"Excuse me, ma'am. The Cambridge supporters of the United Farm Workers are asking people not to shop here. A&P's the largest buyer of non-union grapes and lettuce in the country." "Don't tell me what to do. I'll shop where I want." "We're not here to tell people what to do. We're here to talk to people about the boycott. We hope you'll want to shop somewhere else. Do you have a minute to talk?"
--Exchange on a UFW picket line
This summer, in the largest agricultural strike in U.S. history, thousands of grape workers walked off their jobs when their employers refused to re-sign contracts with the United Farm Workers. Instead the growers signed "sweetheart" contracts (contracts between a union and an employer without union representation elections) with the Teamsters. Over 6000 people were arrested in California for trying to exercise their right to picket in peace. Two striking workers were killed; one was beaten to death by a sheriff's deputy; the other was shot as he picketed the fields of his employer. Despite anti-strike injunctions and physical intimidation, the strikers continue their struggle for just living and working conditions. They demand minimum wages, decent health care, control over the way pesticides are used in the fields, and the right to have workers' committees to enforce the gains they have made.
Cambridge supporters of the UFW have been picketing restaurants, stores and fruit stands for the past nine months. Picketers try to educate customers about the UFW's boycott of non-union lettuce, grapes and Gallo wine. In addition, the picket lines provide pressure for stores like A&P to cooperate with the boycott.
Picketing is an attempt to convince people of the importance of the farm worker's struggle. Consumer pressure has convinced Star, Stop and Shop, Purity Supreme, First National and several smaller chains in the Boston area to cooperate with the boycott. In shot, the combined power of the strike and the boycott is an effective weapon.
Recently the right of UFW supporters to picket has come under attack. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule this week on the union's right to picket in shopping centers. According to "Shopping Center World," a retail trade journal, over 50 per cent of the annual retail consumer sales are made in shopping centers in the three most urban New England states--Mass., Conn., and R.I. In an article in the November 4, 1973, Globe, David Rogers states that one of the key conflicts involved is between "the property rights of center owners and the First Amendment's promise of free speech." The court must decide whether denying UFW supporters access to the people they must reach for an effective boycott constitutes intimidation.
Mary Lassen, '75, is a support worker for United Farm Workers.