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.

Continue reading

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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Farm Workers’ Push for Immigration Reform Honors the 28 ‘Deportees’ From 1948

This Labor Day finally brought recognition for the 28 Mexican migrant farm workers who tragically perished when the twin-engine DC-3C charter plane flying them back to Mexico caught fire and crashed on Jan. 28, 1948, near Los Gatos Canyon in west Fresno County, Calif. The Latino community of Fresno buried the 28 unidentified bracero farm workers after funeral services in a mass grave at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. News reports of the crash didn’t offer any names of the farm worker victims. They were just called “deportees.”

Incensed by how the farm workers were treated on the radio and in the newspapers, famed folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie wrote a beautiful poem, later a song, called “Deportee” or “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos.” Many artists, including Joan Baez who sang it at a United Farm Workers benefit last July in San Jose, have performed the ballad. The refrain goes:

Farewell to my Juan, farewell Angelina
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won’t have your names
When you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be deportee

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United Farm Workers endorse bipartisan immigration reform plan with critical protections for U.S. agricultural workers

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the UFW, issued the following statement after reaching a deal with major grower associations and a bipartisan group of Senators on proposed immigration reform legislation:

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez

Keene, CA – In the same week that hundreds of farmworkers came to Washington, DC to push for immigration reform, the United Farm Workers and farm worker groups from across the country celebrate a historic compromise with the nation’s largest grower associations to provide a special route to legal status for the nation’s farm workers.  This compromise was brokered by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).   The proposal will be included as part of the comprehensive bill which will now include both a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and a separate process towards legalization and citizenship for farm workers.  The UFW has been working towards this goal for over a decade with partners in the faith, labor and non-profit communities.

Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta recognized for their labor leadership

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta recognized for their life long contributions to organized labor and social justice.

Cesar Chavez at the Delano UFW rally.

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

Cesar Chavez Day is a state holiday in California – one of eight states to recognize the  date, and one of the few holidays  in the nation  dedicated  to a labor leader.   Sacramento and dozens of cities, counties and labor federations will celebrate the life of Cesar Chavez on March 31, 2013.

The  year  2012 was the 50th. anniversary of the founding of the U.F.W.  by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz and others.  The   celebrations focused  on  the struggle for union rights and justice in the fields of California.

The United Farm Workers  (UFW) was the  first successful union of farm workers in  U.S. history.  There had been more than ten prior attempts to build a farm workers union.   Each of the prior attempts  were destroyed by racism and corporate power. Chávez and Huerta  chose to build a union that incorporated the strategies of social movements and community organizing  and allied itself  with the 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 birth of Latino politics in the U.S. Continue reading

Union Reactions to Obama Re-election

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Tonight, working families across the country celebrate the re-election of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden – and breathe a sigh of relief that our country will move forward on the path of sanity and shared prosperity. Nothing about the last four years has been easy, from the Great Recession to Hurricane Sandy, from unrelenting partisan obstruction by Republicans to the greatest onslaught of negative ads ever unleashed against an American president.

Throughout the tumult, President Obama and Vice President Biden have been steadfast allies of working men and women and the values we cherish, focused on repairing the economy, rebuilding the ladder to the middle class and investing in our shared future. That’s why workers and their unions made an historic effort on their behalf, bringing home the vote for the President from Nevada to Ohio, from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.

With “Osama dead and GM alive” and the economy beginning to pick up steam, we are ready to work together with the President and all willing parties to win greater equality and economic opportunity for all – starting with ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and opposing any cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.

Below are statements from the AFT, UFCW,UAW AFGE , UFW, SEIU, IBEW, and IAM
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Ace Tomato workers are close to getting a contract after waiting 23 yrs. Will you sign the petition?

United Farm Workers

Workers at Ace Tomato are tired of waiting. They are tired of dirty bathrooms, the lack of fresh water and decades of low pay. You might ask, why don’t they vote for a union? They did—back in 1989! But, more than two decades later they still are waiting for their contract.

The UFW fought for and passed a law in California requiring employers to negotiate in good faith or face mandatory mediation. The way this works is a mediator speaks to both sides and neutrally sifts through both sides’ documents and recommendations and at the end submits a report of terms to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) which is essentially a contract. After several months of discussion, the mediator submitted his report to the ALRB on June 28. The company objected, but on July 25 the ALRB ruled against the company and ordered Ace Tomato to implement the final mediator’s report as the contract. Instead Ace decided to follow their normal delaying tactics and ignored the Board order. Now the ALRB is saying, while the contract should be in effect, the Board has no basis at this time to seek enforcement.

The UFW is planning on following up through every avenue possible.  But in the meantime we ask you to join us in helping the workers keep up the pressure. The first way you can help is sign a petition workers will deliver to the company on Tuesday.

Continue reading

Dolores Huerta to recieve Medal of Freedom from Obama

United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez and Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez issued the following joint statement from the farm worker movement’s Keene, Calif. headquarters on the announcement that President Obama will present Dolores Huerta with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Cesar Chavez once described Dolores Huerta as “completely fearless, both mentally and physically.”

Over six decades, Dolores Huerta put the nonviolent fight for civil and labor rights ahead of her personal interests, and sometimes before her personal safety. Like all the farm worker strikers and boycotters, she accepted a life of voluntary poverty for many decades. Her dynamic and inspiring leadership through the most difficult and turbulent times in the farm worker movement’s history established her not only as a leader of farm workers but as a role model for women and men across this nation and beyond.

We congratulate Dolores on receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor. No one is more deserving after a lifetime of self-sacrifice and deep dedication to defending the poorest and most abused people in our country.
Dolores Huerta is an Honorary Chair of DSA

Cesar Chavez march – Sacramento 2012

Cesar Chavez at the Delano UFW rally.

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

By Niesha Lofing

Managing Editor,  Sacramento Labor Bulletin

Thousands of workers, union members, labor advocates and elected officials braved torrential downpours on March 31 to pay tribute to the life and work of César Chávez during the 12th annual march and rally in Sacramento.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United Farm Workers, and Chávez’s hard work continues today, noted Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

Farm workers have recently won new protections through contracts with the largest strawberry grower and winery in the country, the biggest vegetable growers in the state and one of the largest dairies in the nation.

But the work isn’t yet done, he said. Continue reading

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