July 19 2002

UFW’s 40th Anniversary


As workers gather in unity for the Sixteenth Constitutional Convention of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, the UFW will also mark the 40th anniversary of the union’s founding, August 31 and September 1, 2002 at the Exhibit Hall, Fresno Convention Centro, Fresno, California.

Since the industrialization of California agriculture in the 19th century, succeeding waves of immigrant and migrant farm workers have endured humiliation for their sweat and sacrifice. For the survival of their families, workers have suffered miserable pay, crippling work injuries, pesticide poisoning, sexual harassment, child labor, the short-handled hoe, being cheated out of their wages, and grinding poverty. For decades organizing attempts were repeatedly defeated by the power of agribusiness; every strike was crushed and every union was destroyed. Generations of farm workers lost hope. New organizing appeals from unions were met with disbelief and fear.

On September 30, 1962, in an abandoned Fresno, California theater, the National Farm Workers Association was founded at a convention organized by Cesar Chavez. This fledging organization, which became the UFW in 1966, launched a movement that ended a culture of oppression and hopelessness. This movement was built by people committed to defending the rights of farm workers and working people. Farm workers participated in organizing, marching, picketing, fasting and leading strikes and boycotts. Eventually they won union recognition.

In 1966, the first union contract in agriculture was signed. As more UFW contracts were won in succeeding years, thousands of farm workers for the first time enjoyed medical insurance, a pension plan, protections on the job and respect at the work place.

In 1975, Cesar Chavez won passage of the first—and only—state law in the nation, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, whose purpose is to encourage and protect the right of farm workers to organize, bargain with their employers and join with other workers in concerted activities.

Forty years have passed since the union’s founding. Progress has been achieved in winning respect and recognition. True leaders built our union and showed us the importance of integrity, respect and empowerment combined with innovation and the “Si Se Puede” philosophy. By demonstrating hope for oppressed working people, our cause has inspired and mobilized tens of thousands of workers and supporters across the nation. If we are to continue to provide working people with the tools and inspiration needed to share in society’s bounty we must cultivate and instill these core values in every aspect of our work and lives.

Throughout this period many lessons have been learned. Most importantly, if we are to continue improving the quality of life of Latino working families then it is essential for us to grow as a union. We need to ensure that employers, politicians and the community treat working families with respect and dignity. Every worker needs to feel secure about his or her job in order to enjoy the opportunities America offers.

Much emphasis has been placed on winning new contracts. Every contract is sacred. This document ensures workers’ rights, economic benefits and protections. Without a contract, there are no guarantees and no voice on the job.

Workers no longer in agriculture have always approached our union and asked us to support them in achieving representation. We have refused these requests in the past. Today many workers who have left agriculture are the sons and daughters of farm workers. No longer would it be fair or right to ignore their calls for help. So we are proud to have workers from other states and industries join with us in creating a diversified organization. Their presence strengthens the UFW family and provides us with the power required to continue changing people’s lives. Their participation at this convention marks another proud day and a new era in UFW history. We welcome these workers and their families.

UFW organizing campaigns are underway in Washington State, Florida, Texas and Tennessee. To ensure the success of these efforts and many others the active participation of the membership is critical. No one else can better communicate the improvements a UFW contract provides for workers. There is no doubt that “Every Worker is an Organizer.” Growing the UFW’s membership will only strengthen our ability to bring better jobs to our communities, increase health standards and ensure positive political change.

We have dedicated significant resources to the political and legislative arena in order to increase our membership base. We cannot fight for social justice only to see legislatures, city and county governments and the courts take these gains away. We must be ever vigilant that every victory is preserved. This can only happen if we are continuously active in the political and legislative process. At the last Constitutional Convention, we introduced our new political and legislative program. Brothers and sisters, your support for these programs is paying off.

A number of significant legislative and political victories have been achieved. Last year we won important legislation protecting farm workers from the exploitation by growers and farm labor contractors in California. This year, on Cesar Chavez’s birthday, California implemented a new UFW-backed law requiring that vehicles transporting workers to and from work be equipped with seat belts, individual factory seating, not benches, and other safety requirements.

We wrote and passed water legislation allowing rural water districts to request funding from the state to repair and upgrade infrastructure. This is critical since many agricultural communities lack safe drinking water.

In Texas, we sponsored and passed legislation that removed the state requirement of a Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license. Although Governor Perry vetoed the legislation, we expect to see it enacted next year after Tony Sanchez is elected as our new governor. We also won passage of a bill that gives undocumented children who graduate from Texas high schools the right to pay resident tuition fees instead of much higher foreign tuition fees.

A tremendous effort is being waged to secure a new legalization program for immigrant families. Millions of immigrant workers lack protections and rights enjoyed by other American workers. Thousands of you have participated in marches, card-signing campaigns, hearings, rallies and other events to fight for immigrant rights. Victory is near. There is no way President Bush’s administration can deny immigrants their entitlement to the American dream.

Our political presence extends beyond California into Washington D.C., Texas, Washington State and Arizona. As members of the organization that pioneered the struggle for Latino civil rights across this country—as members who proudly shouted “Viva La Causa” and chanted “Si Se Puede”—we must once again raise our black eagle flags and turn our growing numbers into real and lasting power for working people and their communities. The UFW must continue to be on the cutting edge of civic participation. The UFW membership and leadership must register Latinos to vote, educate them on the issues and ensure they maximize their voting power. Politicians need to be elected who will take leadership roles in addressing our needs.

Currently, we are engaged in a unique campaign targeting several Latino communities in California, Texas and Arizona. The UFW holds much credibility among Latino workers. Prior to the November 2002 elections, an intense effort will be undertaken to have Latinos learn about issues most important to our community and be motivated to participate in the electoral process. Thousands of new voters will significantly increase the impact of the Latino vote in these communities. The success of these campaigns opens up new opportunities for our members and organization.

I want to thank all those members who have played an active role in our movement over the past two years. Your involvement has helped shape a future of hope for hundreds of thousands of Latino families. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, let us never forget all those who have fought, sacrificed and died to create opportunities for each of us. Our rich and vivid history serves as the highway to a future filled with promise and success for working families across this great nation.

Some things change and some things never do. One thing that will never change is our commitment—Defendiendo Tus Derechos, Como Siempre!

Si Se Puede,
Arturo S. Rodriguez

The United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO will mark their 40th anniversary with the 16th Constitutional Convention over the Labor Day weekend in Fresno, California. This two-day event welcomes delegates representing farm workers under union contract, UFW staff, retirees and associate members who come together from across the country to review our work of the past two years and set a course for the future.

The UFW is putting together a commemorative book to celebrate this historic event and are accepting announcements, greetings or a message. You can find detailed ad information at http://www.ufw.org/convad.pdf

Mark your calendar for August 31 and September 1, 2002. If you need more information about the UFW convention, please contact Julio Estrada at 661 725-9730, ext. 116 (e-mail: jestrada@ufwmail.com) or contact your local UFW office.

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