Amy Krause

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'Honoring' Cesar Chavez
Farm workers still had to go to work

By Amy Krause



This past weekend, the citizens of California celebrated the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and farm worker activist.  Actually, it was the state employees who honored him by taking a paid day off of work.  Ironically, the farmers and field workers who Chavez allegedly fought for still had to go to work. 

This holiday alone is a ridiculous idea...honoring someone by taking a day off of work, while "his people" are still out in the fields.  But even worse are the misconceptions and disputed accomplishments of Cesar Chavez.

Throughout California, many growers and farmers strongly dispute the extent of Chavez's deeds and challenge the UFW's contentions that Chavez improved the conditions of farm workers.  The idea that he was a great man who is worthy of a state holiday is simply ludicrous.

To begin with, it is hard to believe that Chavez was the spokesperson for the farm workers' of California because it is difficult to find a farm worker who has anything good to say about him or the UFW.  In fact, when the bill to make Chavez's birthday into a state holiday was being voted on by the legislature, the only known lobbying done by actual farmer workers was a petition signed by 400 Latino farm laborers who requested a "no" vote.  This petition that was sent to legislators said:  "We are farm workers.  We are of Mexican heritage.  We are now Americans and Californians.  We are taxpayers.  ...Cesar Chavez may have accomplished some good things for some people but he is no hero for us.

The UFW has never represented a majority of California farm laborers and many who did belong to the union voted to disassociate themselves from Chavez's union. It is probable that they left the union because of its history of intimidation of farm laborers, violence toward illegal immigrant workers and a boycott strategy based on a pesticide hoax that cost thousands of farm workers their jobs. 

The more than 2000 pages of declassified FBI files on Chavez show a lengthy investigation of communist activity and reveal many incidents of violence directed against growers and farm workers who were reluctant to vote for a UFW contract.  The FBI files and press accounts describe beatings, overturned cars, throwing Molotov cocktails, torching fields, and other such tactics.

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Yet even more disturbing was the way that the UFW treated any threat to potential UFW farm jobs, especially women and undocumented Mexican workers.  In 1997, forty female UFW members filed a lawsuit against the union for its alleged practice of urging female members to use sex as a recruiting tool.  Also, in the mid 1980's, Chavez's brother, Manuel, was the head of an effort to attack illegal workers crossing the border into Arizona—with his brother's blessing.  According to the Village Voice, UFW thugs manned the border area, known to UFW as "the Wet Line."  Former Yuma County sheriff Travis Yancey stated, “they'd catch any 'wet' coming through and beat the hell out of them."  Also, in the 1970s Chavez became a follower of a group called Synanon, long thought by observers to be a cult that had on occasion used violence and intimidation to silence its enemies.  Through all of this, and who knows what else, many people still mistake Chavez for being a peaceful man.  Indeed, on the Assembly floor just this last Thursday, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas said, "Cesar Chavez fought with his mind and his heart and not with his fists." 

Yet another much forgotten fact is that Chavez misused hundreds of thousands in both federal and state dollars.  He would apply for grants to help farm workers, but use them for other purposes instead.  In 1980 the UFW was audited by the General Accounting Office and found them to be in massive violation of Federal guidelines.

So, on my paid day off I could not think of any better way to protest than to go into work anyway and write an article on how bad this state holiday is.  I am all for helping the hard working farmers and field workers in California, but there must be a much better way to do it than by paying state employees to take a day off and honoring a man who did more bad than good.

Amy Krause is legislative director  for a California State Assemblyman.

Buy Books 

The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement
by Susan Ferriss, Ricardo Sandoval

With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today
by Daniel Rothenberg

Flags of Our Fathers
by James Bradley

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© Amy Krause, 2001, All rights reserved.

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