It was a mistake to print Peter Ferrara's article, "Has Chavez Fooled Harvard?" without investigating the "facts" it presents. A comprehensive reply is called for; in the meantime, here are a few corrections.
The California State Migrant Health Office estimates that there are 160,000 migrants in the state agricultural labor force, which totals about 500,000. They may live in the same place for a season, but move through the year. Although I was unable to locate the 1963 California Housing Commission Report, references to it indicate that the main conclusion was that 80% of farm worker families lived in grossly substandard housing.
The number of students working in the fields is in fact quite high--because of the lack of controls on child labor. The American Friends' Service Committee points out that "the use of children as industrial laborers was outlawed under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, yet in 1970 one fourth of the farm wage workers in the United States are under 16 years old." The AFSC and the Department of Labor concur in estimating that 800,000 children work in agricultural labor. The Department of Labor found that nine out of ten migrant children fail to keep up with school work, and repeat grades. Dr. Robert Coles, of the Harvard School of Public Health, has summarized the consequences of child farm labor: "When a child is ten, he ceases to be a child." UFW contracts forbid child labor, while providing wages and benefits that allow a family to survive without it.
If Ferrara doubts that workers want to be represented by the UFW, he should consider the fact that since 1966, scores of elections have been held among field workers: most were by card-check or ratification, and some were held with secret ballots. The workers voted for UFW representation in all but two elections. unfortunately, such votes are not binding for agricultural employers. In addition, the enormous amount of strike activity organized by the union is worthy of note. Ferrara presents nothing more recent than his misinformation concerning the 1965 strike.
Finally, a trivial point, but one which characterizes the article: contrary to the reporter's assertion, Chavez is indeed a migrant worker, the son of farm workers.