September 20, 2015
This is an expanded version of an article in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle: http://sfchron.cl/1QHt9Jt
Fifty years ago the great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965. Mexican workers joined them two weeks later. The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.
The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color. Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.
California’s politics have changed profoundly in 50 years. Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino. That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation.
But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country’s labor history. Writer Peter Matthiessen, for instance, claimed in his famous two-part 1969 profile of Cesar Chavez in The New Yorker: “Until Chavez appeared, union leaders had considered it impossible to organize seasonal farm labor, which is in large part illiterate and indigent…” Continue reading
Filed under: Immigrant Workers, Labor History | Tagged: American Federation of Labor, Australian Labor Party, AWOC, Central Labor Union, Cesar Chavez, Delano grape strike, Filipino, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Labor Day, Larry Itliong, Peter J. McGuire, United Farm Workers, United States | Leave a comment »