Sunday, January 08, 2006

The plight of farmworkers and the failure of the UFW

The LA Times has begun an amazing series on the United Farm Workers union, its failure to maintain the vision of union organizing for farmworkers, its misleading of donors and workers, and the continued poor conditions and wages existing for farmworkers. It is required reading for every American.

Here is a companion article that embarrasses me because I live thirty-five minutes from Carlsbad, CA and did not know of the situations and problems being discussed in the article. When we lived in Ventura County, my wife and I gave to local organizing unions in the fields and showed up for vigils and rallies. That was because we were able to learn about it from our local newspaper. Here, in San Diego, it took the Los Angeles Times to inform us things are even worse for people in Carlsbad--a town which is usually thought of as a wealthy community.

The reason union organizing is so important is that it is the best form of self-help. Yes, it may squeeze some profits at the top, as if that's a bad thing. And yes, it may cause a slight rise in the cost of fruits and vegetables. But even that needs a perspective that it is cheaper to pay a little more for oranges and peaches than pay for these workers having to visit hospital emergency rooms for emergencies when, if they had a decent wage and medical benefits, they could have seen a doctor before their problem became an emergency. The extra costs of schooling and prisons for those children who do not develop healthy outlooks on life is a cost that could be deadly if any of us draw the wrong card.

When people tell me, "Americans won't work at those jobs--and that's why growers have to hire illegal immigrants..." I respond, if you paid people a wage commensurate with the back breaking nature of those jobs, and provided medical benefits, American citizens would rush to fill those jobs. Growers may individually consist of nice people, but the business they are in makes them evil.

Final comment: For those sympathetic to the UFW who believe this series of articles is misleading or wrong, I would ask you to get to a library and look up an article that appeared in The Nation around 1990. It was about the same thing that was happening in Cesar Chavez's last couple of years among us. It created much outrage in the union community at the time, but it was spot on in its call for the UFW to re-focus on union organizing. It also led to a resurgence of such organizing in the 1990s. It now appears that since the late 1990s, the UFW has reverted to its days in the late 1980s when it gave up on organizing.

This is a microcosm of the fight led by Andy Stern at the SEIU and others who left the AFL-CIO over the future of unions in America. As with Andy Stern, I am a firm beleiver that the job of unions, in these times, is not to give to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). The job of unions, in these times, is to organize workers to secure a portion of the profits due them as workers and, as a consequence, allow those workers to become part of an open, vibrant organization that will turn out for, and produce candidates who support increased minimum wages, national health insurance programs, a humane foreign policy and trade policy that has a goal of helping people, not international corporations, etc. Our entire political discourse and apparatus is ass-backwards when it begs for money from nice bankers and businesspeople who think it's more important to let two homosexuals marry each other than the issues I've just mentioned. Sorry, it just isn't. Most of these people who live in the shacks of Carlsbad and elsewhere aren't homosexual and their status as hetero- or homosexual isn't why they live in those shacks.


At January 10, 2006 at 3:03:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mitch. I think this Carlsbad group might be the best use of my pro bono time later this year once the baby figures out how to sleep through the night. Keep the blog going, I really enjoy it.

Sean G

At January 10, 2006 at 7:32:00 PM PST, Anonymous Betsy L. Angert said...

Dear Mitchell . . .

Your asides, explaining the value of unions are wonderful. Sadly, in the last two decades, even staunch Democrats have said to me, they do not want to pay union dues. Liberals have been heard to say, "What has the union done for me?" Too many seem to have forgotten. They are not tress; they are part of the forest.

"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."
Shakespeare: Hamlet, IV, c. 1601
To being the best and then growing beyond . .
Betsy L. Angert


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