art was very important to the Chicano movement and proved to be an effective means of resistance. After 21 days of March, the Shenley corporation was willing to negotiate. This gave Chicanos hope for the future and served as their first victory. The Digiorgio fruit corporation, which was the other boycotted group, was not willing to negotiate. Thus, the strike continued. Chavez would often refer to the Plan of Delano which outlined the NFWA’s demands. August 1966, 2 years after the beginning of the strike, the DiGiorgio corporation signed a contract with the farmers, while 28 other corporations persisted unwilling to negotiate. The strikers decided to target the Giumarra cooperation, which was the biggest grape grower with 4,000 workers. The strike was weakened by Giumarra’s injunction and legal force. Then the NFWA began boycotting Giumarra’s grapes label, but then Giumarra used other labels. In response, the NFWA just boycotted the entire grape industry. The movement grew: support came from mayors, religious leaders, and political officials. The movement even reached Europe, including England, Sweden, and France. However, some strikers grew impatient after 2 and a half years of striking. Amid this impatience, Cesar Chavez began a fast. Some, however, did not understand his intentions in fasting and disagreed with it. 2 weeks after Chavez's Fast, he was summoned to court under the argument that he violated Giumarra’s injunction with picketing. 3,000 non-violent supporters were waiting in solidarity and support of Chavez. This painted a positive light on the committed strikers, it publicly displayed the authentic reality that was NFWA: a non-violent movement. Sen. Robert Kennedy was with Caesar when he broke his fast, after 25 days.

In 1969, the farm worker strike was in its fourth year. Giumarro and other growers still refused to negotiate and received support from Ronald Reagan. This was in the midst of the Vietnam war, when all sorts of ideas and movements were growing and becoming mainstream. The strike had a strong impact on grape growers: by 1970 grape shipments to cities had decreased by 22%. And in 1969, Chain Stores announced they were going to stop selling grapes.

On April first NFWA signed a contract with Freedman's ranches. The contract led to great success for Freedmen's ranches. Chain stores and the general public wanted union grapes, and the Freedman’s ranches were one of the only corporations that could offer that. Soon after, many corporations wanted to sign contracts in negotiation with the NFWA and union demands to ultimately, earn a union label. It was almost 5 years after the strike began, 1970, growers and farm workers gathered at the Union hall in Delaina to sign contracts, known as the table grape contracts. Most corporations, however, did not sign contracts because they believed in workers' rights, but instead the economic impact they were facing.


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