United Farm Workers

Session #8
Date: June 14, 2021

Key Topics: secondary constituency organizing; labor movement; creative tactics; race, culture and identity

Presenters: Alfredo DeAvila, UFW Boycott organizer and worked at the Texas Farm Workers Union; Andrea O’Malley and Carlos Munoz, UFW Boycott in Boston

Efforts to organize white farmworkers can be traced back to the 1930’s. In later years, these organizing efforts included Filipino, Japanese and Mexican workers. In the 1960’s there were successful efforts that showed the effectiveness of strikes to galvanize workers and win material gains for farmworkers.

The Grape Boycott campaign of the UFW was a campaign that built on those experiences, and took it further. The Grape Boycott campaign is a story the sheer willpower of people committed to dignity and fair treatment. It shined a light on the plight of farmworkers and turned into a national movement that exemplified how organizing makes the impossible possible. Among the lessons that we continue to draw from the Grape Boycott campaign is the lesson on irreverence. Previous efforts to organize farmworkers were unsuccessful in part because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protections did not include farmworkers. Ironically, it was the NLRB’s prohibition of secondary strike boycotts (in this case, markets selling boycotted products) and their inability to enforce that among farmworkers that proved to be “fissure” that in the end led to the UFW’s victory. The ability of the UFW to target stores – large and small – became the fist that cracked that fissure wide open and turned what would have been a labor dispute into a movement for civil rights.

Another lesson at the heart of the campaign was the simple belief that organizing is about creating relationships and letting people show up as themselves, as well as building community and organization around a struggle: Camaraderie and solidarity are vital to organizing, as is always continuing to develop leadership and commitment.

Alfredo De Avila reminds us:

“Movements are about people and about the whole. We cannot build a base in a community and change the situation by just the value of the tactics. It has to be how we develop our base and members to stand up and protest those things that they won to make sure they are impacted forever, because if not we can lose them just as easily.”

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