History of the UFW

Throughout the course of United States history, there had been many reasons for unsuccessful organization of farmworkers. The National Farm Labor Union, which was led by Ernesto Galarza, in the 1940's and 1950's, enjoyed moderate success but many obstacles were presented to the organization through the growers' manipulation of the bracero program. One individual, César Chávez, with the help of many important people overcame this obstacle, and led the first successful organization of farmworkers in U.S. History.
The story begins with one of the many problems that destroyed the organizing efforts. Through an informal arrangement known as the Bracero program, which was an agreement between the United States and Mexico, which recruited temporary workers helped depress wages in the sector of agricultural labor. This program became Public Law in 1951. It began during World War II, when growers were facing a severe shortage of workers, however this system continued well after the war had concluded.
One of the important contingents in Public Law 78 stated that no bracero could replace a domestic worker. This provision was rarely enforced and the main reason the growers lobbied for the program was to in fact replace the domestic worker. These bracero workers made it difficult to strike because often time they could be used as scabs, or strikebreakers. In addition, these bracero workers could be paid less, which helped depress wages of the farm workers. In 1964, Chávez was able to band together with other unions, churches, and community groups that were sensitive to the civil rights movement to help put pressure on the politicians to end the bracero program.
The conditions the farmworkers faced were deplorable. Often times they had no electricity, running water, or bathrooms. Their homes consisted of tents, or some even lived out of their cars and trucks. Some had to pay two or more dollars per day for unheated metal shacks, that were usually infested with mosquitoes. These shacks did not contain indoor plumbing, or cooking facilities. These housing arrangements were usually segregated by race. Working conditions were very similar. None of the ranches contained portable toilets. Some of the growers made the workers drink from the same cup, and others were charged up to twenty-five cents for a cup of water. Child labor was prevalent, whole families usually worked in the fields. Although there were some laws preventing the mistreatment of workers, the law was often ignored by the growers.
There were many attempts to form an organization to represent farm workers. In 1959, the AWOC, Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee was formed. It was a branch of the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization. The predecessor of the AWOC was the AWA, Agricultural Workers Association, which was founded by Dolores Huerta. The AWOC was composed of Black, Chicano, Filipino, and Anglo workers. Two of the early leaders, Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong, a Filipino, had helped the Filipino workers in particular gain experience in organizing unions and strikes in the fields.
In 1962, a young Chicano named César Chávez formed the NFWA, National Farmworkers Movement. Chávez had been the national director of the CSO, Community Service Organization, but had left when the CSO refused to concentrate its efforts on organizing farm workers. This organization worked with communities to solve their problems through organizing and direct action. He based his new organization that eventually became the UFW, United Farmworkers Movement in Delano. He traveled from town to town, trying to convince groups of farm workers to organize because he hoped one day they would band together and form an effective union.
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