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The KUT Longhorn Radio Network Presents: Mexican American Experience Collection

Audio recordings including interviews, music, and informational programs related to the Mexican American community and their concerns in the series "The Mexican American Experience" and "A esta hora conversamos" from the Longhorn Radio Network, 1976-1982.

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The Politics Of Agricultural Labor: Braceros And Farmworkers In The 1950s
Program #

Richard Goodman
Richard Goodman
Jan 28, 1977

The politics of agricultural labor: Braceros and Farmworkers in the 1950s

Richard Goodman first discusses the Bracero Program and its effects on Mexican Americans. Facing a growing labor shortage during World War II, the U.S. government established the Bracero Program, which permitted a designated number of Mexicans to enter the U.S. to work for a certain period of time. The Mexican government agreed to the program provided that the United States adhere to certain guidelines that would protect the workers from discrimination and mistreatment. From 1942 to 1947, over 200,000 workers entered into the United States, many through screening and recruiting centers the Mexican government set up throughout Mexico. Under the direction of the War Food Administration, the program often failed to live up to its provisions, including the wage guarantees the Mexican government had demanded. At the end of World War II, the Department of Labor took over the administration of the program and negotiated its continuation. In doing so, the U.S. government acted as a labor contractor for the growers, and Mexican workers continued entering into the United States without the rights guaranteed to other immigrants and citizens. Growers often used the braceros to break strikes, depress wages and block organizing. Chicanos opposed the program because of the exploitation it engendered and worked to organize the farm workers. The House of Representatives eventually terminated the program in 1963.

Goodman then discusses the first major attempt by Mexican American farm workers to unionize at the DiGiorgio Corporation in California. In 1947, workers at the DiGiorgio farm picketed for better wages, grievance procedures, seniority rights and the recognition of their union Local 218 a branch of the National Farm workers Union (NFWU). Joseph DiGiorgio, the company’s founder, refused their requests and launched a crusade to ruin the union. The union responded with work stoppages and a national boycott. However, Local 218, which counted Filipino, Anglo and Mexican members, lacked the funds to support such lengthy actions. Moreover, DiGiorgio sent the police to attack the picketers, hired strikebreakers and spread rumors about the union. When these tactics failed to break the strike, DiGorgio found other ways to attack the union and its supporters, which included the Hollywood Film Council. In 1959, his company produced a report denouncing the union. Congressmen Richard Nixon, Thruston Morton, and Tom Steed signed and filed it in the Congressional Record, which lent the report an aura of authority. The report effectively ended the strike and ruined the NFWU. This episode slowed organizing among Mexican-Americans, but the struggle continues on.



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