Sunday, January 22, 2006

Potential leadership stunted

Potential leadership stunted
By Miriam Pawel
Los Angeles Times

At 21, the farmworker from the Central Valley with an eighth-grade education hopped an airplane for the first time, with $20, a bag of UFW buttons to sell and the name of a Chicago postal worker loyal to the union cause.

The kid from the tiny Central Valley town who landed on John Armendariz's doorstep in 1967 was totally green -- amazed at the city traffic, baffled by Chicago's elevated trains and faced with a daunting task: Get supermarkets to stop selling grapes.

Armendariz wondered how Eliseo Medina would cope.

``His were real fears,'' Armendariz said. ``How do you introduce yourself? How do you talk to people? He did an amazing job of controlling that.''

Drawing on the kindness of strangers, his charm and his wits, Medina built a boycott operation that kept grapes out of a major Midwest supermarket chain, helping force California growers to negotiate the first contracts with the United Farm Workers.

Today the smile that lights up his face is unchanged, but the scared kid has grown into a graying giant of the labor movement. He has helped orchestrate labor's rise in Southern California, has become a key player in the national immigration debate and now oversees locals in 17 states as executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.


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