In 1966, Cesar Chavez led striking farm workers on a 340-mile pilgrimage to Sacramento. They'd had enough of poverty wages, long hours, a lack of fresh drinking water, pesticides, heat. More important, they wanted to show that their strike was about justice and dignity. They did.
The march started in Delano, where grape farmers struck for five years, ultimately winning a first contract for more than 10,000 workers. The march ended at the Statehouse steps in the hopes that Gov. Pat Brown would sponsor a bill to grant union rights to farm workers.
Writes Dick Meister in the San Francisco Chronicle,
(Brown) refused, despite the urgings of more than 8,000 UFW members and supporters who gathered outside the Capitol at the end of the 25-day march.
Farm workers did not get those rights until his son won passage of the bill – the Agricultural Labor Relations Act or ALRA – that granted the rights nine years later after a week long march from San Francisco to the Modesto headquarters of the huge Gallo winery, which had rebuffed vineyard workers' demands for a union representation election.
More than 15,000 people marched into Modesto, convincing Jerry Brown and state legislators that the UFW retained a sizable and influential constituency and great organizational ability. That had very much to do with passage of the ALRA and the consequent success of the UFW in winning union contracts. The law, however, was barely enforced by Democrat Brown's successors as governor, Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson and Democrat Gray Davis.
Farm workers are again marching to Sacramento, this time from Madera, 200 miles away. They're marching because they're still dying in the fields. They want to persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to support the Fair Treatment for Farmworkers Act, which would make it easier for them to join a union, and another bill that would grant them overtime. Ironically, Brown vetoed the bill in June.
Teamsters from Local 601 in Stockton helped put up the marchers and joined them Wednesday in the march to Sacramento. Doug Bloch, Teamsters Joint Council 7 political director, explains why:
We work in canneries side by side with United Farm Workers members and nonunion people who would benefit from the bill. Local 601 has a heavily Latino membership. They go to the same schools and the same churches as the farm workers. Our members are canning fruits and vegetables that nonunion folks are picking. The farm workers pick it, we process it.
Teamsters Joint Council 7 membership in the agricultural industry is huge, ranging from the Pacific Ocean to Yuma, Ariz. The Central Valley is the heart of California agriculture, and the Teamsters are the largest union in the area with 40,000 members. Teamsters process fruits and vegetables, bag lettuce and deliver produce, dairy, meat and poultry.
Rome Aloise, Joint Council 7 president, will join the last leg of the march on Sunday from South Side Park to the Capitol. More Teamsters and Teamster trucks -- including a brand-new one from Joint Council 7 -- will be at the rally at the capitol on Sunday.
You can help the farm workers by signing the petition here.
Si se puede!