The California State Legislature recently passed — and the governor
signed — a bill declaring a new state holiday in honor of the late
Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union. The proponents
of this bill have argued that such a holiday is warranted since
California does not have a holiday in honor of any Latino. This is
certainly strange given California’s rich Latino heritage, but the
choice of Cesar Chavez is one many strongly disagree with. A holiday
honoree must be someone whose contributions to society are beyond
dispute and whose achievements are clear to all. A person of distinct
greatness.

While Chavez did accomplish some things of significance, much of what
he did is of great contention. A good deal of his image and legacy has
been shaped by Hollywood and a fawning media and, when his legacy is
examined in any detail, a dark side emerges. Many growers and farm
workers alike throughout California strongly dispute the extent of
Chavez’s alleged accomplishments, even challenging UFW’s contention that
Chavez improved the conditions of farm workers. There certainly is not a
consensus that he is a great man worthy of a state holiday. Perhaps a
better idea would have been a holiday in honor of California’s Hispanic
heritage.

To begin with, it’s hard to reconcile the mythology that Chavez was
the spokesperson for California’s farm workers when, in fact, it is
difficult to find farm workers who have anything good to say about him
or the UFW. Indeed, the only lobbying on the holiday bill I’m aware of
by actual farm workers was a petition signed by 400 Latino farm laborers
who were urging a “no” vote. I also talked to people who lead non-UFW
farm worker associations who hotly dispute the notion that Chavez or the
UFW ever represented their views and challenge much of the Chavez
mythology.

According to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board
documents, the UFW has never represented the majority of farm workers in
California. Even at its peak in the l970s, most observers believe the
UFW represented around 5 percent of the state’s farm workforce. A study
of UFW’s membership by Rob Roy of the Ventura County Agriculture
Association concluded that UFW’s present membership is less than one
half of one percent of California’s 900,000 farm workers. CALRB
documents show an unprecedented 48 decertifications of the UFW since
l978 by farm workers voting to disassociate themselves from Chavez’s
union. That is why Chavez’s much publicized marches and protests over
the last two decades were always dominated by professional activists and
liberal students from the cities, not farm workers.

Why the mass exodus from UFW? Simple. The UFW has a long history of
intimidation of farm laborers, violence toward undocumented workers and
a boycott strategy based upon a pesticide hoax that cost thousands of
farm workers their jobs.

As Gloria Campos of the Strawberry Workers and Farmers Alliance
stated, “They rely on college students and other unions to demonstrate
and carry their message for them. We the workers from the strawberry
fields tell our own story and reject their attack. The UFW is devious
and deceitful. … The UFW lies and encourages others to lie. The UFW
promotes boycotts which could eliminate our jobs.”

The petition sent to me by 400 farm workers made the same point: “We
are farm workers. We are of Mexican heritage. We are now Americans and
Californians. We are taxpayers. … Cesar Chavez may have accomplished
some good things for some people but he is no hero for us.”

People seem to forget that Latino farm workers organized anti-Chavez
rallies in the l960s that numbered in the thousands. They were
protesting UFW’s strategy of boycotting grapes based on the claim that
the pesticides used were dangerous to the farm workers’ health and
caused cancer in their children. This was the issue which first brought
Chavez to national prominence. However, while it was a clever media
ploy, it was a hoax that cost many farm workers their jobs.

Interestingly, as soon as the targeted grape grower signed a UFW
contract, the health concerns mysteriously disappeared. The UFW knew it
was a lie all along. Indeed, the California Environmental Protection
Agency conducted extensive tests and “found most table grapes from the
fields have no chemical residues. Residues on the rest were well within
allowable ranges. …”

Studies by the University of California and the United States
Department of Health and Human Services made similar conclusions. As to
the UFW charge that such pesticides were causing cancer in children,
that turned out to be a hoax as well. The California Department of
Health Services, Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Branch,
released a study that concluded, “the overall rate of childhood cancer
for the time period l980-l988 in the Four County Study area is not
unusual compared to rates elsewhere in California or the United States
… rates for children living in agricultural areas are not elevated.”

But the boycotts caught the fancy of a sympathetic Hollywood, and
soon union activists nationwide were initiating pressure campaigns
targeted at stores to stop carrying grapes. The real target, of course,
was growers who refused to sign contracts with the UFW. Many growers
lost business and laid off workers. Some eventually caved in under the
pressure.

But UFW’s tactics often went beyond pressure tactics. A search of
major newspaper archives from the ’60s and ’70s involving the UFW make
it clear that the UFW was a teamster type of union which did not
hesitate to use thuggery to achieve its ends. Even the declassified FBI
files on Chavez — a few thousand pages — reveal numerous incidents of
violence directed against both growers and farm workers reluctant to
vote for a UFW contract. The FBI files and press accounts describe
beatings, overturned cars, throwing Molotov cocktails, torching fields,
and other such tactics.

More disturbing was how the UFW treated women and undocumented
Mexican workers who threatened potential UFW farm jobs. In l997, forty
female UFW members filed a lawsuit against the union due to its apparent
practice of urging female members to use sex as a recruiting tool.
However, by far the darkest side of the UFW is its treatment of
undocumented workers. In the mid l980s, Chavez’s brother, Manual, headed
up an effort to attack illegal workers crossing the border in Arizona.
As reported by the Village Voice, UFW thugs manned the border area —
UFW called it “the Wet Line” — and as former Yuma County sheriff Travis
Yancey stated, “they’d catch any ‘wet’ coming through and beat the hell
out of them.” Former UFW staff member Gus Gutierrez said that Manual’s
goons “just went apes— … they just went wild.”

According to the Village Voice, “the UFW conducted a campaign of
random terror against anyone hapless enough to fall into its net.
Gutierrez later talked to officials on the Mexican side and had tales to
turn his stomach: rapes and castration, broomsticks with nails shoved up
people’s anuses.” Some workers ended up missing never to be found. When
alarmed UFW organizer Lupe Sanchez led a delegation to meet with Chavez
to inform him about the violence, he told them, “Manual has my
blessing.” Despite the liberal mythology that Chavez and the UFW helped
undocumented workers get their start, they not only beat them but even
held rallies outside INS offices around the country demanding crackdowns
on illegal aliens! And yet the liberals love Chavez. Go figure.

But this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Chavez
well. Chavez’s guru is not Gandhi, but rather Saul Alinsky, whose book,
“Rules for Radicals,” make it clear that violence is a tactic that can
be used to achieve your purposes. Chavez worked for Alinsky from l952 to
l962. In the 1970s Chavez became a follower of a group called Synanon,
long thought by observers to be a cult that had on occasion used
violence and intimidation to silence its enemies. The Village Voice
relates that when Synanon’s leader, Charles Dederich, was convicted of
conspiracy to murder an attorney by having a rattlesnake stuffed in his
mailbox, Chavez publicly supported Dederich. When Chavez started to
introduce some of Synanon’s mind control techniques to the high command
of UFW, scores of its brightest staff members resigned in protest.

There are other reasons why Chavez should not be honored with a
holiday. It is forgotten that Chavez masterminded the bilking of
hundreds of thousands in both federal and state tax dollars. He would
apply for grants using warm and fuzzy language about helping workers but
use the funds instead for other purposes. It became so blatant that the
UFW was audited by the General Accounting Office in l980 and found to be
in massive violation of Federal guidelines.

The question is, why would the Legislature honor a man with a history
of cult involvement, misuse of government funds, and violence toward
migrant workers and growers? Simple. It’s political. The UFW was one of
the biggest campaign contributors to the Democrats throughout the l970s.
Many of the California’s leading Latino politicians got their start in
politics with assistance from the UFW.

While that may be real sweet, that is not a reason to honor Chavez
with a state holiday. One should also be worried about the second half
of the bill which requires that the “curricula of every school …
include instruction on Cesar Chavez and the history of the farm labor
movement in the United States. …” Such a curriculum has already been
produced by the UFW for use in our schools and it is replete with
fabrications, distortions and outright lies about pesticides, the farm
industry, the condition of farm workers, the UFW and the life of Cesar
Chavez. Our children already get enough misinformation in our schools as
it is. Now they will get to learn how to hate farmers. I wonder if our
recently passed “hate crimes” legislation can be applied to the UFW?


Assemblyman

Steve Baldwin
represents California’s 77th assembly district.

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