MATTAWA, Washington - About 1,500 farmworkers, agricultural warehouse workers, and their supporters marched and rallied here August 10 under banners and signs in Spanish that read: "Union Yes!," "An organized worker is a respected worker," and "Fair wages in the apple industry."
This was the largest of several marches for farmworkers rights in Washington state this spring and summer. A rally followed the spirited five-mile march. Several Mexicans and Chicanos joined the march as it passed through their trailer park. Speakers included Toma's Villanueva, former president of the United Farm Workers (UFW) in Washington state. "We are here to demand respect, dignity, and a better life for workers and their families," Villanueva said.
Other speakers were Rosario Vicente Caldillo of the UFW organizing committee in Mattawa; Mari'a Gonza'lez, a worker at Washington Fruit Warehouse, one of the targets of a Teamster organizing drive currently underway in the Yakima valley; state representative Phyllis Kinney; Roberto Maestras of El Centro de La Raza community center in Seattle; and Jeff Johnson of the state labor council of the AFL-CIO.
When UFW organizer Lupe Gamboa asked those assembled "How many here today are farmworkers?", about a quarter of the crowd raised their hands. Gonzalo Guille'n, another speaker, pointed with admiration to the strike against UPS currently taking place as an example for farmworkers. Guille'n was a strike activist in 1987, who took part in activities to support about a dozen strikes by farmworkers in the Yakima valley that year.
Almost every speaker referred to recent victories for farmworkers. In June of this year, for example, during the apple thinning season, unorganized workers at R.T. Perry and King Fuji Ranch stopped work, set up picket lines, and called the UFW to join them in demanding a wage increase. They picketed for a few days while negotiations went on with the bosses. At both sites strikers scored victories and won $1 an hour wage increases for the workers.
A central demand of the August 10 rally was raising the rates apple pickers get paid for every bin of fruit, which have remained virtually the same for 20 years. Workers are demanding $15 per bin for red apples, and $20 per bin for golden and green apples.
Socialist Workers candidates in Seattle, including Scott Breen running for mayor, Roberta Scherr for city council, and Chris Rayson for port commissioner joined the march and rally. They urged solidarity and support for workers in the Yakima valley, and for Teamsters members striking UPS.
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