The Delano Grape Strike was the first major collaboration between Filipino and Mexican workers, who had traditionally been recruited to work during the other. Chavez did not start the grape strike. He selected the date and place of the strike-vote meeting with care. Farm Workers of America, and the strike that grew from the vote in that Delano church lasted five years. Cesar and the leaders of the NFWA believed it would be years before their fledgling union was ready for a strike. But he also knew how.
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After winning in Coachella, the strikers moved with the grape harvest into the San Joaquin Valley, where their strike was met with fierce opposition. In Delano, Filipinos workers began sitting in at the camps, refusing to leave to go to work. Growers kicked the Filipino strikers out, forcing them to move into town, and Filipino Hall in Delano became the center of the strike.
The timing of the strike was not accidental. It took place the year after Galarza, Huerta, Bert Corona, Cesar Chavez, and other civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero program. Farm worker leaders knew that once the program ended growers would no longer be able to bring braceros into the U.
From their first picket lines in Delano, strikers watched as growers brought in crews to take their jobs. When braceros were no longer available, often the Border Patrol opened the border, and trucks hauling strikebreakers roared up through the desert every night. Local police and sheriffs provided armed protection. Both Filipinos and Mexicans wanted to keep growers and the government from using immigration policy against them.
Strikers and labor advocates sought policies that would instead favor families and communities. In the immigration reform, passed the year after the bracero program ended, they established family reunification as a basic principle. This enabled thousands of people, especially family members of farm workers, to immigrate from the Philippines, Mexico, and other developing countries, while keeping employers from treating immigration purely as a labor supply system.
Both Trump and growers want to return to a more overt labor supply system in agriculture, based on the H-2A guest worker visa program, much like the old bracero program. The government uses raids and deportations against undocumented workers, much as it did during the bracero era of the s, to provide a pretext for importing contract labor.
ICE audits the records of growers, finds the names of undocumented people, and demands they be fired, while conducting deportation raids in farm worker communities. At the same time, the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security certify grower applications to import a mushrooming number of H-2A contract workers—, in , , last year, and more predicted for this year.
Then growers demand changes to make H-2A workers even cheaper by eliminating wage requirements, or the requirement that they provide housing.
Of all the achievements of the grape strike, its most powerful and enduring was the boycott. Armed grower militias had killed strikers in Pixley and El Centro, Calif. Nagi Daifullah and Juan de la Cruz lost their lives in the grapes in the strike.
Rufino Contreras was shot in a struck lettuce field in the Imperial Valley in Rufino Dominguez, Mixteco migrant leader, talks with men who worked in the U. Photo by David Bacon Non-violence, as urged by Cesar Chavez, was not universally accepted, however, especially by Filipino labor veterans. They met the violence of the growers with their own militancy, and carried guns and knives for self-defense. For them the drama of marching behind statues, hunger strikes, turn-the-other-cheek style was alien.
The political philosophy shared by most Filipino workers saw the strike as the fundamental weapon to win better conditions. This strategy gave new energy to the rest of the union movement, and led to the most powerful and important alliance between unions and communities in modern labor history.
Today, similar alliances are the bedrock of progressive tactics among union activists across the country, helping to give labor struggles their character as social movements. Uneasy Allies Growers had pitted Mexicans and Filipinos against each other for decades. Yet both organizations were able to find common ground and support each other during the strike, eventually forming the UFW.
We co-existed but never understood who we were or what each other thought and dreamed about. Every year they continued to travel from the San Joaquin Valley to the Alaska fish canneries. Through the end of their lives, they were often active members of both unions—Local 37 and the United Farm Workers. But relations between Filipinos and Mexicans deteriorated after the grape strike. In the first UFW table grape contracts, won in , the hiring hall system broke up the Filipino crews.
Accusations of discrimination against Filipinos in hiring halls were widespread. Many Filipino leaders were foreman, with a tradition of bargaining for their workers with growers to win better wages and working conditions. Itliong mostly organized through them, to get whole crews on board. The contracts stripped away their powers. Some supported the Teamsters, who offered those foremen their power back during that union's raid on the UFW in But the most pro-union Filipino workers, including ones who had been foremen, stayed with the UFW.
Relations grew even more difficult when Cesar Chavez visited dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. Itliong had left even earlier. Conditions of Farm Workers Today Overdependence on boycotts in the s and 90s had a high price. In the fields there were few elections and even fewer strikes. Most are working at minimum wage again. Employers are back to just trying to get the work done in the cheapest way possible, regardless of the impact on workers.
Doug Adair, a young white activist when the grape strike began, got a union job in the fields and worked there the rest of his life. He remembers, "When I worked under that first contract our wages and benefits were over double the minimum wage of American workers.
We had a health plan that was the envy of many other unions. We could sit down with the growers and bargain over grievances. In the last decade those laws enabled the union to regain contracts where workers voted for it years ago. Today workers under union contract can enforce state restrictions on pesticide use and requirements for better safety conditions.
Nevertheless, today many workers earn less than the legal minimum, law or no. Growers tore down most labor camps in California in the era of the great strikes. As a result, thousands of migrant field laborers sleep under trees, in cars, or in the fields themselves as they travel with the harvest. But labor contractors, who were once replaced by union hiring halls, have retaken control of the fields. And as contractors compete to sell the labor of farm workers to the growers, they cut wages.
Because contractors have the power to give work or to fire workers, the problem of sexual abuse in the fields has become rampant. They demand sex from women who need a job to support their families, or simply allow daily humiliation. The lack of safe working conditions was dramatized by the death in of year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who was denied shade and water and collapsed in degree heat. The low value put on her life and that of workers like her was also dramatized—by the sentence of community service given by the state court to the labor contractor responsible.
A New Generation and the Legacy of Radicalism But just as Larry Itliong followed the migration of Filipino workers from Seattle to Alaska and then back to California, the migration of workers today is offering similar opportunities to farm worker organizers. The result of the vote favored the union representation of the UFW, a to vote, against the representation of The Teamsters , which was the only union that was competing against the UFW in the election. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. September Learn how and when to remove this template message The grape strike officially began in Delano in September In the summer of , unions and religious groups from Seattle and Portland endorsed the boycott.
Supporters formed a boycott committee in Vancouver, prompting an outpouring of support from Canadians that would continue throughout the following years. After melon workers went on strike in Texas, growers held the first union representation elections in the region, and the UFW became the first union to ever sign a contract with a grower in Texas. In , support for farm workers increased throughout North America. The grape boycott spread into the South as civil rights groups pressured grocery stores in Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Nashville, and Louisville to remove non-union grapes.
Student groups in New York protested the Department of Defense and accused them of deliberately purchasing boycotted grapes. Cesar Chavez also went on a speaking tour along the East Coast to ask for support from labor groups, religious groups, and universities. By mid-September, the UFW won the right to represent 4, workers at 24 farms, while the Teamsters won the right to represent 4, workers at 14 farms.
How Filipino Migrants Gave the Grape Strike Its Radical Politics :
These were mostly single men, recruited from the Philippines to come as laborers in the s. The tools they chose, the strike and the boycott, have been used by farm workers ever since.
50 years ago, Cesar Chavez led a crusade to unite and empower farmworkers