Not the Cesar Chavez I Knew

Cesar Chavez (photo wikimedia)

Cesar Chavez (photo wikimedia)

The new biopic of Cesar Chavez makes me sad—and angry. To be sure, it draws needed attention to a key chapter in American Latino, labor and social movement history, as well as to the man whose leadership was central to it all. But it does so by reducing the man, the movement and its meaning to caricatures. The lessons the film teaches contradict the real lessons of Chavez’s work. And the “excuse” that “no movie can tell the whole story” doesn’t really wash. An earlier film in which director Diego Luna had an acting role, Milk, does the man, movement and meaning justice. There have been others—just not this one.

Cesar’s core leadership gifts were relational. He had an ability to engage widely diverse individuals, organizations and institutions with distinct talents, perspectives and skills in a common effort. The film, however, depicts him as a loner: driving alone (when in reality he had given up driving), traveling alone (which he never did) and deciding alone (when his strength was in building a team that could respond quickly, creatively and proactively to the daily crises of a long and intense effort).

Cesar was an organizer’s organizer, the craft in which he prided himself. This required a focus on people, their strengths and weaknesses, the dynamics of power and work behind the scenes. In the film, he gives speeches, which he avoided, and engages in shouting matches on the picket line, which he never did. A believer in the rhetoric of action for many years, he rarely held press conferences, speaking to the public instead from the scene of the action. Continue reading

Criticism of Cesar Chavez Film Misses Big Picture

OneStepataTimeWhen I saw a preview of the new Cesar Chavez film and wrote a positive review, I did not foresee that I would be the only author of a book on Chavez and the UFW that viewed it positively. And while I understand the critiques offered by Marshall Ganz, Matt Garcia and others, they missed the bigger picture.
Diego Luna’s new film, Cesar Chavez, has been criticized on two main grounds.

First, it failed to show that the farmworkers were a movement filled with key organizers and volunteers, not simply a showcase for a great man named Cesar Chavez. This is the chief criticism I made in my review. For those like Ganz whose own key roles in the movement the film excised from history, their anger is understandable.

Second, the film ends in 1970, ignoring how Chavez began dismantling the movement he launched by that decade’s end. I thought the film should have ended in 1975, when Governor Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. But requiring the film to continue into the 1980’s would have required at least thirty minutes in additional running time, and its unlikely funds were available to create a two-hour film.

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An Interview With Staughton Lynd About the Labor Movement

by Andy Piascik and Staughton Lynd

Staughton Lynd

Staughton Lynd

For more than 50 years, Staughton Lynd has been a leading radical in the United States. He was an engaged supporter of the Black Liberation Movement in the Deep South in the early 1960’s, most notably as coordinator of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi Summer in 1964. He was an active opponent of US aggression in Indochina, including as chairperson of the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam in April 1965.[1] In recent decades, Lynd has been an attorney representing prisoners, particularly at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, and has written a book, a play and numerous articles about the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.[2]

Since the late 1960’s, Lynd has also been deeply involved in the labor movement as an activist, attorney and prolific writer.[3] Inspired by Marty Glaberman, Stan Weir and Ed Mann,[4] Lynd has been a passionate and prolific proponent of decentralized, rank-and-file driven unionism. In November 2014, Haymarket Books will publish a book by Lynd entitled Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below and a new edition of his book Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below with an introduction by radical labor scholar and activist Immanuel Ness will be published by PM Press in Spring 2015.

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Update on Cesar Chavez, farmworker organizing, and immigration reform

by Duane Campbell

Cesar Chavez at the Delano UFW rally.

Cesar Chavez at the Delano UFW rally. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Monday, as Californians celebrated Cesar Chavez Day the Real News Network has recorded an excellent two interviews with persons presently engaged in farmworker organizing. Both had worked with Chavez-
Marc Grossman and Rosalinda Guillen. They give current testimony to conditions in the fields, the role of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, and two different views of the issues of immigration reform. Guillen describes the current largely indigenous labor force in the fields

I encourage all friends of labor to inform themselves and these important struggles.

http://antiracismdsa.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-current-status-of-farmworkers-and.html

 

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Cesar Chavez, The UFW, and Strategic Racism

by Duane Campbell
Cesar Chavez

On March 31, Eleven states will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino Leader Cesar Chavez. A new film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta opens in cities across the country on April 4, 2014. It is reviewed in a post by Randy Shaw.

Let us be clear. Chavez was religious, but he was not a saint. Neither were the growers, their Teamster collaborators, nor corporate agribusiness saints. Celebrations should not be about hero worship or uncritical praise, nor should we ignore the present oppression of farm workers in the U.S.

What they 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.

Each of the prior 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 necessary 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.

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New Cesar Chavez Film Inspires Activism, Hope for Change

by Randy Shaw

Cesar Chavez, a feature film on the farmworker leader, was previewed in Berkeley on March 5 prior to its March 28 national release. Based on the audience response, the film will help inspire a new generation of young activists to push for social justice, and will particularly resonate with Dreamers and others pushing for immigration reform.

The atmosphere was electric in Berkeley’s California Theater as a full house waited in anticipation for Diego Luna’s new film, Cesar Chavez. A block long line of people were turned away, reflecting an interest in the movie that Luna hoped would return when the film is released in three weeks.

Having spent years researching and thinking about Cesar Chavez for my book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century, I was intrigued by how a feature film would handle the long and complex story of the farmworkers movement. And I think it covered the story of Cesar Chavez himself remarkably well for the years covered in the movie.

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A Forgotten Labor Chapter of a Civil Rights Anthem

by Stuart Elliott

Country and Western singer and deejay Texas Bill Strength was probably the second artist to record “We Will Overcome, ” which with a minor word change became the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Joe Glazer had included it in the CIO’s Department of Education and Research  78-rpm album Eight New Songs for Labor, which also included Glaser’s classic “The Mill Was Made of Marble.”  Shortly after, Glaser taught the song to Texas Bill Strength who was hired by the CIO as part of Operation Dixie.

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Woolworth’s Sit-Down Strike in 1937 Detroit: Lessons for Today’s Low-Wage Workers

by Marc Norton

woolworth_sitinIn 1937, Woolworth’s was the Walmart of its day. The company had transformed the retail marketplace by creating a national chain of stores staffed by low-wage workers, mostly young women. The lunch counters in these stores, serving inexpensive food, were in some ways a precursor to today’s fast food mega-corporations.

So the story of a successful sit-down strike at a Woolworth’s in Detroit gives us some useful parallels for low-wage workers today. In the wake of the Walmart and fast food strikes on Black Friday and December 5, it’s worth asking where the movement is going. What are its goals? How can they be achieved? Are workers getting organized for the long haul? Are we on a path to victory?

The Detroit sit-down electrified the nation at the time, but has been relegated to a footnote in mainstream history, even among labor historians. A recent pamphlet by history professor Dana Frank at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) should resurrect this history and its lessons. Continue reading

“The Death of Mother Jones” Remembered by Gene Autry

Mother Jones died on this day in 1930.

Here is Gene Autry, the iconic singing cowboy and singer of seemingly endless Christmas songs for children, from Frosty the Snowman down to Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, singing a labor protest song to celebrate Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, American labor organizer and co-founder of the Industrial Workers of The World. This might seem strange, but the Maddox Brothers and Rose recorded a song against the Taft-Hartley Act and an early, if not the first, recording of “We Shall Overcome” was by a country-and-western singer on the staff of the CIO’s Operation Dixie.

(H/t Gene at Harry’s Place.)

Even After Death, Jerry Tucker Inspires Labor Activists

by  Micah  Uetricht

Jerry Tucker's time of advocacy is over, but the organizing strategies he pioneered are still very much alive in movements all over the country. (Brad Perkins / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Jerry Tucker’s time of advocacy is over, but the organizing strategies he pioneered are still very much alive in movements all over the country. (Brad Perkins / Flickr / Creative Commons)

In January, an obituary of Jerry Tucker, who died of pancreatic cancer a year ago at age 73, characterized the longtime labor activist as “the man who could have saved organized labor.”

Tucker might have balked at the suggestion that he himself could have been the savior of organized labor. He fervently believed that workers could save themselves—through democratic, militant unionism led by rank-and-file members. Earlier this month, Tucker’s vision was remembered and debated in his hometown of St. Louis, Miss., as about 100 unionists from throughout the country gathered at the “Jerry Tucker: The Person, The Mission, The Legacy” conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Continue reading

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