Wednesday, January 11, 2006

L.A.Times writer assaults UFW history

I author a second blog, where I deal with public schools and poor media coverage of public education.

Now, A series on the UFW has been published by the Los Angeles times written by Miriam Pawel. It has a great deal of information. It also has some strong conspiracy theories and denunciations.
It seems appropriate while recognizing the validity of some of the information to question and dispute other information. See below.,0,6620187.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Quotes and historical references are drawn from letters, board minutes, memos and statements and tape recordings made during the 1970s and 1980s. The material is housed in the UFW archives at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit.

PART ONE: The UFW betrays its legacy as farmworkers struggle.

PART TWO: The family business: Insiders benefit amid a complex web of charities.

PART THREE: The roots of today's problems go back three decades.

PART FOUR: A UFW success story — but not in the fields.

Second story:
This article is rather similar to the piece written by Marc Cooper and posted here about 3 months ago.
Major parts of the article are accurate. Some are accurate but taken out of context.
It is clearly true that farmworkers throughout California lack basics, water, housing, good wages, health care, et.
The UFW has not been able to win contracts in most of these farms. So, the conditions have not improved. It would be nice if the UFW could win these fights. They have not. They are very weak, for a number of reasons.

Lets look at some context. What % of carpenters are in unions? Non union carpenters are exploited. Is that the fault of the Carpenters Union? Non union grocery clerks are exploited. Is that the fault of the UFCW?

Many of the problems listed here are the result of a de unionized society---particularly in farm labor.

Now, beyond context: Lets look at this:

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

This is a statement of a position that is not clear about what the actual issue was.
Carpenter labor in California is largely non union, particularly in private housing. In the last two decades this work has become dominated by Mexican laborers working with contractors. (BTW; my son is in the Carpenters Union and I follow this)

The case referred to, I think, is where a group of construction laborers approached the UFW to represent them. The Carpenters Union is almost absent from the field. So, the specific complaint would be that the UFW responded to a request to organize from a group of Spanish speaking workers. Yes, it was the Carpenters usual jurisdiction.
In part four the author refers back to building housing without using union carpenters. That may be what the author is referring to.

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

Again, poor writing or poor understanding. Yes, we used the boycott. And, a secondary boycott is prohibited by the NLRA.
So, I guess what she is referring to is by accepting workers in other trades ( ie. the handfull of carpenters) the UFW comes under the NLRA and would be prohibited from secondary boycotts. Well, that is a leap.
I worked for 4 years on the second boycott and supported the subsequent boycotts. The UFW accepted and wrote the California Farm Labor act ( there is no national legislation) because the boycotts were not winning.
Declaring a boycott is easy. Winning one is hard.

The essays on the fund raising of the UFW seems accurate.
As Marc Cooper asserted there are a number of fundraising venues and most are employing Chavez family or close friends.
That is, the UFW has become like many other groups ; NOW. the Sierra Club, the Republicans, the Democrats, the most of the NGO world., etc that spend a great deal of time on the fundraising.
And, the UFW has added some hiring of family members. Now, that is a shock. The part three article goes into great detail on this.

That the UFW has made little progress with the newer immigrants, most of whom are MiXTEC, often not Spanish speaking, and are currently often the majority in farm working fields is accurate.
No one has successfully organized these folks. There are a dozen or more local service centers run by volunteers and church people, but no union density at present.

I would say the writer got part of it right, blamed the UFW for the non unionization of farmworkers which is stretch, and got some of it wrong.
As another example, most newspapers including the LA times are now non union. Whose fault is that?

The writer expects the UFW to do more and be more others. That is not reasonable.
The reports on UFW political mobilizations are essentially correct.

All of labor has suffered a severe collapse. The UAW, the Steelworkers, the Teamsters and the UFW.
Since the UFW was always small and weak, the relative collapse has weakened it even more than the others.

To see the many places where the ufw is organizing and successful see their web page at

The major services for farmworkers, English classes, legal protection, housing, etc. have always been provided by social service agencies, not the UFW. For example, major services are provided by Legal Services.

So, Farmworkers reap little. And, the UFW has strayed from its roots.
That could be called adaptation.
But there is little evidence that this is a causal relationship. Both events occurred. Farmworkers reap little. Yes.

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