Building The Union

La Unión es todo nosotros | The Union is all of us

Building The Union

Hemos visto la semana pasada que los mejores organizadores que puede haber en esta campaña son de los trabajadores mismos. Porque miramos que la semana pasada firmaron, con 21 organizadores, una cuarta parte de todos trabajadores aquí de valle. Y por eso pido a los organizadores que están trabajando tiempo completo que levanten la mano y que les den un aplauso pero grande por todo trabajo que están haciendo. 
We saw last week that the best organizers you can have in this campaign are the workers themselves. Because we saw last week that with 21 organizers, we signed up one-quarter of all the workers here in the valley. So I’d like to ask all the organizers who are working fulltime to raise their hands, and let’s give them a big applause for all the work that they’re doing. – Marshall Ganz, July 21, 1975

Marshall Ganz addresses an overflow crowd at a rally behind the union office.

The crowd listening to Marshall Ganz speak.

Marshall Ganz speaking to the crowd: [sc_embed_player_template1 fileurl=”″]

Interharvest: A training ground for leaders

Forty farmworkers were hired to work fulltime in the Salinas Valley for the UFW in the summer of ‘75, to help organize their coworkers and win elections. They were paid token amounts, at most $100 a week, far less than they would have earned in the fields. But for many it was an entry into new, exciting worlds. Some went to the union headquarters for training; others learned on-the-job. Many had worked at Interharvest, a large vegetable grower and one of only a handful of companies that had signed a contract with the UFW in 1970. Interharvest workers understood the benefits of union membership and could speak persuasively to workers at non-union ranches. Many had already shown leadership potential in the fields. The new law gave them an opportunity to build on those skills, and to build the union into a force throughout the Salinas Valley.

Hermilio Mojica, already known as a leader among the Interharvest lettuce workers, would grow to become well known throughout the union.

Hermilio Mojica speaks at a union meeting.

Chuy Solano, also from an Interharvest crew, started his days in the fields talking to workers instead of cutting lettuce. He went into the fields before work, during the first break at 9:30, and for a half hour at lunchtime. Just his presence in the fields impressed workers with the power of the new law, he said: “The people start thinking, ‘That’s right. Before they didn’t even let an organizer come close to the fields or the camps.’”
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Santiago Castillo, a celery worker at Interharvest, had been surprised how much his life changed when he began working under a UFW contract. Now working for the union in the summer of ’75 was another eye-opening experience: “This campaign is another change for me,” he said. “And I tell you, it was something when I had to look someone in the eye at this other ranch and ask them to sign the tarjeta (card.)”

Santiago Castillo, lower left corner, at a rally with Salinas field office director Robert Garcia and organizer Chuy Solano.

Other Interharvest workers who spent the summer working fulltime for the union included Rosa Saucedo and Mario Bustamante. Many others, like Sabino Lopez, headed to the union office after work and joined rallies and protests.


Study Hall

The union office at 14 South Wood Street, an old post office, became the bustling hub of the young union – part office, part community center, and part classroom.

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Above all, the union became a classroom for many who had not gone past the first few grades.

“We have not been educated in universities, but we know how to fight for a better life, for our families,” Jose Morales, president of the Interharvest Ranch Committee, told a rally in August 1975. “The union is all of us.”

Jose Morales

Some UFW staff, like Marshall Ganz, came out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and had worked with groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

“From Marshall, I learned paperwork. How to stay in touch. How to organize myself. How to get other people to do their work,” recalled Robert Garcia. “Marshall was so good at the pen and pencil. He’d break everything down … ‘This committee is going to go here and this committee is going to go there…’ He’d draw it so it looked so simple. And it was simple on paper, but it was difficult to do.”

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Confronting Authority

Paralegals accompanied workers as they organized, to document problems. UFW lawyers like Sandy Nathan schooled farrmworkers on details of the new law and how to fight abuses and violations.

“The law is, the company can’t threaten anybody, they can’t take the job away, they can’t demote you, they can’t tell you anything is going to happen if you vote or sign a card or you don’t sign a card,” Sandy told a large meeting. “We have the right to talk to every worker in this valley. If it means we have to go to the camps, we can go to the camps. If we have to go to the fields, we’re allowed to talk in the fields.”

As elections neared, authorities began conducting round-ups, looking for immigrants without legal papers and arresting pro-UFW workers. The union fought to keep the workers from being deported. Nathan, Robert Garcia and Marshall Ganz ended up arrested themselves – but the workers got to stay.

“These are people who are voting!” Sandy said. “Tomorrow morning the new law goes into effect. This is another example of how the growers with the help of the police are subverting the law. We came over here to talk to them, to interview them, to try to obtain their rights to vote. The three of us went in here and we were arrested! Charged with something about obstructing police. All we were trying to do was talk to them.”

As problems mounted, the union demanded a meeting with the newly-appointed Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which administered the new law. Everything was new, so everything the board did set precedent. The ground rules they set would govern elections for years to come. While lawyers fought in conference rooms and courthouses, the real power of the UFW depended on farmworkers’ ability to demonstrate strength. Workers confronted the ALRB on their home turf – the backyard of the UFW office.

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