Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Cesar Chavez Legacy

The Los Angeles Times ran an investigative series of articles by Miriam Pawel concerning problems within the United Farm Workers Union. The articles entitled, UFW: A BROKEN CONTRACT, shows the UFW in a very bad light and echo findings of other previous articles which contained disparaging remarks toward the UFW. It is noted on the LA Times site that the quotes and historical references used in the articles are drawn from letters, board minutes, memos and statements and tape recordings made during the 1970s and 1980s. It is also noted that this related material can be found within the UFW archives at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Here are the articles from the LA Times (and yes they do require registration):

Some have accused Miriam Pawel's four part series in the Los Angeles Times as lacking historical perspective. And the United Farm Worker's Union has issued a preliminary statement with a promise for a more detailed refutation.
The following quote is from this month's online edition of Monthly Review which has a reprint of Michael Yates' article from The Nation. Yates was a volunteer within the Farm Worker Movement back in the 70's, and is currently an associate editor for Monthy Review.
An argument can be made that the United States much more desperately needs a social movement than it does another trade union, though a better case can be made that both are necessary prerequisites for social change. In any case, it must be understood that unions and movements are not the same; they must coexist and cooperate, but they also must have considerable autonomy. By their nature, unions have to be more narrowly defined than movements; they serve basically as defensive agents in the fight against employers. Movements, on the other hand, must be more broadly based, offensive organizations, trying to forge a new society. It would seem impossible for either to function effectively if both are controlled by the same person, and neither will last very long if founded upon personal rule of a charismatic leader. - Michael D. Yates (1977)

Yates has written extensibly and is considered a radical economist and a labor educator. Left Hook has an interview with Yates online and his on-going autobiography is entitled Working to Live, Living to Work.

Now while embroiled within all the negative publicity, the UFW has decided to break away from the AFL-CIO and is joining the Change to Win Coalition. How this will all play out is indeed questionable but the history of the UFW and Cesar Chavez has inspired millions of people in their fight for social justice and civil rights, through the practice of nonviolent tactics such as fasts, boycotts, and strikes. Cesar Chavez been called an ordinary person who did extraordinary things, and he has even been heralded as a real American Hero. I have always had much respect for Chavez and he has definitely been one of my heroes. Perhaps having a single charismatic leader does have a vulnerability, but there is much to be said for leaders such as Chavez and Martin Luther King. There was so much inspiration and so many other carriers of the torch have been born out of their dedication and organizing. So in respect of Cesar and the movement he was such a huge part of, I would love to see the UFW become very transparent concerning all these allegations of misdealings with funders, donors, and it's dues paying members. It's the least any organized labor union can do for it's members...open the doors of the organization and let the light of truth be known! I long for the day that our labor organizations will respond to their membership's cry for transparency and we will hear them utter the words of Chavez, Si Se Puede!

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