Render Unto Cesar...


UNION REPRESENTATION elections have been held for just over 35,000 farmworkers in California under a new state law which went into effect August 28. The results lend strong support to the contention that the purpose of Cesar Chavez's decade-long boycotts was to force farmworkers into the UFW who didn't want to join.

Prior to the elections Chavez predicted that farmworkers given a choice would vote 95 per cent in favor of the UFW. But the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (CALRB), the agency in charge of the voting, reports that in elections with both unions on the ballot the Teamsters have won 59 contests covering about 10,500 workers and the UFW has won 46 covering about 6000 workers. Including elections where only one union and the no union alternatives were on the ballot, the Teamsters have 96 wins covering about 12,000 workers and the UFW has 154 covering about 14,000 workers. The no union option was the winner at 13 ranches employing about 1600 workers. Elections at 36 ranches where about 8500 farmworkers have voted remain challenged while the CALRB tries to settle disputes over allegedly invalid ballots.

These results are consistent with the history of the California farm labor battle. When Chavez first began organizing grape and then lettuce workers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he found bitter opposition to his union from many workers and little support from most others. Many farmworkers felt they could do better on their own rather than through the union and resented Chavez's plan to impose a tyrannical hiring hall on them. The threatening, intimidating and often violent tactics employed by UFW organizers against recalcitrant workers only served to strengthen this opposition.

Whenever Chavez failed to get adequate worker support, he turned to the boycott to force workers into his union by intimidating growers into signing contracts regardless of their employees' wishes. Throughout the last decade he and his organizers have repeatedly lied to the public about everything from the grape and lettuce workers' wages to their bathrooms to gain popular support. This campaign of misrepresentation eventually won enough public backing to force many workers into the UFW in 1970 as pressured growers signed their employees over to Chavez without asking their consent.

But the workers's distrust of Chavez's union was proven well-justified. Suffering losses of both dignity and income, the workers were cheated and abused through the dictatorial and corrupt hiring hall and inept, incompetent, union policies. In many cases, workers and growers turned to the Teamsters for relief and by 1973 the UFW had lost most of its contracts. Chavez attempted to regain the lost contracts by trying to use the public again through boycotts which have yet to be called off despite the elections.


With about half of the farmworkers choosing either the Teamsters or no union, the overall returns from the fields reveal this strong current of worker opposition to Chavez and the coercive nature of the boycotts. But the boycotts' insidious purpose can be seen even more clearly by noting the results in the areas to which they were aimed. One remembers the famous Gallo boycott and the screeching tirades on how Gallo, with a few hundred workers, was the key to the farm labor market. Not much is heard about Gallo anymore. Why? Because although the election is still disputed, Chavez trails the Teamsters by an almost insurmountable 223-131 margin.

Even more interesting are the results from Delano, the center of UFW activities for most of the last decade. The table grape capital is where thousands of farmworkers supposedly went on strike in 1965. For ten years people were supposed to boycott grapes for these workers. But in Delano, the Teamsters have won 18 victories covering 4008 workers and the UFW has won seven covering 569 workers.

Lettuce was the target of another major boycott, and the results of elections among these workers are not much different. Only partial results are available, but in the lettuce fields of Salinas where elections have been held the Teamsters have won 25 contests covering about 4500 workers and the UFW has won 16 covering about 3500 workers.

Overall the election results hardly represent a victory for the UFW. Even where Chavez has won, the combined Teamster and no union vote has often outpolled the UFW total. Moreover, the Teamsters continue to hold contracts representing almost 45,000 workers, more than twice the UFW total, while there remain 150,000 farmworkers in California under no union that the UFW has as yet been unable to bring to election. Clearly Chavez is not the overwhelmingly popular folkhero or Christ figure among farmworkers that his supporters have claimed.

THESE UFW SETBACKS have occurred even though the current law strongly favors Chavez. Because elections must be held at peak harvest when short-term workers usually outnumber year-round workers, UFW organizers and students with little if any previous field experience have allegedly signed up to work a few days and then have voted in the election, sometimes repeating this process at several ranches. Students and UFW organizers have also allegedly voted under the economic striker clause even though they appeared at the polls with no identification or record of employment to prove they were legitimate strikers.

Despite the fact that farmworkers are now registering their opinions, the UFW has not yet called off the boycotts. Chavez supporters argue that pressure is needed to force growers to sign contracts where the UFW has won. But such indiscriminate boycotts mean a loss of jobs and income for the Teamster workers who prefer to continue working, believing they can bargain successfully without such "support." This is also unfair to those workers who have voted for no union. Since the UFW represents only a small minority of the workers in the boycotted crops, this objection is especially important.

With so many farmworkers voting against the UFW, it is clear that elections have been needed for the past decade. The fundamentally coercive boycotts have been an unjust and unfair organizing tactic with such a large portion of farmworkers opposed to the UFW, especially in the blacklisted crops. In fact, the overwhelming rejection of Chavez among these workers lays bare the insidious purpose of the boycotts for all to see. It is time for those who supported the boycotts to realize that the issue is more complex than they originally thought.