Cesar Chavez Walk Information
Welcome to the Cesar Chavez Walk Information and Service Learning Project
Every year Mr. Licon, Mr. Wong, and Mr. Martinez organize a trip to the Cesar Chavez Walk at Placita Ovlvera. This year the Cesar Chavez walk takes place on April 4, 2009 at 9 a.m. The walk is apporximately 2 miles and is in commemoration of the walks farmworks endured during the 1960s.
Cesar Chavez was a great individual who motivated a number of individuals to fight for themselves and for their rights. During the 1960s there was civil unrest in the United States. Many oppressed minority groups came together to over come obstables and barriers imposed on them.
Below you will find an oral history from Fred Ross.
HISTORY OF THE FARM WORKER MOVEMENT
(As told by Fred Ross, Sr.,
Dayton, Ohio, October, 1974)
PART II CESAR AND THE BUILDING OF THE UNION
I had been working with Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation in Los Angeles for about 5 years prior to the time I went up to San Jose. By farm the most notorious case that organization worked on was known as the "The Bloody Christmas" case.
It involved seven young men, most of them of Mexican descent, who were beaten up at intervals of several hours all night long on Christmas Eve in the Lincoln Heights jail in Los Angeles. It was done by drunk cops who would go into their cells and wish them Merry Christmas, and beat them and kick them and push lighted cigarettes into them, etc. They almost died.
When our organization got to them, one only had about had enough blood to live on and had a concussion. Another had a ruptured kidney, and so on. Fortunately, they didn't die. We took the case and got a Grand Jury investigation, and later, five of the cops involved were sent to jail for from 1 to 10 years. That was the Community Service Organization's main claim to fame ... the CSO. It was realized that if the Chicanos were to gain any power and move forward both socially and politically, it had to become a statewide organization and eventually a national organization.
So I went up to Santa Clara County (San Jose), which is the second largest Spanish-speaking County in the state. A young priest took me around to meet various people in his congregation and also a Mexican nurse helped me meet people. I was able to meet quite a number of working people.
One day this nurse, named Elisa Hernandez, said she was going to take me to meet Mr. Cesar Chavez. Helen Chavez met us at the door and said that Cesar was not there. We said we would come back. We returned the next night, and Cesar was not there again. We went back a third night, and there were a lot of people there. We went in and the house was crowded, but we got a cold reception, even from Cesar.
I began telling them why I was there and the experiences I had had in Southern California. I had worked in the citrus belt down there before I went to Los Angeles. I began to get into a description of "Bloody Christmas," and up until this, no one would even look up at me. Several were interested in what I was talking about, which was building power in the barrio by getting everyone together first, for numerical visible power, as well as political power by getting them registered to vote. Ninety percent were not registered. The philosophy up until then was "Why should I give a guy a monkey wrench to hit me over the head with; let him get his own."
At one point, a could of men kept interrupting me. It seemed to me that they'd been drinking and were not interest in my story. Finally Cesar took them outside and came back without them. Cesar and Richard (his brother) had a lot of questions. I had another meeting that night and Cesar offered to take me there. He continued to ask a lot of questions.
Ten years later, I found where Cesar was on those nights he wasn't home. He had thought I was someone else. You see, Sal Si Puedes, which means "Get out, if you can," is the barrio of San Jose where the Chicanos live. It is in the stream of students that come down from Berkeley and those that come from Stanford. They all write their Master's theses about Sal Si Puedes. They've been doing it for years. Students come, the Health Department comes, etc., and they all go back and write their theses and they never help people.
They ask very insulting questions like, "How come the Mexican people have very large families?" and "How come they all eat beans and chili?" and on and on.
Cesar had had it with this kind of insulting stuff and never anything in the way of help for his people. They were just a bunch of bloodsuckers, sucking the life out of the barrio and getting fat with their theses, so they could become professors and teach their students how to go down to the barrio and do the same thing.
Cesar thought I was one of those professors, except that I had an old, beatup car. But Cesar was still suspicious. He was really home when I came to visit, but was across the street, sitting, watching, and laughing. Cesar had organized the group against me, and told them to give me a bad time.
Cesar Chavez soon became the outstanding leader of the people in that area, and the following year, I got Alinsky to hire him. He traveled and organized and stayed in each area four months to organize a barriowide organization. They were civic action organizations. He did it all over California, except in San Diego County and Orange County. Eventually, Cesar was selected to organize the farm workers in Oxnard. In an effort to help out the packing house workers who were trying to get a contract. Oxnard had the largest bracero camp in the United States within its city limits.
When Cesar came to Oxnard, he thought the main problem was the braceros coming in and driving the wages down. But he found the main problem was that they were driving the local people out of work. Most of the locals were having to go out and pick carrots, which is a very low-paying job, while the braceros were given the better jobs in tomatoes, etc. So Cesar began to meet with farm workers exclusively and, and as a result, that CSO Chapter became one of the most powerful in the state because of the good job of organizing down there. He got over 500 people into citizenship classes and voter registration.
The main job was to get the government to come in and make an investigation concerning collusion between the head of the employment service in California and the growers. Cesar was able to do this by sleeping four hours a night, because he had to constantly ride a circuit between the bracero-herding operation down there and back to the office to write up affidavits to send to Sacramento. Finally, after five months of this, it was proven that the growers were in collusion with the farm employment service. The head of the farm employment service was fired; the next day he got a job as the head of the growers' association in the Imperial Valley,a nd finally got on the right payroll.
This is where Cesar Chavez began to prove to himself that he could organize farm workers, which everybody said couldn't be done. Then he became the state director of CSO and tried to get that organization to devote its full energies to organizing farm workers. But they refused to do so. There were many other people in CSO who used to be farm workers and had gotten out of that and didn't really want to deal with it any longer. So Cesar resigned as director. He had been getting good money, so it was hard with a wife and eight kids.
They drove up into the valley and settled in Delano. Cesar's brother Richard was there. They had no money. Helen went to work full-time at DiGiorgio picking grapes, and Cesar worked par time and organized the rest of the time. Three months later Dolores Huerta, who had been with CSO in stockton, California, joined him.
The biggest resistance that Cesar ran into when he started organizing farm workers was the farm workers themselves; they were resisting being organized. One of the main reasons for this was that they had been sold down the river too many times before. Another reason was because they were afraid and hopeless. I was at one of those meetings. Cesar started out about like this:
"I guess we all know about our problems. We know how it is in the winter time when we have to go down and run up a big bill of credit at the little grocery store, pay those high prices and spend the rest of the year paying off the debt. But maybe someday we'll have our own association to do something about that. Maybe we might even have our own credit union to tide us over the winter."
Cesar went down,
"We all know what it's like when one of our loved ones dies and we don't have the money to bury him and we, have to go from door to door begging money to bury him. We know how we feel when we have to do that."
The people all agreed, for they had all done it. He said,
"Maybe someday we'll have our own association and our own insurance plan.
They thought that was a good idea too. Then he said,
"We all know how hard it is to live on the wages of that the growers give."
The other agreed but were not interested in talking about that. Cesar said,
"What do you think we ought to get?"
At that time they were getting about 95 cents an hour and they said maybe they ought to get $1.25. Cesar was very disappointed when they said that, because he expected them to say at least $2.00. He later found out that they were being realistic and he was being a dreamer, because they knew that if they waited long enough and worked hard enough, that someday they might be able to get $2.00 out of him. So, as the people were leaving, Cesar was standing at the door, shaking hands with them, and they were saying, "It sure is a good idea, Mr. Chavez, and I wish you good luck. The problem is that it just isn't going to work." Cesar asked why. They said,
"The growers are just too powerful; we've tried it all, we know it is."
He was very discouraged then, because they all felt the same way. A couple of nights later, when he had his next meeting, he was ready for them; he wasn't going to be taken by surprise again. When they told him
"Good luck, but it won't work; count me out," Cesar said,
"I know that nobody in this room is going to help, I know that. Probably nobody in Bakersfield will help. But I know that I am going to be able to find one man in this county that will help. That is all I need, because that man is going to help me gradually find a few other people that have the guts to come out and begin to work for all of us. That is how we'll get started. Don't worry, I'll be back."
And he came back!!
He and Dolores and Manuel (his cousin) spent eight months traveling the valley and passing out cards for the workers to fill out their names and addresses and how much they ought to get paid. It was like a survey, but actually, it was a way to find where the people were and to find out who was really interested in doing something. The more interested ones put a stamp on the card and returned it. Some wrote encouraging notes on their cards like, "Good luck," or "I know you can do it." Cesar made a point to visit these particular people. He gave them a stack of cards and asked them to be in charge of their own towns and pass the cards around.
Different times while he was traveling Helen and the children would go with him. Often when they saw workers in a field near a road, they would jump out of the car and hand the workers cards and pamphlets explaining them, and then they would hurry back to the care before the foremen would catch them. Then in the next town, Helen and the kids would leaflet the town door-to-door about someone coming to meet with them, while Cesar would go to the local stores and places where farm workers congregated and begin talking with them.
At the end of this time, and with the cards that had been returned, they pulled the people together in the founding convention of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in Fresno in 1962. This was the original name of the UFW< because the workers were afraid of calling it a union; hence "association". They didn't want to talk about strikes, either. They had been burnt too many times before.
The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), AFL-CIO, which was also supposed to be organizing farm workers at the time, was headed by an ex-auto worker named Normal Smith, who knew nothing about farm workers. His idea of organizing farm workers was to organize the labor contractors. Then the contractors would force the workers to join AWOC or there wouldn't be a job for them. Also, Smith would send his men to try and disrupt Cesar's meetings, but they didn't know that all the people already knew and loved Cesar from CSO. Cesar had helped the old people get their pensions from the state, and they remembered him. Smith's tactics really turned people toward Cesar rather than away from him.
Cesar's biggest problem as he traveled so much was hunger. He was spending all his money on gas, so there was little left for food. Friends gave his family leftover commodities that no one else wanted, or fresh vegetables in season, which helped, but often wasn't enough. One night as he was holding a house meeting, he noticed a big plate of fried chicken on the stove in the kitchen. He hadn't eaten in a couple of days, so he could hardly concentration the meeting. After the meeting, he got into his car to leave, but he couldn't bring himself to start the car.
He went back tot he door and pretended like he forgot his pen. He hid the pen in his hand, but pretended like he found it on the floor over near the stove where the chicken was. As he found it on the floor, he smelled the chicken and commented on how good it smelled. At this point Mrs. Hernandez knew he was hungry and invited him to share the meal. He then learned that very often it isn't what you do for people that establishes the bond as much as what they do for you. They have some kind of vested interest in you be feeding you or doing something else for you. So he began to learn to dispense with that kind of pride when he was hungry. If he was at someone's house during mealtime and he was hungry, he would ask them to feed him.
At the Fresno Convention Cesar introduced a huge flag for the symbol of the association. For the program, he brought all the ideas that he had gotten from the house meetings to the convention - the credit union and a group death plan. The
wives were especially interested in this, so they went along with paying a little each month toward this.
They started to charge the first dues - $3.50 a month, part of which was to pay for the death benefit plan. It was a sort of a gimmick to get them going to get them going on the idea of paying for their own union. Cesar knew if the workers wanted their own organization, they were going to have to pay for it. It wasn't going to be anything like when a powerful union with money comes in and calls a strike and pays the workers more to strike than to work.
It was hard to get the money. He had to forget about feelings. You've probably ready the story of the time Cesar went to collect $3.50 from a man who wanted to become a member of the association. When Cesar got there, he said he only had $5.00 to last the family for the week. Cesar said he knew what it was like because he had been in that situation many times before. But he told the man,
"If you want to move forward, then we all have to sacrifice."
Cesar knew if he gave in to that one, then he would give in again and again and they would never have a union.
They tried to stay away from strikes for a long time. Instead, they worked on things like trying to get back pay for workers who had been cheated out of it. They worked on workmen's compensation cases and everything that had to do with workers except the all important thing of pulling a strike. They never talked about wages, because that meant strike, and they really feared that. No grower they had ever heard of gave an increase in wages without a strike, and very few with a strike.
The Filipinos walked out on strike in Coachella for better wages, but did not go for a contract. They got a raise in wages, but no contract. When they came to the Delano area and expected the same kind of wages they had gotten down in Coachella Valley, the growers laughed at them. So they went out on strike, and the Mexican workers that were in NFWA refused to cross their lines. That is how the whole thing began.
Cesar knew they didn't have money for strike benefits, so he went on a fundraising tour. He went to Berkeley and talked to thousands of students who agreed to give their lunch money for a week as a down payment with the promise that they would continue to raise money. Cesar went to colleges and churches with the help of the Migrant Ministry and was able to keep it going.
Walter Ruether came, and he and Cesar led a march down through the center of Delano. That is when we started getting money from the Auto Workers.
Then Cesar and a group of strikers went on a 300 mile march to Sacramento. The main reason for the march was to call national attention to the strike and also to help organize the workers along the way as to what the strike and the union were all about.
They covered 26 different towns along the way. They sent advance men to set up housing and a town meeting with the local workers before the marchers got there.
Before they finished the march, the Schenley Company gave in and recognized the union, which was the first step toward a contract that came several months later. This, however, was primarily the result of a boycott -- the first boycott. The idea of a boycott came after many months of picketing and following trucks and trains and not being able to stop the grapes. Jim Drake said,
"Why don't we try a boycott? What have we got to lose?"
The Blacks used to boycott stores that wouldn't hire them. So we decided to try it and sent teenagers and college students back to the East coast to boycott. Schenley gave in and everyone came back from the boycott in time for the end of the march. About 10,000 people showed up on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento that day.
At the same time, the Digiorgio Company said they would be willing to have an election, which had never happened before in the whole history of agriculture. But DiGiorgio wa slaying down all kinds of rules, mainly that he would supervise the election and that there would be no strikes or boycotts. These kinds of things were out of the question, so we started a boycott against his products, S&W and Treesweet. Soon Digiorgio agreed to a legitimate election which was to be overseen by the American Arbitration Association.
At that time our authorization cards were white. These are cards that the worker signs, authorizing the union to represent him. One day someone came in with a green card, which was a Teamster authorization card. This was the first time the Teamsters appeared on the scene. The foremen were given orders to get the workers to sign Teamster authorization cards. The Teamsters didn't think about the sweetheart contracts; they were actually going to do it legitimately. But we had made great inroads with a number of the foremen, and while the growers thought the foremen were passing around Teamster cards, many were really passing around our cards. One, Ofelia Diaz, who was forewoman at DiGiorgio for 25 years, was caught and fired on the spot.
This is when Eliseo Medina and Marshall Ganz entered the picture. Cesar asked me to train these and several other organizers. Soon we were holding house meetings all over the Delano area. DiGiorgio had eight (8) different camps. We would go at noon and talk to the workers while they ate. Our nightly house meetings were with the workers who lived in the small towns surrounding Delano. The reason for the daily meetings at the camps and the nightly house meetings was to convince the workers to vote for the NFWA, since DiGiorgio had agreed to an election.
We also sent people down into Texas, Mexico and all over California to find workers who were eligible to vote because they had worked the year before, but weren't there. We found about 100 of them eventually and got them to come back for the election. One bus arrived all the way from Mexico after the polls closed.
We won the election 530 to 331. This was the only time the Teamsters have ever been willing to go up against us in an election. The Teamsters got their largely from among the Anglo workers and from year-round, non-field workers. They had people like cooks and secretaries voting, which we later challenged. DiGiorgio tried to turn it into a racist thing, like,
"You want to belong to the Mexican Union?", etc.
The day of the election the Teamsters came down from the Bay area in big limousines and rode through the town and all through DiGiorgio's property -- he let them in wherever they wanted. As they were coming out of the women's camp, Eliseo was just going in. They stopped the car, and four big goon-type men jumped out and smashed Eliseo in the mouth and hurt another worker very badly that night.
We had the location of each worker pinpointed on a map and had it planned so that people would be picked up and taken to polling places. What happened, however, was that the workers didn't wait for rides, but came on their own. National newsmen were there, and in order to get both sides, they visited Bill Grami of the Teamsters' office. They found him sitting alone, having complete faith that the Teamsters would win. Later, he met with Dolores and me and told us that that was the last time this sort of thing would ever happen.
The following month, we were supposed to have another election against the Teamsters at the other big DiGiorgio ranch about 20 miles away at Arvin. But, of course, the Teamsters refused. They were trying to get a sweetheart contract our of DiGiorgio, but he refused the election. So we sat in his business office in San Francisco. We, including some important state labor people, were arrested and released, and we returned to his the next day and were arrested again. In the meantime, we were setting great press coverage - here were a handful of DiGiorgio's workers who had come to ask Papa DiGiorgio a favor - an election. It was a very democratic thing to do. Finally, he gave in and there was an election between "no union" and the NFWA. We won by a substantial margin.
The workers at Perelli-Minetti, a wine grape grower in Delano, went on strike and came to the farm workers for representation. We agreed to represent them, and put up a picket line. The Teamsters came right through the picket line and signed the first sweetheart contract.
A sweetheart contract is a company union contract, signed to the advantage of the grower rather than for the worker. We began a boycott of Perelli-Minetti products. We threatened to boycott Manischevitz because it has some Perelli-Minetti wine in it. After five months of boycott, we were able to bring enough pressure on Perelli-Minetti that they worked out an agreement with the Teamsters to turn over the contract to the farm workers. It was a lousy contract and we had to wait two years until it expired to get a good one. But it set a precedent. If they could turn over one contract, they could turn over more. Anytime management agrees to do something, the Teamsters also agree. The reason for this is that the Teamsters want the same thing that the growers want: total control over the lives of the workers.
At this time also, the first jurisdictional pact was signed. We would stay out of the trucks and canneries, if the Teamsters would stay out of the fields. This was the first of several pieces of paper that we signed that meant nothing. It simply shows how the Teamsters have tried to trick us.
After Perelli-Minetti, we made a survey of all the big grape ranches to see who we would concentrate on next. We thought we would pull a "Walter Reuther" and single out one big company and go after it like he went after Ford or General Motors. We picked Giumarra, who had the largest table grape ranch of all. It was tightly organized, Giumarra had about 30 crew pushers, each of whom had a truck that had bene bought for him by Guimarra. They were indebted to Giumarra for this and that is why we were never able to win them over to our side. The crew pusher's job was to go around in the morning and pick up the workers, take them to the field and then be the foremen all day and push them.
About 200 workers showed up for the strike meeting. That took guts on the part of the workers because Giumarra had spies there to see which workers would come- Cesar had the people divide up into their various areas and he put an organizer with each crew. This way, they had an organizing crew within each working crew. This way, they had an organizing crew within each working crew. These workers went to the homes of the crew pushers at 4 a.m. on the morning the strike was to start. The workers put up a picket like in front of the crew pusher's house, and most crew pushers just went right back into their homes and didn't go to work that day. There were over 1200 workers in the fields before the strike and only 50 in the fields 4 days after it started.
Giumarra got an injunction, and 100's of illegal scabs; we got a boycott on the market. But we soon found there were no Giumarra brand grapes on the market. We found out that Giumarra had gotten labels of 70 other growers and was putting them on his boxes. This is how he was fooling the housewife. We decided to attack him at his biggest market, which was New York. Fifty farm workers drove a school bus from Delano, California to New York to work on the boycott.
Dolores and I went too, but we found it just would not work because we couldn't tell which grapes to boycott. We had a hearing and accused Giumarra of misrepresentation, but they wouldn't do anything because he was out of state. So we decided there was just one way and that was to boycott all grapes.
In February 1968, we started the big table grape boycott. Eliseo took a group of farm workers from New York to Chicago, and Marcos Munoz took a group and went to Boston. We scattered all over into Canada and Western Europe with two full time organizers there. Eventually, with additional pressure of a good strike in Coachella, we drove the price of grapes down to a point where the growers finally realized they would have to settle-the image of table grapes was just getting too black.
One thing we learned from the boycott is that you have to really tighten up. We were getting tighter and tighter during the last year of the boycott. Eliseo cracked the Jewell chain in Chicago and Marcos and Dolores cracked A & P in New England. LeRoy Chatfield put 85 organizers in front of the Ralph's chain in Los Angeles. He was the last to get his organizers, but when he did and Ralph's agreed to sell only UFW grapes (by now we had some Coachella contracts, July, 70), that did it. It was the final straw.
Soon after Ralph's gave in, Giumarra came from his vacation and knocked on Cesar's door in the middle of the night. They spent the rest of the night calling other growers and getting them together to sign contracts.
The most important result of the 1970 contracts was the effect on the workers. It began to turn the situation around and bring some democracy into the fields. Because of provisions in the contracts that guaranteed the worker his job, he didn't have to worry when he went to work in the morning whether he would have a job that night. Therefore, he wasn't afraid to complain. He didn't have to worry about seniority. Women did not have to worry about giving their bodies to labor contractors; labor contractors were out and the hiring hall was in. There were other benefits also. But we don't want to give the idea that suddenly there was democracy out in the fields. Rather, the real struggle began right then, because the workers were struggling to gain the power which was contained in the contract. But the growers were trying to hold onto what had always been theirs and wanted to prevent the workers from taking it away.