HONOR: Working Together For Something Better

FARM WORKERS STRIKE

“It was a training ground for organizers who spread to hundreds of different fields – a large number of Latino legislators worked with the UFW,” Campbell said. “The strike and boycott awakened Latinos, ‘the sleeping giant of California politics,’ triggering the Chicano movement and the creation of bilingual education departments.”

By Stephan Magagnini - Sacramento Bee

On Sept. 8, 1965, Lorraine Agtang, her family and other Filipino grape pickers walked out of their fields to protest a cut in their pay from $1.40 to $1.25 an hour. Twelve days later, labor organizer Cesar Chavez and more than 1,200 Mexican workers joined the strike that led to the first United Farm Workers contracts with growers in 1970.

This weekend, hundreds of former and current labor activists, both Filipino and Mexican American, flowed into the Central Valley town of Delano where 50 years ago, they launched the Delano grape strike that altered the course of American history.

“I was a kid, only 13,” recalled Agtang, who was born and raised in a labor camp 2 miles east of Delano. “It was midmorning when picketers showed up where we were picking grapes for Giumarra growers and my dad, Platon Agtang, said there’s a strike and we should leave.”

The Sacramento resident, now one of the last remaining Filipino grape strikers, was one of the only women who joined Larry Itliong, the cigar-chomping, fearless labor pioneer, under the banner of his Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee.

Sacramento State professor emeritus Duane Campbell, who worked for the UFW from 1972 to 1980, said the strike “totally changed labor politics and Latino politics.” Inspired by the events of that September and the impact of the international table grape boycott that followed, thousands of people of different races and ethnicities devoted their lives to activism and nonviolent protest.

“It was a training ground for organizers who spread to hundreds of different fields – a large number of Latino legislators worked with the UFW,” Campbell said. “The strike and boycott awakened Latinos, ‘the sleeping giant of California politics,’ triggering the Chicano movement and the creation of bilingual education departments.”

UFW spokesman Marc Grossman said those who can trace their political activism to the grape strike include the late Joe Serna, who went on the become mayor of Sacramento, and the late artist and activist José Montoya, founder of the art collective the Royal Chicano Air Force. Alex Edillor, who helped organize the weekend’s commemorations, called the strike “one of the most significant social justice movements in American history” and praised the courage of the Filipino farmworkers, many in their 50s then, who were brave enough to launch the strike before Chavez and their Mexican colleagues were ready.

When Agtang saw Filipinos on the picket lines, she said, “that affected my life story – I knew the Filipinos were hard-working people not bent on civil disobedience, but it was pretty amazing when I learned they were standing up for what they wanted.”

As a result of their actions, some were beaten and evicted from their homes; others clashed with law enforcement and Mexican strikebreakers brought in by the growers, but they stood strong.

Agtang, whose dad was Ilocano, a Filipino ethnic group, and whose mother was Mexican, said that before the strike, “the growers would pit Filipinos against Mexicans, saying the other group was working harder, so there was always this kind of competitiveness, but what made an impression on me was seeing Filipinos and Mexicans working together for better wages. READ MORE

 

Primary Source

PDF from Time Magazine Vol. 60, No. 17 April 29, 1966 CHAVEZ TIME MAGAZINE


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.