Viva Cesar Chavez!
March 31, 2005
On March 31st, many individuals, several counties, and seven states across the U.S. honor the life and work of Cesar Chavez. Chavez contributed to enormous improvements in the working conditions of agricultural laborers in this country – today, he would have turned 78.
Cesar Chavez was born in 1927 in Yuma, Arizona – a second-generation American whose family spoke Spanish exclusively. He became a migrant laborer at age 10, after the Chavez family lost their land in the Great Depression. In the 1950s, Chavez became the director of the self-help Community Service Organization where he met Dolores Huerta, with whom he went on to establish the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962. In 1966, the NFWA became the United Farm Workers (UFW) and in 1972, the organization joined the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) as a member union . With Chavez as President, the UFW achieved significant rights for farm workers. These included negotiating and forcing (through strikes, fasts, and boycotts) the first union contracts with growers. The initial contracts required periods of rest, sanitation facilities, and protection from pesticides for workers – seemingly basic conditions that are often not met. The UFW also established the first farm worker union health and pension plans, and the first contracts banning sexual discrimination and harassment.
In 1998, when the UFW/AFL-CIO began a campaign to unionize laborers on strawberry farms, our own Swanton Berry Farm was the first in the United States to sign on. Since establishing the farm in 1983, Jim Cochran has been committed to both the environmental and social sustainability of his operation. Jim allowed the union access to his fields to speak with workers, who voted unanimously for a union contract. Unionization of Swanton’s workers meant that they were officially granted certain rights and ensured safe working conditions, decent wages, job security, vacation and holiday pay, a medical plan, and a retirement plan. Every year, the contract is re-written based on the needs of both workers and management, and renewed. Beyond unionization of its workers, part of the philosophy of Swanton is to involve employees in decision-making, share information, and cultivate a culture of respect and good humor on the farm.
Swanton Berry is a pioneer in other areas of their operation as well. The farm’s organic strawberry cultivation methods have proved very productive, and their success has inspired other growers to go organic. Several years of soil building precede any berry plantings, and crops are rotated around the fields to control diseases and pests. Since 1987, researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz have studied Swanton’s methods and reported them in various publications.
Learn more about Swanton Berry Farm.
To learn more about Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers Union, visit www.ufw.org.
Swanton Berry Farm will be at the market this weekend with Chandler strawberries, kiwis, artichokes, and strawberry and olallieberry jams!