by Duane Campbell- a review of a review.
The Steve Early review below is an important essay on some of the books on Cesar Chavez and the UFW.
I disagree with Early on using Miriam Pawley as a major source. She came to California in about 2001. She really knows little about the struggle in the UFW, except for having interviewed people. Her interviews are excellent resources. Her listening to UFW executive committee tapes began in about 1972. I have read her book and listened to her talks. She is a major conveyer of the Chavez as “crazy” thesis. This is not a plausible for much of the time of the UFW. Her own research is on the current status of the farm worker support organizations conducted in Chavez’s name- not of the union. I will leave that debate up to others.
To me there is a major missing story in these books. For those who worked with, in and around the UFW, we know that there was a major issue of the rise of Chicano/Mexicano self determination and labor union activism. When someone writes the story – as if Chicano self determination was not an important issue, they clearly missed that point.
I wonder why? Marshall Ganz refers to some of the controversies in his description of the value of having diverse voices in the union leadership.
Ganz treats ethnic conflicts primarily as a device for power. That must be the way he experienced it from the Executive Board. It was much more complex than that in communities and among workers. The remainder of the Ganz book is quite good. Talking Union has previously published reviews of the Ganz book and the Shaw book. The Ganz book, Why David Sometimes Wins, Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement, (2009) is by far the most analytical of these books offering careful study of successes and failures in building this union.
I have not yet read the Bardake book. I have read his earlier writings on the subject. Many in the SF left have respect for his work. I do not know him. His experience was in the Salinas valley. I recommend reading Ganz on the Salinas valley campaign. Ganz was in charge of it. It was quite different than earlier campaigns for a number of reasons.
The union that became the UFW was not prepared for the Delano Strike of 1965. They needed a couple more years of preparation, more time for community building. But, they were forced into the early strike by the decision of the Philipino farmworkers in AWOC to go on strike. The strike was long, costly, and ruinous for many families. There were many defeats.
After winning in Delano, the UFW was thrown into the Salinas Valley lettuce strike – even less prepared.
There had been no time to build community networks in the Salinas valley. No time to develop worker leadership, to prepare strike leadership , to prepare solidarity networks, to know well the families in the strike and the families suffering from the strike. And, most of the resources of the union were needed to set up union structures in the just won grape strike.
There was a local leadership some of which was insurrectionists in orientation- just strike. Call a general strike. We can win. You can read such calls in literature of the World Socialists web site today. Given the wages and working conditions in migrant labor, it is easy to call a strike. It is easy to get a walk out. It is difficult to win a strike. Well- they did not win. And now they blame Chavez for poor leadership.
BTW this insurrectionist strategy was also tried and failed in Texas and Arizona. (See the history of Tony Orendain).
The significant role of race, ethnicity, and Chicano orientation in the union is not well dealt with in these books. Ganz refers to some of the issues in arguing for a diversity in the leadership. To my knowledge is has not yet been examined in a book, however the records are there in the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.
The United Farmworkers story is closely connected to the rise of the Chicano/Latino movement in the Southwest. In addition to being a labor leader, Chavez was becoming a symbolic leader to the emerging Chicano civil rights movement.
Much as Martin Luther King Jr. emerged from the Southern Christian Leadership Council to become a symbolic leader of the African American movement- and was criticized, attacked, and pilloried for taking an anti war stance- for example.
King, of course, was assassinated. His reputation was restored after he was assassinated.
Chavez lived on until 1993 when he died of natural causes. His reputation and his legacy was assassinated after his death by Miriam Pawel among others.
You can not understand the rise and leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. outside of understanding the currents of the African American Civil Rights movement.
Similarly, to understand the rise of the UFW and the Chavez –Huerta leadership, you need to know the history of the Chicano/ Mexican civil rights movement. I recommend reading minimally Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rudy Acuña, and Memories of Chicano History: The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona by Mario T. Garcia.
Some writers are still arguing about whether Chavez was a saint or a union boss. That is not a real discussion. The important issues are what worked in organizing and what did not. The rise and fall of the UFW should be considered in parallel to the rise and decline of the United Steelworkers, the UAW, and others as well as to the Justice for Janitors and SEIU campaigns.
My own bio is relevant to this post.
I worked on with the UFW as a volunteer from 1972-1976 in Sacramento. That story is recorded here; https://sites.google.com/site/democracyandeducationorg/chicano-mexican-american-digital-history-project/the-farmworker-movement-in-sacramento-1972-1977 and in the Farmworker Movement Documentation project here. http://farmworkermovement.com/essays/essays/REVISED%20DUANE%20CAMPBELL%20UFW-SAC.pdf..
After leaving working with the UFW, I went on to work on immigrants rights efforts with Bert Corona.
My most recent book is Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education. ( 2010) which includes sections on Chavez, Huerta and Chicano History.
After 35 years of teaching at a university and union activism, I retired in 2009. Now I am the chair of Sacramento Democratic Socialists of America and the chair of the Chicano/Mexican American Digital History Project (for the Sacramento region).