Friday, January 20, 2006

Great Cesar's Ghost

Great Cesar's Ghost
The UFW has to give it up, and reinvent a culture of organizing
LA Weekly

Within the all-too-small world of liberals and labor, there’s been no larger topic of discussion for the past couple of weeks than the Los Angeles Times’ four-part series on the United Farm Workers. Following the groundbreaking stories from the Bakersfield Californian and the Weekly’s own Marc Cooper, Times reporter Miriam Pawel did a thorough job of digging, and unearthed a sad tale of an iconic liberal institution that in recent decades has grown too comfortable resting on, and marketing, its iconic status.

But Pawel’s story took as a given one crucial but contestable assertion: that today’s farm workers are organizable. When the union was at its height, in the late 1970s, they clearly were. But that was then, when the work force wasn’t composed almost entirely of undocumented immigrants, as it is today. That was then, when the union movement wasn’t in shambling disarray, as much of it has been for decades now. That was then, when there was a cadre of brilliant organizers, the majority of whom were to leave the union in frustration when founder Cesar Chavez sought to transform it into a never very well-defined movement. (The UFW was a child of the ’60s, and, like the CIO unions that were children of the ’30s, it was prey to the manias of the moment — though a number of those CIO unions weathered Stalinism better than the UFW weathered Synanon.)


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