UFW Celebrates 50th Anniversary with Membership Down by 85 percent

Farm Workers
Newport Beach, CA

The United Farm Workers celebrated in Delano their fiftieth anniversary of their founding over the weekend with red flags waving over a union that has shrunk by 85 percent.

With membership down to only 10,278, the United Farm Workers turned out 1,000 revelers to try to put on an enthusiastic face for their highly promoted fiftieth anniversary held at the Forty Acres headquarters site, just outside the California. The red flag waved and the crowd repeated the union’s copyrited chant, “Si se Puede.”

Although their first union president was Cesar Chavez, the UFW was a project of Fred Ross’ Community Service Organization that was affiliated and funded by Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation.

In 1947, Saul Alinsky hired Fred Ross to organize CSO chapters in Los Angeles’ eastside barrio. Ross hired Caesar Chavez as a trainee organizer in 1952. CSO activists helped 50,000 individuals obtain citizenship, registered 500,000 voters, and are credited with electing the first Hispanic to the Los Angeles City Council

César Chávez then worked with Fred Ross in developing twenty-two new Community Service Organization chapters in the Mexican American neighborhoods of San Jose. Fred Ross trained César Chávez in the grassroots, door-to-door, house meeting recruiting tactic. In 1959, Chávez was promoted to the rank of executive director of the CSO in 1959. Chavez moved to San Joaquin Valley in 1962 to live with his brother and start organizing farm workers.

Chavez founded the union to lead the fight to overturn ‘Public Law 78’, known as the Bracero Program passed in 1951 to provide temporary Mexican agricultural workers to growers for planting and harvesting. Although Public Law 78 stated that no Bracero could replace a domestic worker, it was rarely enforced.

Chavez called upon allies in other unions, in churches and in community groups affiliated with the growing civil rights movement, to put enough pressure on politicians to end the Bracero Program by 1964. Chavez designed the iconic UFW flag with an eagle designed as an inverted Aztec pyramid colored black to represent struggle of the workers, white circle for hope, and red for international sacrifice. By 1965, the Chavez led union had 1,200 members, but only 200 paid dues.

In Sept. 8, 1965, when unionized Filipino-American farmworkers walked out on Delano grape growers after being refused a pay raise from $1.20 an hour to $1.40. A week later, Mexican-American workers led by Cesar Chavez joined the strike and the organizations merged as the UFW.

Fred Ross became UFW organizer and cranked-up a classic Saul Alinsky media campaign that included what would be a five-year international consumer boycott of nonunion grapes to put pressure on growers. In 1970, the UFW signed contracts with growers to represent 70,000 farmworkers.

But due to Chavez’s bizarre management style, including starting a new religious order with workers joining communal farms, alienated farmworkers. Many moved over to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. When the first 5 year contract renewals came due in 1975, the UFW membership plunged to 6,000 and the Teamsters rose to 55,000.

Although UFW membership has never recovered, Saturday’s event in Delano included feisty speeches by Paul F. Chavez, son of Cesar Chavez, UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., according to the Fresno Bee. Current UFW President and Chavez son, Arturo Rodriguez, also gave an update to the union’s battle with Gerawan Farming Co.

Breitbart News reported in May that the California’s 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that the California’s “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” process that allowed a state appointed mediator to impose a binding contract on Gerawan Farms was unconstitutional.

Rodriquez railed against the Federal Court decision, but trumpeted a state court September 19 Administrative Law Judge decision that Rodriquez says supported the UFW.

Editor’s note: This report has been updated.