More Show Than Solidarity


CESAR CHAVEZ, the head of the United Farm Workers (UFW), was in town this week to drum up support for a new grape boycott. It seems the governor of California, George Deukmejian, has turned a deaf ear to the plight of the impoverished--in some cases, starving--laborers, in sharp contrast to the open-arms policies of Chavez old friend, former governer Jerry Brown. Chavez objects specifically to Deukmejian's recent line-veto of an appropriation by the state congress which was to speed up the collection of millions of dollars in back pay owed the workers. But that issue is really a symbolic one, representative of the neglect the farm workers feel they suffer.

According to Wayne Smith, the general counsel for the state's Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the extra money would cut perhaps six or nine months from the time it takes to get back pay already demanded by the court from growers to the laborers. But most of those cases take more than six years to resolve, because of the excessively complex, drawn-out system of court appeals and time lags which, as Smith admits, favor the rich growers without exception. Smith says the boycott, if successful, could help the union win contracts--currently, only a small minority of the fields are unionized. On the non-union farms, firings over union activity and discrimination and bad-faith bargaining are the rule, not the exception. As with the disputes over salary, all these cases take years in court: as the saying goes, and it was never more apt, justice delayed is justice denied.

If the union wins the right to represent more workers, the resulting standardized grievance procedures would obviate the need for court involvement. Chavez doesn't say it, but the point of the boycott is not to press for more money to feed the state bureaucracy, it is to involve the public in the workers' struggle for advancement. With determination and good luck, a revival in public awareness and concern could lead to many things, among them an unwillingness on the part of growers to incur the general wrath by stalling in court for up to ten years, and increased defense, on the part of the state, of the right to organize and bargain collectively.

Perhaps this kind of a campaign--something relatively new in the world of labor relations--is needed. But there are serious drawbacks involved which should not be taken lightly. In more ideal circumstances, the union would base its power on the will of its membership, without having to resort to the electorate. The UFW leadership, read Chavez, has been-justly accused of placing politics above the interests of the workers. Chavez was perhaps the first of a new breed of union leader, a very perplexing breed. On the one hand, Chavez and the others have achieved landmark contracts and won many battles in which the workingman had a heavy stake. On the other hand, they have alienated many from the organs of their supposed self-representation.

IT IS NO COINCIDENCE that Domenic M. Bozzotto, leader of AFLCIO Local 26, which represents Boston's hotel and restaurant employees and also Harvard's dining hall workers, played tour guide to Chavez and posed with him whenever he could. The two are much alike in outlook, if not in stature. Bozzotto is very political, very controversial, very visible, and he generally gets good contracts; hence his popularity among jthe workforce was reform candidate ub co-union, he believes in solidarity media love him.

Like Chavez, he has grown away of the would be wrong it tribute Local 26's notorious weak on the shop floor to any Phenomenon of working class Tory it's because the union seems its representing someone besides them media, the public. And that dangerous game for the unions to what happens when the boss decide brave public opinion--and couldn't he, they do it all the time--if the union can live up to its speech and promises? Perhaps it same labor leaders who were proper of a brave new left negotiate sweeping concession just those familiar, corrupt bureaucrats the post have done. Perhaps they'll for public office. They might realize, at long last, that they can't she free live from their roots, and began agair working with and involving their felt laborers.

Chavez is of course quite right was he accuses management and the own of an all-out propaganda war on union that has taken a heavy poll over the past 15 or 20 years. But it is far from clear unions should pour everything they has into the same battle. In any such control the side with the biggest budget- with the power of goodness and light going to prevail. The mostly important thing in the battles to come, as even the solidarity of workers in the same union and between unions. Chavez should call for strikes, for second strikes, and for hot--cargoing, and mind the law (the latter two are illegal California). If it hurts the to enough, a deal will be made. In meantime, farm workers in the state suffering from clear injustices Chavez has pointed out, the awesome gamble, one that likely should not have been made, and one the workers can not afford to lose of the May harvest, don't buy grapes.