For farm workers: A year of gains; more struggles ahead

By Marilyn Bechtel, in People's Weekly World,
8 April, 1995

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hundreds of residents of San Francisco's Mission neighborhood joined with trade union leaders and dignitaries March 31 to honor Cesar Chavez, farm workers' and civil rights leader, and to dedicate the former Army Street as Cesar Chavez Street in his memory.

The occasion also celebrated the gains won by farm workers since the United Farm Workers launched an organizing drive with a historic 24-day, 343-mile march from Delano to Sacramento a year ago. The dedication was one of many celebrations of Chavez' birthday throughout California and the nation.

Chavez "understood from the beginning that the only answer in agriculture to organized wealth is organized labor," John F. Henning, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, told the audience. "Cesar was working against all the tide of history when he brought the abandoned farm workers together in the name of a union and wrote a history that no other American labor leader had ever achieved. He was a great American ..."

UFW organizer Eva Royale appealed for support for the mushroom workers in the Watsonville-Salinas area. She highlighted the struggle of the workers at Ariel Mushroom, which is refusing to negotiate a first contract although 88 percent of workers voted for UFW representation. She also urged the audience to continue to support the grape boycott to aid the UFW's drive to end the use of the cancer-causing and birth defect-causing pesticides.

The UFW reports it has negotiated 23 new contracts in the past year. It has also won eight straight elections in that time, and is bargaining for pacts with another 30 growers. Two new contracts have been signed in the last month -- one covering 1,400 workers at Bear Creek Productions Co., the world's largest rose grower.

A tremendous struggle is underway in southern California's Ventura County, where the union is pressing Oceanview Produce Co., a Dole subsidiary, for a first contract after winning an election last May, and contesting the company's post-election firing of half the 600 workers. "We've been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on Dole to get the contract," UFW Regional Director Mario Brito told the World by telephone. "In the southern California area, supporters of the union have signed over 50,000 postcards urging Dole to negotiate in good faith."

Brito said he had just learned of a new work stoppage by strawberry workers seeking a union. "So just in brief," he said, "I could say that the farm workers are in a serious fight in different companies. We're definitely on the go here!"

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