Rosa Saucedo


ROSA SAUCEDO | An Organizer at 21

Once upon a time, in the summer of 1975, there was a beautiful rebel of 21...

In the summer of 1975, with only months to prepare for the first elections in the fields, dozens of farmworkers who had demonstrated leadership were tapped by the UFW to leave their jobs in the fields and work for the union for ten weeks. Rosa Saucedo, a 21-year-old in the lettuce fields, was one of 40 hired in Salinas. Each was assigned specific companies. Rosa’s job was to win over workers at D’Arrigo, a large vegetable grower where the UFW was fighting the Teamsters. She was interviewed in Spanish by journalist Bob Barber in the midst of the campaign.

 

The first time I heard about the union of Chavez was in 1970. I came to the United States to work just a little before the [lettuce] strike started. I had worked maybe two months when everyone in the Salinas Valley went out on strike. I liked la causa and started to fight for it. For five years, I’ve worked at a company that was under a union contract - Interharvest. I’ve seen the way it works there, the seniority system, the many benefits that don’t exist at other companies. I want workers at the other companies to receive the same benefits that I’m receiving. This is why I’m volunteering to help organize others. 
 
La primera vez que yo oí de la unión de Chavez fue en el ano que yo empecé a trabajar, que fue el ano del 1970. Poquito antes que empezara la huelga, yo vine a trabajar aquí a los Estados Unidos entonces tenía como dos meses trabajando cuando se levantó en huelga todo el valle de Salinas y a mi pues me gusto bastante esta causa y empecé a luchar.  
 
Yo lo hago por el motivo de que yo tengo cinco años trabajando en compañía de que estaba bajo contrato de unión como es la Interharvest. Y he visto que ahí se disempeña el trabajo y ahi al modo de que uno puede y uno tiene señoría tiene muchos beneficios que en otras compañías no tiene. Y quiero que estos beneficios que estoy yo recibiendo lo reciban también los compañeros de otras cuadrillas. Por eso me salí a voluntaria para ayudar los para que se organicen.

Her days began at dawn, meeting with workers in the fields.

Everyone I’ve talked to thinks more or less like me – many of us are volunteering because we see the necessity to organize and empower ourselves in order to move forward, to continue the fight. Because this is the first time in the history of the United States that we had a good law – a law that gives us the right to organize, without fear that we will be fired or mistreated at work. So we have to take advantage of this opportunity.
 
Todas las personas con las que he hablado y lo que he oído piensan mas o menos como yo. Que habremos muchas personas que nos damos de voluntaria porque estamos viendo la necesitad que hace falta de organizarnos de poder nosotros seguir adelante de tener la lucha porque es la primera vez en la historia de los Estados Unidos que se nos da una ley buena. Que nos den el derecho de podernos organizarnos sin temor, a que vayamos a ser despedidos o a un maltrato del trabajo. Por eso, nosotros queremos todos aprovechar esta oportunidad.

She attended meetings several times a day in the union office and helped with tasks like making banners for the rallies and marches.

The new law allowed union organizers to “take access” – go into the fields for an hour before work started and an hour during lunch time to talk with workers on company property. Rosa’s job was to explain the law and persuade workers to sign cards pledging support for the UFW. The union needed a majority of the workers to sign cards in order to petition for an election.

 

The campaign at D’Arrigo is going well. At first it was a little hard; people were a little confused by the threats from the growers and from the Teamsters. But I talked to them and explained the law and the protections, which we never had before. We explained to them this good law which we won, and they have all given us their strong support. One day, they wanted to arrest us when we went into the fields, but the workers – mainly the lechugueros – said that if one of us were arrested, they would have to arrest everyone! In other words, the company is now well organized. There are only one or two in each crew who haven't signed but everyone has committees and all is going well. 
 
La campaña de la D’Arrigo va bastante bien. Primero era un poco difícil porque la gente está un poco desorientada por tanta amenaza de parte de los rancheros y los Teamsters pero hablándoles a las personas y explicándoles lo de la ley y cosas que nunca nadie antes. Le explicábamos de esta ley buena que se ganó, y este y todos han dado su apoyo bastante bien. Uno de los días, nos quisieron arrestar pero los compañeros, lechugueros principalmente, pusieron todo su apoyo y pidieron que con una persona arrestado de nosotros tendrían que arrestar a todos ellos. Quiere decir que la compañía ahorita está toda bastante buena bien organizada. Faltaran uno que otro de cada cuadrilla para firmar pero todos ya están con sus comités y bastante bueno todo.

Most of the people who are scared of the union are those who live in the growers’ camps and don’t pay rent, or pay very little, or the people who are connected to them. For example, the illegals, who are given a place to live, in the growers’ camps, and the growers know they don’t have papers, and they let them work anyway. Those people are scared, because they are threatened - that they’re going to be fired, or kicked out of their houses. But little by little, we have been explaining to everyone, and even those who at first were hard to reach, now almost the majority have signed cards.  
 
Si hay personas que tienen miedo, casi la mayoría de estas son los que viven en las casas de los rancheros y que no pagan renta o pagan en cantidad menor, o las personas que están muy ligadas a ellos. Por ejemplo los ilegales, que a unos a ellos les dan facilidades de vivir como ya les dije en sus casas y que los patrones saben que no tienen papeles y les dan el trabajo. Esas personas tienen miedo, porque ellos los amenazan que los van a correr, los van a sacar, los van a dejar sin hogar pero, poco a poco, hemos ido explicándoles a todas las personas y ya a esas personas que a un principio estuvieron tan difíciles ahora casi la mayoría han firmado.

For weeks, growers refused to honor the organizers’ right to be in the fields and had dozens arrested for trespassing. Union lawyers fought for enforcement, and finally growers reluctantly agreed to abide by the regulations of the new state agency. That victory showed the workers the power of the union. Rosa explained the change at a union meeting:

 

As you know, they didn't allow us to organize at all. They always threw us out. This morning when we went it was very different. They apologized. They said they were confused and embarrassed. Very different! They helped us with what they could, with lists, and in the fields. It was a great change.
 
Como ustedes saben no nos han permitido ningún día a organizar. Siempre nos sacaran, nos corrieren. Ahora en la mañana que fuimos, un cambio muy diferente. Me pidió que los disculparan, estaban muy confusos, que estaban muy apenados. Muy diferente. Nos dieron ayudar con lo que pudieron, con los listos, los dieron ayudar en los files. Es un cambio muy bueno.

When the ALRB office opened on Sept. 2, Rosa was there to file the petition for an election at D’Arrigo.

This is the first time we can hold elections - secret ballot elections. And that we can vote for the union of our choice. This is the most important point about the law. When have we ever had the ability to choose the union we wanted? Truly, never. When we went to ask for work, they would say to us, “if you want to work, first sign here.” Now we can choose the union that we want. It’s the first time we will be able to say, “I want this union.” And the union that we’re going to choose is the farmworkers union of Cesar Chavez, which protects us, which helps us, and which will continue to help us.
 
Es la primera vez es que podemos tener nosotros elecciones. Elecciones secretas. Y que podemos votar por la unión que nosotras queramos. Este es el punto mas principal dela ley. Cuando antes se no han pedido antes la opinión para poder nosotros escoger la unión que queramos? Nunca, verdad. Cuando íbamos a pedir trabajo, lo que se nos decía, ‘si quieres trabajo primero firma aquí.’ Entonces, ahora nosotros vamos a escoger la unión que nosotros queramos. Es la primera vez que vamos a decir, ‘Yo quiero esta unión,’ y la unión que nos vamos escoger es la unión de Campesinos de Cesar Chavez, que la que nos protege, nos esta ayudando y va seguir ayudando.

The election was held Sept. 9, and the UFW won decisively, with more votes than the rival Teamsters and “No Union” put together. Within a couple weeks, Rosa was back at work at Interharvest, boxing lettuce. She had a family to support, and the union paid its summer organizers only a small stipend, $100 a week.

 

“It takes leadership to do the organizing,” Marshall Ganz told his fellow UFW board members at the end of September, lamenting Rosa’s departure. “That’s the real problem. For example, Rosa is very, very good. She won D’Arrigo. And now she’s working on an Interharvest machine... She did a great job. But her family …”


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