Cesar Chavez is the most prominent Latino in United States history books, and much has been written about Chavez and the United Farm Worker's heyday in the 1960s and '70s. But left untold has been their ongoing impact on 21st century social justice movements. Beyond the Fields unearths this legacy, and describes how Chavez and the UFW's imprint can be found in the modern reshaping of the American labor movement, the building of Latino political power, the transformation of Los Angeles and California politics, the fight for environmental justice, and the burgeoning national movement for immigrant rights. Many of the ideas, tactics, and strategies that Chavez and the UFW initiated or revived—including the boycott, the fast, clergy-labor partnerships and door-to-door voter outreach—are now so commonplace that their roots in the farmworkers' movement is forgotten.
This powerful book also describes how the UFW became the era's leading incubator of young activist talent, creating a generation of skilled alumni who went on to play critical roles in progressive campaigns. UFW volunteers and staff were dedicated to furthering economic justice, and many devoted their post-UFW lives working for social change. When Barack Obama adopted “Yes We Can” as his 2008 campaign theme, he confirmed that the spirit of “Si Se Puede” has never been stronger, and that it still provides the clearest roadmap for achieving greater social and economic justice in the United States.
List of Illustrations
1. Cesar Chavez and the UFW: Revival of the Consumer Boycott
2. The UFW Boycott Transformed
3. Building the Clergy-Labor Alliance: Reviving the Fast
4. Yes We Cane: Miami's Janitors Struggle for Justice
5. The UFW Battles Pesticides
6. The UFW Grassroots Political Model: Legislative Advocacy and Voter Outreach
7. The Labor-Latino Alliance
8. Building the Immigrant Rights Movement: Sí Se Puede!
9. The Immigrant Rights Movement Explodes
10. The Decline of the UFW
11. Harvesting Justice beyond the Fields: The Ongoing Legacy of
Conclusion: Fostering Social Justice in the Twenty-first Century
Randy Shaw is the Director of San Francisco's Tenderloin Housing Clinic, and is Editor of the online daily newspaper, BeyondChron.org. His previous books are The Activist's Handbook and Reclaiming America, both from UC Press.
“Beyond the Fields is a fascinating and useful combination of micro-history and field organizing manual . . . a seminal new work not only for historians and devotees of the Chicano Movement, and the UFW in particular, but for all those working for progressive causes. . . . The blend of personal and professional narratives with their historical context in Beyond the Fields has something to offer the neophyte and battle-weary alike.”—Susan Marie Green The Sixties
“Shaw’s book is the product of extensive research, and it’s invaluable for anyone interested in the evolution of unionization over the past forty years.”—T. A. Frank The Washington Monthly
“A useful resource for anyone interested in organizing, activism, or social movements -- whether because the Obama campaign has made these things freshly relevant or due to a longer-standing interest.”—Misslaura Daily Kos
“Shaw examines the enduring influence of the United Farm Workers’ model of grassroots organization, which he pointedly credits with the majority of labor’s successes since the 1960s and a wellspring of 21st-century movements for democratic rights.”—Publishers Weekly
“Invaluable for anyone interested in the evolution of unionization over the past forty years.”—The Washington Monthly
“Shows the enduring value of the UFW’s approach of rank-and-file organizing, consumer appeals and the spiritual backdrop to justice on the job and in the community. That lasting influence remains alive as a wellspring for many who struggle for reform and democracy in the 21st century.”—Bill Knight Labor
“[An] important study.”—Steve Early Z Magazine
“A thoughtful, informative, and provocative book . . . it recognizes and pays homage to the invaluable work and contributions of these intrepid reformers and activists, past and present.”—Juan R. García Journal Amer Ethnic History
“Shows the enduring value of the UFW’s approach of rank-and-file organizing, consumer appeals and the spiritual backdrop to justice on the job and in the community. That lasting influence remains alive as a wellspring for many who struggle for reform and democracy in the 21st century.”—Bill Knight Labor
“Shaw’s book provides valuable history to guide activists in the battles to come, and is an inspiring read.”—Chris Tiedemann Talking Union Blog
“A useful resource for anyone interested in organizing, activism, or social movements -- whether because the Obama campaign has made these things freshly relevant or due to a longer-standing interest.”—Misslaura Vot3r Blog
“Shaw does a stellar job of writing the history of the UFW and its key figures. . . . Shaw's timely look back at the farmworker movement reminds us what solidarity and sacrifice mean, offering both lessons learned and strategies that can still work for us.”—Victor Corral Colorlines: Race Culture Action
The UFW and the movements that grew from it were as significant as [this book claims. It gives] us a more serious and reflective account than perhaps was possible during the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s.—Labor Studies Journal
"If the Documentation Project could enforce a required reading list, Randy Shaw's Beyond the Fields
would top the list. For former UFW Volunteers, whether their service was one month, one year, or a decade, Randy Shaw's book is a MUST READ."—LeRoy Chatfield, Farmworkers Documentation Project
"An important, stunningly original, and forcefully argued book."—Ruth Milkman, Director of the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations and author of L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement
"The most powerful social earthquake in California history struck the farm town of Delano in 1965 and, as Randy Shaw explains in this fascinating, invaluable study, its aftershocks are still shaking workplaces and elections across America."—Mike Davis, author of In Praise of Barbarians
"Offers a powerful and moving account of how the UFW transformed people's lives, instilling a lifetime commitment to social justice. Shaw shows how the spirit, strategies, and tactics of the UFW in its heyday still provide workers, immigrants, faith-based activists and others seeking social justice with a roadmap to win local struggles and national campaigns. If you want to understand the roots of 'Si se Puede' (Yes, We Can), read this book."—Fred Ross, Jr, UFW community and labor organizer
When Cesar Chavez decided in 1962 to pursue the impossible dream of organizing California's farmworkers, he knew firsthand the difficult plight of those working in the fields. Chavez's family had moved to California and become farmworkers in 1937, after financial difficulties caused them to lose their Arizona ranch. Eleven-year-old Cesar was soon exposed to the sight of farmworkers bathing in and drinking from irrigation ditches and living on river banks or under bridges. He saw that a typical farmworker "home" was a shack built of cardboard cartons and linoleum scraps or a tent made of gunny sacks. For farmworkers living in labor camps, plumbing facilities were inadequate or nonexistent; often, fifty to a hundred families shared one faucet. Years later, Chavez recalled that the camps' toilets were "always horrible, so miserable you couldn't go there." Although farmworkers spent their days in fields rich with fruit and vegetables, they lived in constant hunger. Most survived on beans, fried dough, dandelion greens, and potatoes. Working as stoop laborers in 100-degree heat was hard enough, but growers also forced farmworkers to use the short-handle hoe. This backbreaking tool damaged the health of Chavez and generations of farmworkers, leading him to conclude at an early age that growers "don't give a damn" about farmworkers as human beings but instead see them "as implements." The combination of brutal working conditions, unsanitary living conditions, poor diet, and grinding poverty explained why farmworkers had short life expectancies, with many dying before age fifty.
Against this harsh backdrop, Cesar Chavez launched a movement that made history, leaving an indelible mark on the 1960s and 1970s. This book describes how Chavez and the farmworkers movement developed ideas, tactics, and strategies that proved so compelling, so original, and ultimately so successful that they continue to set the course for America's progressive campaigns—and will likely do so for decades to come. Chavez and the United Farm Workers also developed a generation of progressive leaders who are reshaping the American labor movement, building the nation's immigrant rights movement, revitalizing grassroots democracy, and are at the forefront of the struggle to transform national politics in twenty-first-century America.
While tens of thousands attended civil rights and antiwar marches in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the UFW that became the organizational home for a generation of young people eager to devote their lives to a righteous cause. Chavez's charismatic leadership and the long history of injustices perpetrated against farmworkers led many individuals with little or no activist experience to quit jobs, drop out of college, or delay career plans so that they could join others in working hundred-hour weeks for $5 a week plus room and board. Many of those who worked with the UFW from 1965 to 1980 underwent life-changing experiences. Contrary to conventional wisdom about activists from that era later becoming stockbrokers, an astonishing number of UFW alumni went on to devote their lives to winning social and economic justice for working people, particularly Latino immigrants.
The Delano grape strike, launched in the fall of 1965, proved to be a historic turning point for Chavez, California farmworkers, and America's future progressive movements. Before the strike, Chavez himself was largely unknown, and Americans paid little attention to the wages and working conditions of those who picked their fruit and vegetables. But on March 17, 1966, Chavez began a three-hundred-mile march, along with strikers and supporters, from the Central California town of Delano to the state capitol building in Sacramento. News photos of a limping and bleeding Chavez completing his pilgrimage on Easter Sunday captivated the nation. America not only learned about a strike against grape growers but also had its first glimpse of a man who would become the nation's most honored Latino.
Chavez and the farmworkers movement soon transcended their fight for justice in California's fields and came to embody the era's struggles against racism and poverty. Idealistic young activists seeking to work full time for social change flocked to La Causa (the cause) and joined with Latino and Filipino workers in creating a stirring national campaign for economic justice. During its heyday, the UFW was known for its nationwide grape, wine, and vegetable boycotts, for colorful mass marches, for chants of "huelga!" (strike!) throughout the fields of rural California, for its black and red Aztec eagle flag, and, most of all, for the determined and uncompromising leadership of Cesar Chavez. His framing of the farmworkers struggle in spiritual rather than simply economic terms, as a new national civil rights movement, fit perfectly with the times. Chavez was unlike any other labor leader of his time, and his personal commitment to voluntary poverty struck a chord among the young clergy and college students rebelling against rampant materialism.
Establishing a farmworkers union seemed to be an impossible dream, but Chavez and the UFW developed a range of new strategies and tactics for its fulfillment. He began by engaging in the most painstaking organizing campaign ever directed at Mexican immigrant farmworkers, seeking supporters one on one and house to house. Knowing that farmworkers could not win this fight on their own, Chavez then broke from labor tradition and recruited young outsiders looking to make a difference in the world. The result was an unlikely alliance of Latino and Filipino farmworkers, migrant ministers and progressive priests, and former college students of various ethnicities. Chavez helped to forge La Causa into the most powerful farmworker movement in American history.
By 1972, the UFW had contracts with 150 growers and an estimated membership of fifty to sixty thousand, of which thirty thousand were year-round workers while others worked only during the harvest season. For the first time in the long, tortured history of California agricultural labor, those who picked the nation's fruits and vegetables had rest breaks, safe drinking water, and toilets; and they earned wages that enabled them to settle down and perhaps even to buy modest homes rather than migrating to follow the crops. In addition to bringing historically high wages, benefits, and improved working conditions, the UFW also heightened farmworkers' self-esteem. A group that had long been looked down on as powerless had forced America's largest growers to the bargaining table and now demanded respect.
In 1975, ten years after the Delano grape strike began, California enacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first legislation of its kind in the country. After more than seventy years of struggle, the state's farmworkers had finally won a remarkable victory, securing many of the same labor protections that industrial and factory workers had won in the 1930s. Passage of the act was a remarkable victory for Chavez, the farmworkers movement, and the millions of Americans and Canadians who supported the boycotts and La Causa. Following the enactment of this legislation, union elections were quickly scheduled on more than six hundred farms, and the UFW won nearly all of them.
In 1979, the union engaged in a massive lettuce strike, supported by more than twenty-five thousand farmworkers marching for justice, and won another huge victory. By the start of 1980, the fastest UFW lettuce pickers could earn as much as $20 an hour, a wage close to that of unionized manufacturing workers. UFW members had paid vacations, paid overtime, unemployment benefits, and health insurance for their families—benefits long denied agricultural workers. A group that had begun with Cesar Chavez holding house meetings and collecting $3.50 in monthly dues stood poised to become California's most powerful union and a leading statewide vehicle for economic justice and progressive reforms. And since Chavez had never lost sight of farmworker problems in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington, many saw the success in California spreading to other states, triggering a powerful new national movement for greater social and economic fairness.
But the 1979 victory in the lettuce fields proved to be the high point of the UFW's success. Instead of sparking a nationwide campaign for a national farmworkers union, the UFW soon began a steady decline. Most of the key figures who had built the union left the organization between 1977 and 1981. By 2006, the UFW had no table grape contracts, and membership had fallen as low as seven thousand, compared to the high of sixty thousand in 1972. Sadly, some believe that wages and working conditions for farmworkers today lag farther behind those of other workers than they did in 1965, when the Delano grape strike began.
The UFW's steep decline has not erased the name of Cesar Chavez from public consciousness. To the contrary, Chavez remains America's most famous Latino. He holds a permanent place in many U.S. history books; schools, parks, roads, and community centers across the country bear his name. California has established a state holiday to celebrate Chavez, and a campaign is growing to create a national holiday in his honor. But his accomplishments have become frozen in the past. While Chavez is credited for inspiring generations of Latinos, he is viewed as an icon of a bygone era, whose legacy—the building of the UFW—has been wrongly defined (and limited) by the union's steep membership decline since 1981. But measuring Chavez's ongoing legacy on the basis of UFW membership is both misleading and inaccurate. This framing ignores the extent to which UFW alumni brought the ideas, tactics, and strategies of the farmworkers movement to subsequent progressive campaigns. The story of how these ideas are profoundly influencing America's movements for social and economic justice has not been told.
This book seeks to tell that story. I argue that, from the reshaping of the American labor movement to the building of state and national Latino political power, from the growing national struggle for immigrant rights to the transformation of California politics, and ultimately to the push to improve social conditions and life opportunities for tens of millions of Americans, the imprint of Cesar Chavez and the UFW is inescapable.
In 1960, two years before Chavez's efforts began, the powerful AFL-CIO launched a heavily funded effort to organize farmworkers. This effort relied on conventional union organizing tactics. The campaign went nowhere. In contrast, nearly all of labor's successful organizing campaigns since the 1960s have relied on the grassroots activist–style approach pioneered by the UFW. In fact, Chavez and the UFW originated or revived so many strategies and tactics now utilized by progressive movements and campaigns that it is hard to imagine how activists succeeded without such tools:
• Conducting consumer boycotts and corporate campaigns
• Building alliances between the religious community and labor unions
• Framing issues of economic justice in moral and spiritual terms, and engaging in activities such as spiritual fasts
• Encouraging civic participation among union members
• Emphasizing voter outreach and election day activities
• Building coalitions of labor, community groups, and students
• Generating media attention
• Using innovative forms of communication, such as "human billboards"
• Integrating cultural activities such as street theater into organizing efforts
In detailing the link between the UFW's ideas, tactics, and strategies and current progressive movements, the second major focus of this book will emerge: how UFW alumni have played pivotal roles in building and winning campaigns for social and economic justice for more than four decades. One would be hard-pressed to think of a progressive organization of the 1960s that produced more activists who went on to full-time careers working for social change or that had such a significant impact on America's social justice struggles. If there were a post–World War II Hall of Fame for activists in America, UFW veterans would dominate the inductees.
The long-term impact of the UFW's recruitment, training, and leadership development of a generation of young activists has long been overlooked. Mentors such as Fred Ross Sr., Gilbert Padilla, Marshall Ganz, and Cesar Chavez himself treated organizing as a profession, with a set of skills that had to be correctly implemented. A good heart was not enough; young people required training, on-the-job experience, and intensive feedback to nurture their talents. But the demands of the struggle were intense, and the UFW imposed a "sink or swim" philosophy, granting young organizers a degree of independence and flexibility unheard of in today's labor and social change organizations. These new organizers quickly learned how to build a broad coalition of community support, to recruit volunteers, and to mobilize activists for protests and rallies. Not all succeeded, and some of the best nearly quit before figuring out how to get the job done. But when UFW alumni with this remarkable training moved on to future jobs, they took the skills and strategies that brought unprecedented success to the farmworkers in the 1960s and 1970s with them.
From 1965 to 1979, the United Farm Workers of America was the nation's leading organizer training school. The union drew some activists caught up in the spirit of the '60s, but many joined in the early '70s, when signs of changing times were already evident. The synergy between new and veteran activists built the skill level of the former, enabling the UFW's talent pool to grow almost exponentially. Organizing for the UFW was both physically and mentally exhausting, but this rigor instilled activists with the confidence that they could win progressive campaigns, regardless of the apparent odds.
Cesar Chavez's organizing prowess has been eclipsed by his other accomplishments, but he started the movement by knocking on doors and holding house meetings, where he would ask people to pay $3.50 in monthly membership dues. He understood the frustrations and challenges of grassroots organizing, having walked into houses for meetings only to find the home vacant and the host family missing. His determined spirit infused the farmworkers movement, inspiring others to continue his work.
Today, the ongoing legacy of Cesar Chavez and the UFW has moved from the lettuce fields of rural California to the hospitals, luxury hotels, and office towers of urban America. This is where UFW veterans created the "Justice for Janitors" campaigns, where the UFW's influence is felt in the struggle to unionize hospital and hotel workers. This legacy is found in the massive immigrant rights marches of 2006, in organized labor's effective voter outreach efforts on election day, and in increased civic participation among immigrants and union members in a broad array of progressive movements and campaigns. The UFW grape and vegetable boycotts are long over, but their success spawned similar campaigns against Salvadoran coffee during El Salvador's bloody civil war, against South African apartheid, against the sale of infant formula in developing nations, and against the global corporations that now own America's luxury hotels.
Although the UFW had always practiced "social movement" unionism, it was not until 1996 that the AFL-CIO officially embraced the idea that labor unions should join with community groups in seeking broader social goals. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE are the two unions most responsible for this shift, and these are also the unions most influenced by UFW alumni. In 2005, these unions broke from the AFL-CIO to form Change to Win, designed to be a more activist-oriented labor federation that would prioritize organizing. In 2006, Change to Win supported UNITE HERE's national Hotel Workers Rising campaign, which began transforming hotel work into the type of well-paid, middle-class jobs long held by unionized autoworkers and steelworkers. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez gave the keynote speech at the campaign's national kick-off, and the fighting spirit of the farmworkers was evoked throughout the event.
Cesar Chavez sought to build a union, rather than remain a community organizer, because he saw unionization as the best strategy for improving living conditions for blue-collar Latino immigrants. The pursuit of this strategy for Latino empowerment did not end with his death or the UFW's decline. Chavez and the farmworkers movement overcame skeptics to prove that Mexican immigrants could be unionized, and organized labor in the twenty-first century continues to build on this tradition.
While Cesar Chavez and the UFW are often credited with bringing national attention to the problems of Mexican Americans, their ongoing impact on rising Latino political empowerment remains underappreciated. This contemporary legacy is evidenced by significantly greater rates of Latino voting in California, a sharp rise in the number of Latino legislators in that state, and the creation of a powerful voter outreach apparatus, which laid the groundwork for the election of Los Angeles's first Latino mayor in 2005. The UFW grassroots electoral model has expanded from California to other states with sizable Latino populations, dramatically increasing Latino voter turnout in both Colorado and Arizona during the 2006 midterm elections.
The millions of immigrant rights protesters who took to the streets in 2006 understood this connection between the farmworkers movement and the ongoing drive for Latino empowerment. These marchers needed no prompting before spontaneously adopting the UFW chant "sì se puede!" (yes, we can!) in cities across America. As huge throngs of Latino immigrant parents chanted, sang, and marched with their kids, it was clear that the UFW's tradition of nonviolent protests had helped legitimize the tactic and had bolstered undocumented Mexican immigrants' willingness to take to the streets to assert their rights. When Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign adopted the "Yes we can!" rallying cry, it highlighted how the UFW's chant has extended beyond Latinos to become an almost universal call for social and economic justice.
The opening chapter of this book focuses on the consumer boycott, a strategy that brought most of the volunteers into the movement and proved instrumental to the UFW's success. Chavez and the UFW reinvented this nineteenth-century strategy, and the union's grape boycott became the most successful consumer boycott in American history. The building of the boycott is the story of a mass movement, a phenomenon often dreamed of but seldom realized. Running a nationwide boycott with virtually no funds required recruiting a huge influx of volunteers, giving the era's young people, clergy, women, and Latino immigrants an entrèe into the labor movement.
Chapter 2 discusses how the UFW's boycott model was subsequently adopted and enhanced by other labor and progressive movements. These range from the high-profile J. P. Stevens textile boycott in the 1970s to the eight-year boycott of Campbell's Soup launched by the UFW-inspired Farm Labor Organizing Committee in 1979 to the 1989 boycott of Salvadoran coffee led by the activist group Neighbor to Neighbor, which helped bring a ceasefire in that nation's civil war. The chapter also illustrates how UNITE HERE's Hotel Workers Rising campaign has developed the UFW boycott model for effective use by social movements in the Internet age.
The building of a clergy-labor alliance and the use of the spiritual fast are the subjects of chapter 3. Photos of farmworker marches and rallies typically show supporters in religious garb, but many forget that when Chavez began organizing farmworkers in 1962, strong relationships between labor and the religious community had not existed for more than two decades. Chavez and the farmworkers had to build this relationship, overcoming indifference and even hostility from local churches. The UFW was the only workers' struggle to secure strong church backing until a coal strike in 1989. Today, many unions create alliances with local clergy as a matter of standard procedure, yet few credit Chavez and the UFW for rebuilding this critical alliance. One reason the UFW eventually won the committed involvement of so many members of the clergy was because the union framed many of its campaigns in religious or spiritual terms. Chapter 3 discusses two critical examples: the three-hundred-mile "pilgrimage" from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, and Chavez's twenty-five-day spiritual fast in 1968. Both tactics galvanized broad support for La Causa among the religious community in part by fusing traditional Catholic religious symbols with protest activities. While Chavez did not "invent" the spiritual fast—the Bible describes how Jesus fasted for forty days—he engaged in the most prominent American fast of the century and inspired others to use the tactic in future progressive campaigns.
Chapter 4 presents a case study of how the UFW's legacy influenced a 2006 union organizing effort by SEIU's Justice for Janitors in Miami, Florida. The "Yes We Cane" campaign at the University of Miami—its very name was a clever, English-language takeoff on Cesar Chavez's classic "sì se puede!" motto—included almost the full range of innovative UFW strategies. The organizing drive replicated the UFW's model of a clergy-worker-student alliance, included a spiritual fast, and involved such key former UFW figures as Dolores Huerta, SEIU international vice president Eliseo Medina, and the Reverend Wayne "Chris" Hartmire. The campaign's chief architect was Stephen Lerner, the SEIU Building Services leader, who had been trained as an organizer while working on the UFW boycott in New York.
Chapter 5 describes the UFW's leading role in battling the use of pesticides in the fields during the 1960s and its transformation of a local fight over spraying into a national campaign to ban DDT and other hazardous chemicals. The UFW became the first union to address environmental safety through labor contract provisions and pioneered strategies that forced growers to be more safety conscious. The chapter also discusses the UFW's efforts to secure support from mainstream environmental groups, which met with only mixed success. Nonetheless, the UFW's pesticide campaign was an early example of what emerged as the environmental justice movement, which targets the disproportionate health risks imposed on low-income people and communities of color.
Chapter 6 discusses the UFW's approach to political organizing and electoral work. During the 1960s and 1970s, the need to fend off political attacks from growers led the UFW to create a powerful vehicle for outreach to low-income and Latino voters. This grassroots electoral operation relied on door-to-door personal contacts, precinct organization, volunteer recruitment, and leadership development. The UFW brought a community organizing analysis to its electoral and legislative campaigns at a time when other American labor unions bypassed "people power," relying instead on campaign donations to favored politicians. In later years, UFW veterans would apply this electoral model to local and congressional races, including San Francisco mayoral races and the campaign of first-time candidate Nancy Pelosi, who became the first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. In the Pelosi campaign and others, UFW alumni enhanced the UFW grassroots electoral model, paving the way for its widespread future adoption by progressive campaigns.
One of the most positive political stories of the 1990s was the rise in Latino voting and political clout in Los Angeles, and throughout much of California. Chapter 7 explores the role of UFW alumnus Miguel Contreras as the leading architect of this electoral transformation. Contreras had learned how to run grassroots election campaigns from the UFW and through later campaigns that involved former UFW staffers Marshall Ganz and Jessica Govea. After he became head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in 1996, Contreras began to implement the UFW electoral model. Working in concert with UFW veteran Eliseo Medina and others, Contreras built a Latino voter outreach machine that transformed Los Angeles into a union stronghold. He also played a central role in creating the electoral infrastructure that elected Antonio Villaraigosa as Los Angeles's first Latino mayor in 2005 and that significantly strengthened the position of the Democratic Party statewide. Although most accounts attribute rising Latino voter turnout to a "hostile political environment" created by California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, this chapter examines statistical data from California and other states with large numbers of Latinos showing that electoral outreach by organized labor deserves far greater credit. Further, as Eliseo Medina and other UFW veterans have helped expand the group's grassroots electoral model to other states such as Arizona and Colorado, it has the potential to alter the future political landscape of the United States.
The ongoing struggle for immigrant rights is the focus of chapter 8. This chapter first addresses the often misunderstood stance of the UFW toward the rights of undocumented immigrants. Chavez and the union opposed strikebreakers of all races and backgrounds, including those who were undocumented; but the UFW's first constitution made no distinction between members who were undocumented and those who were legal immigrants, and Chavez strongly and publicly opposed the growers' exploitation of undocumented workers. The chapter also analyzes the crucial role of UFW alumni in campaigns that helped to build the national immigrant rights movement, including Fred Ross Jr., in the Active Citizenship Campaign, an Industrial Areas Foundation–sponsored effort uniting labor unions and the religious community to help immigrants apply for citizenship, demand expedited processing of citizenship applications, and turn newly naturalized Latino immigrants into registered, active voters. Another UFW veteran, Eliseo Medina, brought SEIU's resources into the ACC and was also a central figure in pressuring the AFL-CIO to shift its longstanding opposition to immigrant rights to a stance favoring legalization for the undocumented. Organized labor's membership and resources greatly expanded the immigrant rights movement, and the labor-sponsored Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride in 2003 proved to be a key stepping-stone to the massive protests of 2006.
Chapter 9 describes this public emergence of a powerful national immigrant rights movement and the dramatic increase in Latino voting in the November 2006 election. The tens of thousands of marchers in more than two hundred American cities chanting the UFW's rally cry "sì se puede!" demonstrated the deep connection immigrants felt between their actions and those of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement. Eliseo Medina spent 2006 as the chief congressional negotiator for the immigrant rights movement, and his vision has guided much of the labor movement's approach to immigration reform since the late 1990s.
Chapter 10 examines the decline of the UFW, which began in 1977, just as its fortunes appeared brightest. Chavez's actions played a major role in the exodus of most of the UFW's key organizers, attorneys, and worker leaders between 1977 and 1981. As UFW alumni went on to promote social justice beyond the fields, the UFW began a steady decline that has continued for more than two decades. While most books describing the UFW's current weakness blame hostile Republican politicians, it was the union's loss of the talented activists who had built it that led to its inability to secure contracts in the 1980s and beyond.
Chapter 11 includes a chart of UFW alumni who went on to work for social justice and profiles of several individuals whose life histories collectively offer a broader understanding of the quality of people who worked for the UFW in its heyday. Many UFW veterans stayed in the labor movement, while others organized low-income people in communities across America. Some made important cultural contributions, including Luis Valdez, whose Teatro Campesino brought a mythic brand of Chicano culture to the forefront of the UFW organizing drives and helped to politicize an emerging Chicano art world. This chapter describes people who dropped out of high school, quit their religious orders, left farm labor to become professional organizers, or otherwise redirected their lives to work with the UFW. The chapter also discusses how UFW alumni built the group Neighbor to Neighbor in the 1980s, which itself became an important training ground for young activists, who have continued to struggle for justice in the twenty-first century.
The concluding chapter explores a question that underlies this book: why haven't more incubators for young activist talent emerged since the UFW's peak? To put it another way, what options exist today for training potential activists in organizing, leadership, and developing strategies for social justice movements? Is volunteering full time for the modern equivalent of $5 a week plus room and board no longer viable in an era of increased living costs and crushing debt from student loans? Was there something about Cesar Chavez's charismatic leadership that made the UFW special, an attribute that cannot be replicated in an era where progressive activists seek nonhierarchical leadership and consensus decision-making? I have pondered these questions for many years, regretting that so many idealistic young activists who want to make a difference in the world have never found an organizational home for their talents. This chapter examines the factors that enabled the UFW to attract and retain so many committed young people and to turn them into lifetime activists for social and economic justice.
Today, out of the national spotlight, the struggle for justice in the twenty-first century has been building and is emerging in a new form. It is inspired and enriched by the innovative tradition of the UFW and led in part by a generation of leaders who were trained or influenced by Chavez and the farmworkers movement. It has been nearly half a century since Cesar Chavez and a band of seventy-five supporters began their pilgrimage from Delano, but the UFW's legacy remains a powerful force. In fact, the spirit of "sì se puede!" has never been stronger and still provides the clearest roadmap for achieving greater social and economic justice in the United States.