UFW Betraying Chavez’s Legacy?

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Kevin linked to this article over at the LA Times. The first in a four-part series, which highlights the activities and focus of the United Farm Workers, the article comes out pretty hard against the organization:

The current UFW leaders have jettisoned other Chavez principles:

The UFW undercut another union to sign up construction workers, poaching on the turf of building trade unions that once were allies.

The UFW forfeited the right to boycott supermarkets and stores, a tactic Chavez pioneered, in order to sign up members in unrelated professions.

And Chavez’s heirs broke with labor solidarity and hired nonunion workers to build the $3.2-million National Chavez Center around their founder’s grave in the Tehachapi Mountains, a site they now market as a tourist attraction and rent out for weddings.

A few hundred miles away, in the canyons of Carlsbad north of San Diego, hundreds of farmworkers burrow into the hills each year, covering their shacks with leaves and branches to stay out of view of multimilliondollar homes. They live without drinking water, toilets, refrigeration. Fireworks and music from nearby Legoland pierce the nighttime skies.

While the UFW is doing good work for poor Latinos across the country, the article says farmworkers are reaping few benefits:

Rather than making elections and contracts its primary focus, the UFW has concentrated on selling annual memberships for $40 a year to build grass-roots support. They remind workers that the laminated membership cards can be used for identification, something many undocumented workers lack.

Pedro Lopez is convinced that only contracts will protect the Santa Maria farmworkers. “Fear is the main problem,” Lopez said. “But with a good guide, they’d lose the fear. When they get results, workers aren’t scared.”

In the garage of the small house where Lopez is raising five children, across from acres of vegetable fields, a handful of leaders of the United Mixtec Farmworkers meet each Saturday to strategize. They are not quite sure how to proceed, but they know they’re on their own.

“The UFW says, ‘Organize yourselves first,’ “Lopez said. “People say, ‘If we have to do that anyway, what do we need them for?'”

The article is hefty, but well worth the time. I was saddened to hear about the consstruction of low-income housing, which was built with non-union labor, and of the poor conditions in which many of the farmworkers live.

It will be interesting to read the next three articles, especially the one that delves into the money side of the operation: “The family business: Insiders benefit amid a complex web of charities.”

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